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Straight from the Heart

By Richard Oswald

(Sunday, April 6, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Heartfelt words are hard to come by. Many of us promote one thing or another because it seems the right thing to do. Others speak positively only of those things that will benefit themselves.

We need only to look into our hearts for the truth.

The farm situation seems to generate quite a bit of talk. A lot of the talk is done for political purposes. As farmers, most of us are guilty of accepting too much as fact. Common sense gained from years of lessons learned in our country school of hard knocks might make us see things differently if we search deeply enough for the facts.

We are constantly warned that the farm bill is the best we can expect. That criticizing it or trying to change it might jeopardize the half loaf we have and leave us with no loaf at all. We are told that to oppose any part of it will surely bring ruin on us all, and many of us accept that judgment without ever examining those pronouncements or the people who made them.

Much of what we were told to think about NAFTA and WTO was mistaken. My heart tells me we were lied to, but reason forces me to assume that somehow things changed dramatically for the worse once the thoughts became words and the words turned to law. Farmers in this country have not seen expanding markets or rising prices unless we count the prices and the markets of the things we buy. We are reliant on a system of payments generated from tax dollars and warned not to speak of it too much lest it be taken away. Some of our leaders and others say that to limit those payments in any way is unfair, that in America all are free to profit equally.

My heart tells me that profit is something I must earn. Not something I am given.

If I am to be the profit equal of the large farms in my neighborhood then I must become their moral equal as well. I must structure my business in a way that allows me to circumvent the intent and rule of law. I must not show restraint in my hunger to reign supreme over the land. I cannot allow other farmers a toehold near me because my view must be that others work for me, not beside me.

I am constantly surrounded with reminders of our agricultural payment system. Some reminders are of neighbors who earn less, some of them are of neighbors who earn more, and some of them are of neighbors in the past tense.

Like sharks that swim among fishes, neighbors who earn the most in payments are those who have learned their lessons best. They have been schooled to know that controlling the largest number of acres nets the largest number of dollars. Profitable expansion of existing farms is now off limits to all but the most aggressive of the breed. Forced attrition from harsh economic factors has replaced the natural attrition of life cycles that existed before. It is because of that relatively recent fact of life that some of the people who were supposed to be saved by the farm law have now become its victims.

The Bill of Rights does not recognize the power of wealth except to counteract it with personal freedoms. We do not see ourselves as divided by income because in America, all are equal. Many average farmers refuse to speak out against high payment limits. We admire the very people who prey upon us because of their success at harvesting government dollars. Some of us see consolidation as the no-matter-what future of agriculture. We plan to beat it by becoming part of it. Only when our own lives are impacted by the ruthless competition of the governmentally funded do we consider that without unlimited Federal assistance our farms and our rights might be more secure.

My head tells me that industrialized agriculture is unstoppable, but deep inside I believe that if enough people could be told the truth, then perhaps food production in the United States could be a family oriented industry with positive results for the nation and the world- and that's from the heart.

Richard R. Oswald lives and farms in Langdon, Missouri.