The ability of farmers and ranchers to produce more food with the same resources is a great story for agriculture, but it also has created a big challenge, Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson of Axtell said Monday.
That challenge is a disconnect with the majority of Americans who are at least three generations removed from a farm.
Nelson said that in 1940, there were 6.3 million farms in America and each farmer produced enough food for 19 people. Today, there are 2.1 million farms, and the ratio is one producer feeding 154 people.
"If it (the disconnect) is anyone's fault, it's ours for not telling our story well enough," he said during his annual president's address at the 96th-annual Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation Convention in Kearney.
Nelson said a lack of ag literacy and atmosphere of misunderstanding means many people are easily swayed by groups that misrepresent what farmers and ranchers do.
"It's why groups like HSUS (Humane Society of America) even exist," he added.
Ag producers, farmers and ranchers, who are only 2 percent of the U.S. population, must tell their stories to help people understand why farm programs and food security are important, Nelson said.
He reviewed a few of the many state and national policy issues discussed by Farm Bureau members during the three-day convention that concludes tonight.
One is state tax reform.
"Right now, from our perspective at least, we do not have a fair and equitable tax system in Nebraska," Nelson said, because the goal should be to have one-third of the revenues from property, income and sales taxes.
He said property taxes now are 45 percent of the total, and tax reform proposed by Gov. Dave Heineman has focused only on changes to the sales and income taxes.
Farm Bureau has proposed $405 million in property tax relief phased in over three years.
"That number would only move us from 45 percent to 40 percent, Nelson said.
He acknowledged that property tax reform will be difficult without considering school funding, including problems with the current state aid formula.
"We have lots and lots of rural school districts that receive no state aid," Nelson said, adding that Nebraska Farm Bureau is calling for a task force to study school funding.
Referring to the Nebraska Water Funding Task Force that approved its report to the Legislature last week, Nelson said the biggest issue is educating all Nebraskans that water used on farms and ranches grows their food.
"So everyone in our state has an obligation for making sure we have water for the future," he said, and water project funding must come from the entire population.
Growing the livestock industry also is vital to Nebraska's economy because of the value of meat production and the market for more than half of the grain grown. Nelson said the effort should include assisting young producers to get started and working on local zoning and other issues that can hinder new or expanding livestock businesses.
"Too often, we've been our own worst enemy, saying we don't want this or that next to us," he said.
Federal issues start with the need for a new farm bill.
"We continue to be held up by things outside agriculture," Nelson said, including political stalemates in Congress and budget issues not directly related to farm programs, such as the Affordable Health Care Act.
Nebraska Farm Bureau has started a new student membership
category for FFA and 4-H members. Nelson challenged county Farm Bureau groups to get student members involved.
He joked that "Farm Bureau, in a lot of respects, is just FFA for big kids" because current FFA members already know they have to work together to make things better.
"We're a declining part of the population. It's going to take all of us to tell the stories of farming and ranching," Nelson said.
One way that will be done, starting in early 2014, is with a new 90-second daily Farm Bureau spot on the Rural Radio Network that he described as an "issue-of-the-day-type thing."
One message likely will be the tremendous challenges ahead for ag producers who must double food production to feed a world population forecast to grow from 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050.
"It is the calling that all of us on farms and ranches have, whether we think about it or not," Nelson said. "It's a high calling."
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