Articles, Blog

Dwindling Number of Oklahoma Farmers

September 6, 2019


ROB MCCLENDON: WELL TIMES
ARE GOOD DOWN ON THE FARM. YES, WE HAVE
SUFFERED THROUGH A
HORRIBLE DROUGHT. BUT FOR THE MOST
PART, EXCLUDING SOME
SOUTHWESTERN OKLAHOMA COUNTIES, FARMERS IN THE
STATE HAVE REBOUNDED WHILE
ENJOYING RECORD PRICES. BUT IN A BUSINESS WHERE
ONE HAS TO BE AS MINDFUL
OF THE MARKETS AROUND THE GLOBE, AS THE WEATHER UP
ABOVE, THERE ARE SOME
LINGERING ISSUES OUT ON THE HORIZON THAT HAS
THOSE IN THE AG INDUSTRY
PAYING CLOSE ATTENTION. HERE IS OUR ANDY BARTH. ANDY BARTH: AGRICULTURE IS
A FOUNDATION INDUSTRY FOR
THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA, AND FOR THOSE WHO WORK THE
LAND, THIS PAST YEAR
WAS ONE OF REBUILDING. ANDY BARTH: AS A YEAR OF
MOSTLY COOPERATIVE WEATHER
AND PREDOMINENTLY GOOD CROPS COMES TO A CLOSE,
OKLAHOMA AG PRODUCERS CAME
TOGETHER TO LOOK AHEAD. JIM REESE: IT’S
A GOOD TIME. IT’S A GOOD TIME TO
BE IN AGRICULTURE. ANDY: OKLAHOMA SECRETARY
OF AGRICULTURE JIM REESE
SAYS OKLAHOMA AG IS BACK ON THE RISE. REESE: CURRENTLY WE’RE
DOING PRETTY WELL. YOU KNOW IF YOU TAKE LAST
TWENTY YEARS AND PULL OUT
THE LAST THREE, COMMODITY PRICES HAVE BEEN CLOSE
TO DOUBLE THE PREVIOUS
SEVENTEEN YEARS. SO DESPITE THE DROUGHT,
WHICH YOU KNOW CERTAINLY
HAD A DETRIMENTAL EFFECT ON AGRICULTURE, NOW
WE’RE, YOU KNOW WE’VE HAD
THREE PRETTY GOOD YEARS ECONOMICALLY FOR
AGRICULTURE IN OKLAHOMA. ANDY: AND WHILE WEATHER
WILL ALWAYS DICTATE
AGRICULTURE’S SUCCESS IN OKLAHOMA, THREE OTHER
FACTORS ARE INCREASINGLY
IMPACTFUL, GLOBAL DEMAND, WATER, AND WORKFORCE. AROUND THE GLOBE, A
GROWING MIDDLE CLASS IS
HUNGRY FOR AMERICAN FOOD; AUTHOR AND AGRICULTURAL
ECONOMIST JAYSON LUSK. JAYSON LUSK: YOU KNOW ONE
OF THE BIG ONE’S IS JUST
MORE DEMAND FOR FOOD ALL OF THE TIME. AND THAT’S COMING
OFTEN FROM COUNTRIES
LIKE CHINA AND INDIA. THE FOOD PRODUCTION IS
A WORLD MARKET AND U S
PRODUCERS SUPPLY THAT WORLD MARKET. A BIG PROPORTION OF OUR
AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION
GOES OUTSIDE OF THIS COUNTRY. SO THE POLICY DECISIONS WE
MAKE HERE AFFECT CONSUMERS
ALL OVER THE WORLD. ANDY: DECISIONS
INCREASLINGY DRIVEN BY
THE AMERICAN CONSUMER, A CONSUMER THAT IS OFTEN A
DICHOTOMY, SAYING ONE
THING WHILE DOING ANOTHER. ONCE AGAIN, AUTHOR
JAYSON LUSK. LUSK: I THINK HERE AT
HOME, WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT
CONSUMERS, YOU KNOW THEY’RE INTERESTED IN ALL
KINDS OF ASPECTS OF THE
FOOD SYSTEM, WHETHER TODAY IT’S ORGANIC, OR NATURAL,
OR LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS. IF YOU LOOK AT THE ACTUAL
MARKETSHARE FOR THOSE
KINDS OF FOODS, IT’S VERY LOW. SO WHEN YOU ASK PEOPLE
ABOUT WHICH THINGS IN
THE FOOD SYSTEM ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO THEM IT TENDS
TO BE THINGS LIKE SAFETY,
PRICE, NUTRITION AND CONVENIENCE. ANDY: SO WHILE TODAY’S
FARMER MUST BE ATUNED TO
CONSUMER DEMAND, IN SOME WAYS THEY ARE COMPETING
WITH THOSE SAME, LARGELY
URBAN CONSUMERS FOR A RESOURCE THAT IS
THE LIFE BLOOD OF
AGRICULTURE, WATER. LARRY SANDERS: MOST OF US
WHO LIVE IN SUBURBS OR
URBAN AREAS WANT TO MAKE SURE WE HAVE PRETTY LAWNS,
AND WE DON’T THINK TWICE
ABOUT FLUSHING TOILETS AND TURNING WATER ON AND OFF
TO GET WATER OR DO OUR
DISHES OR DO OUR LAUNDRY. AND IT’S SOMEWHAT OF A
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE IN
THE RURAL AREAS, WHERE EVERY TIME YOU’RE TURNING
WATER ON, YOU’RE USUALLY
DOING IT FOR A REASON THAT’S GOING TO BRING
PROFITABILITY TO YOU. ANDY: LARRY SANDERS IS AN
OSU AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS
PROFESSOR AND SAYS COMPETITION OVER WATER
WILL CONTINUE BETWEEN
URBAN AND RURAL COMMUNITIES. SANDERS: RIGHT NOW WE HAVE
MORE WATER THAN WE NEED IN
THE STATE AND THAT’S LIKELY GOING TO CONTINUE. THE BASIC ISSUE IS WE NEED
THE WATER AT A CERTAIN
TIME, AT A CERTAIN PLACE, AT A CERTAIN LEVEL OF
QUALITY, AND AT A PRICE
WE’RE WILLING TO PAY. ANDY: DECISIONS BEING MADE
IN AN AGING POPULATION. THE AVERAGE AGE OF THE
AMERICAN FARMER JUMPED
FROM 51 IN 1990 TO 57 IN 2010. AND WITH FEWER AND FEWER
YOUNG PEOPLE RETURNING TO
THE FARM, OLDER PRODUCERS AREN’T SURE
WHO WILL CONTINUE
FEEDING THE WORLD. SHANNON FERRELL: ONLY
THIRTY PERCENT OF SMALL
BUSINESSES ARE GOING TO SURVIVE FROM THE
FOUNDING GENERATION TO
THE NEXT GENERATION. AND THAT SAME STATISTIC
APPLIES IN AGRICULTURE. ANDY: OKLAHOMA
STATE UNIVERSITY’S,
SHANNON FERRELL. FERRELL: SO IF WE REALLY
CARE ABOUT OUR FARMS
STAYING INTACT AND IN OUR FAMILY AND REMAINING
VIABLE, WE’VE GOT TO COME
UP WITH A WAY TO GET AROUND THAT STATISTIC. AND WHAT THE RESEARCH
SUGGESTS IS THAT IF WE CAN
HELP THE NEXT GENERATION SLOWLY GROW INTO THAT
ROLE, GAIN EXPERIENCE,
KIND OF GAIN OWNERSHIP OVER TIME, RATHER THAN
SHIFTING EVERYTHING ALL
OF THE SUDDEN WHEN A GENERATION PASSES AWAY,
WE GREATLY INCREASE
OUR ODDS OF SUCCESS. ANDY: KEITH KISLING IS A
FARMER IN NORTH CENTRAL
OKLAHOMA AND SAYS THE PUBLIC NEEDS
TO KNOW ABOUT WHAT REALLY
HAPPENS DOWN ON THE FARM. KISLING: WE’VE GOT TO
TELL OUR STORY BETTER. I THINK THAT’S THE
ISSUE THAT WE HAVE. IF WE DON’T TELL OUR
STORY, AND WHAT WE’RE
DOING RIGHT, THE PUBLIC ARE NOT GOING TO HEAR IT. AND SO MUCH OF THE TIME
WE JUST TELL OUR STORY TO
THE PEOPLE THAT WE KNOW. AND WE’RE JUST
PREACHING TO THE CHOIR. ANDY BARTH: BUT THE NUMBER
OF FARMERS ARE SHRINKING. IN 1920, FIFTY PERCENT OF
OKLAHOMANS WERE FARMERS. BY 1950, IT WAS DOWN TO
TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT. AND TODAY, ONLY
TWO-POINT-FIVE PERCENT OF
OKLAHOMANS WORK THE LAND. AND THESE NUMBERS ARE
EVEN MORE DRAMATIC
ON A NATIONAL LEVEL.

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