We live in instantaneous times here in America. From fast food to same-day delivery, we’ve grown accustomed to not having to wait long for most things. But not everything has a quick fix option, and there’s certainly no instant farming. When something breaks down on the farm, it takes time to fix it. In the event of a disaster, recovery does not take minutes but months, sometimes years. As a nation, we are together on this long road to recovery as supply chain disruptions continue to impact our economy. Yes, American farmers and ranchers are still farming. No question. But empty shelves and rising food prices are worrying everyone and looking for solutions.
The pressure of rising costs is also felt by farmers and ranchers. Food price inflation does not return to farmers’ pockets in the form of higher payments for their produce. Only about 8 cents of every consumer food dollar goes to the farmer, after marketing costs. Meanwhile, the cost of farming equipment and other essential tools like fertilizer has risen – if these items can be found at all.
I painted a gloomy but realistic picture, but my message is that we are determined to overcome the obstacles. We are working with our country’s leaders to address these challenges. The USDA’s announcement this week of an innovative solution to get agricultural products moving again through the Port of Oakland, California, is a prime example. It will take time and investment to continue tweaking the supply chain and rebalancing the economy, but it can be done. As we move from our highly efficient “just in time” system to building more “just in case” stocks to stabilize the economy and protect our food supply, we need to develop immediate and long-term solutions.
The issues facing our supply chain will take time to resolve.
The main concern of farmers across the country is relief from rising farming costs. Fertilizer prices have skyrocketed (up to 300% in some areas) and the additional impact of these costs on the rest of the food chain will not be far behind. While there are several factors at play here, there are steps the Biden administration can take to improve the situation. The American Farm Bureau has urged the administration to look for ways to lower fertilizer prices, including addressing supply chain issues and removing import duties. Going forward, we must also focus on trade deals that remove harmful barriers and restrict access to essential tools for American farmers and ranchers.
It is time to increase the efficiency and reliability of commercial transportation channels, from our roads and railways to our ports and waterways. The recently passed bipartisan infrastructure package will be key to delivering long-term improvements that will keep our food supply moving across the country. However, the administration can do more now by bringing industry leaders together to find solutions to reduce backlogs and delays, whether through increased competition or innovative solutions to improve efficiency.
Labor shortages have also hit the food chain hard, especially when it comes to finding enough long-haul drivers to transport food products. But as more and more Americans return to the workforce, we need to increase access to those jobs. We called on the Department of Transportation to expand eligibility for commercial truck drivers, extend hours of service and increase shipment weights. Of course, agriculture is no stranger to labor shortages, and if we are to ensure the stability of our country’s food supply in the long term, we must reform our H-2A program from a way that works for all of agriculture.
We need to ensure that farms can continue to produce food, fiber and fuel in a sustainable way and that these products can get from the farm to processing facilities, stores and consumers. As I mentioned at the top of this column, the issues facing our supply chain will take time to resolve. But the work is ongoing, and at Farm Bureau, we’ll continue to come up with ideas and solutions to break down the barriers. Rest assured, every day you’re still farming, the American Farm Bureau has your back.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, livestock and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.