Still The Same After All These Years

Editor's Note: Some things never seem to change: This editorial was written more than 15 years ago – in some ways, agriculture has adapted; in others, there is still room for improvement.

In November, our thoughts often turn to family gatherings and tables laden with favorite foods. We gather for Thanksgiving and then the Christmas holiday rushes down on us like an avalanche.

These traditions are carried from one generation to the next and we hold the memories dear. But even they change over time. Remember when you were newlyweds, and for the first time you decided not to go "home" for the holidays because now you had your own home? It was probably tough at the time and your family might have resisted, but you knew, in the long run, it was the right thing to do.

Farming is the same way. You have more options than ever before. The new farm program encourages you to become more conservation-minded, with cost-share packages for a plethora of environmental improvements.

You also have more choices in what you raise, with benefits for crops other than corn and soybeans.

The end-user market has more potential now, too. Consumers want choices, including organically-grown, identity-preserved and local products. And in many cases, they're willing to pay a premium. New ethnic markets show increased potential as well.

Even the government is opening the doors to change. New policies will look beyond subsidies to offer sustainable growth and prosperity for rural communities. This is the direction we ought to be going.

As the world economy takes on greater importance, American policy, and indeed American opinion, will move toward what's right and just for global citizens. Ultimately, this kind of thinking will take us further than if we maintain a protectionist point of view. When U.S. farm leaders "talk tough" about forcing other countries to follow sound trade rules, they'd better not look in the American mirror. Between conservation programs, loan programs, and disaster payments, we're spending more for agriculture than ever before. I don't begrudge farmers for taking advantage of the programs -- that's why they're there. But we may reach a point when we can't have it both ways.

As agriculture moves forward, we'll need people who can see the big picture. We'll need visionaries who look for win-win opportunities -- those solutions that are good for farmers, good for consumers and good for our world partners.

The Center for the Study of Rural America, part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, believes countries are finding new ways to focus on rural development.

"In general, the new policies are aimed at regions, new sources of competitiveness, and new forms of governance to align policy administration with economic regions," wrote Mark Drabenstott in The Main Street Economist. "While these policies are too new to provide any current assessment of their effectiveness, they can give policymakers in rural America glimpses of new paths that U.S. policy might take."

It's time for fresh thinking on farm policy. As farmers and ranchers, that's what you're doing in your own operations. Traditional programs and policies need a facelift, and you can help form the features.