Friday, December 31, 2004
"He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them". Sun Tzu in The Art of War.
An article in a recent agricultural publication touted the exciting agribusiness opportunities awaiting Americans in Brazil along with tips for entering the Brazilian agricultural market. Brazil and China are now considered the new agricultural superpowers in part because of their readiness to embrace the best of our technology in combination with inexpensive land and a cheap labor force. This mix could prove toxic for American farmers.
Venture capitalists are flocking in mass to both countries but while boundaries are blurred, farmers are being buried. In the state of Washington, two of the major asparagus canning plants announced that they would no longer buy produce locally. Del Monte reported it would purchase asparagus instead from Peru. One fell swoop of this financial chess match sent the pawns (500 seasonal processors and 1,500 row-cutters) into the unemployment lines. Washington state, once considered the second largest asparagus producer in the U.S., has lost 60 percent of its crop.
In this new "globalization" game, a farm worker in America is fired while one in South America is hired. Who is the winner? Is the damage inflicted on one economy, simply outweighed by the growth of another?
Ask Florida citrus growers how they feel about the fact that Brazil now leads the world in the production of citrus fruits, frozen concentrate and orange juice.
Northwest orchardists are bracing for the inevitable onslaught of Chinese apples. China is now the largest apple producer in the world and while the quality of Washington apples far surpasses China's, the fact that Chinese apples are half the price ensures a world market. Quality will be inevitable, with analysts forecasting a competitive Chinese apple looming only 5 to 10 years in the future.
The livestock industry is experiencing the same scenario. If it has not already, Brazil will soon surpass Australia as the world's largest exporter of beef. The American Meat Institute now advocates dissolving the boundaries between American, Canadian and Mexican cattle herds to create a North American product. Can we be assured as consumers that they will ALL be held to the same standards and safety checklists that are now in place for U.S. beef?
Our freedom is in jeopardy if we lose the ability to feed our nation. A global economy courts global terrorism. It is sobering that Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson admitted to worrying every single night about a possible terror attack on our imported foods. The knights on the white horse holding the reins of the future of America's farmers will be the marketing gurus who can create value-added products and premium U.S. brands that will command worldwide respect.
Written over 2,000 years ago, the words in The Art of War by Sun Tzu resonate today, "When your weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent," other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity."
Susan Allen provides her "FoodforeThought" column as a way to promote the interests of American farmers.