For Release February 16, 1999

Food - Make the Connection

by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agent

A couple of weeks ago I spent the day in a meeting with about thirty other people who were all connected with food production in one manner or another. We were talking about the current status of food production, where we had come from, where we were headed and what the biggest challenges/obstacles might be. Several recent events had spurred this conversation.

One of the events was the recent black hole that hog prices had fallen into. Everyone knew hog producers that had sold hogs at the end of 1998 for less than ten cents a pound. Cost of production is generally felt to be between thirty and forty cents a pound. In agriculture we have a measurement known as parity price. Parity price is the price that ag commodities should be if they had increased at the same rate of inflation as the general economy since about World War I. When hog prices were running at ten cents per pound, or less, the parity price was at one dollar a pound. Most of the other commodities have been running right around 30% of their respective parity price.

Another item that was spurring conversation was the recent release of the 1997 Agricultural Census data. The number of farms in Kansas had decreased, again. We are down to roughly 61,600 farms in the state, a 2.7% drop from 1992. The number of full time farmers was down 11% to just under 35,000. The number of farms with milk cows was down 32% from 1992, although milk production was only down 4%. Since 1992 the number of farms selling hogs was down 53% yet number of hogs and pigs sold was up 6%. Remember that these hog figures were before the bottom dropped out of the market in late 1998. One other interesting statistic was the decrease in the amount of land in farms. The 1997 figure was down over 500,000 acres compared to 1992, that’s 900 square miles or an area not quite three times the size of Geary County. How much of this was urban sprawl and how much was non-reporting producers is hard to say, but if it’s even half that amount it should be alarming!

I’d better get to the bottom line before I run out of space. One of the items targeted as a big need over the next ten years is to help the consumer understand where their food comes from. Go into any grade, elementary through high school, in any school and ask the students where there food comes from. You would be shocked to know how few students make the connection between what they see as they travel down the interstate highways and what they see on their food plate. To too many people, youth and adults alike, food comes from the restaurant or the grocery store, not the farm.

Unless there is a major change in society I don’t see a change to the dwindling number of farmers. Who cares if there’s still food on the table? A study in the late 1980’s from Iowa showed that in rural communities, for every ten farms that went out of business one main street store closed their doors. Again from the 1997 Ag census: In 1997 there were 679 Kansas farms (out of a total of 61,593) with sales of $1,000,000 or more. This 1.1% of the farms accounted for 52% of ALL sales. There were 142 farms with sales over $5 million. This 0.2% of the farms had 42% of the sales. If you count up all farms with sales over $250,000 you have 5,420 farms, 8.7% of the total, and they accounted for 75% of all ag sales in 1997. If these figures don’t scare you they should.

Too many people are too many generations away from the farm. It is up to those of us in the food production business to make sure that the average consumer has in inkling of where there food comes from and then make sure that they are getting a safe wholesome product. But the consumers, and that includes all of us, need to make an effort to make that connection between the livestock and crops we see in the fields, the main street stores in our own town and the food we see on our plates every day!


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