We are so blessed to live in America the Beautiful. From sea to shining sea there are snow-capped peaks, fresh-flowing rivers, tall pines and fir trees, canyons and parks that add to the wonder of creation. Colors are vibrant, soft, a mixture, spectacular. Everywhere there is beauty if we want to see it.
For some of the greatest beauty is in our rural areas. Especially this time of the year we want to be outdoors. We want to watch plants and animals grow. We want to experience springtime. We see home and family, productive work (and sometimes worry). Although American farmers live on and work just 10 percent of the world's land, they make productive nearly 1.2 billion acres. Each day one of our farmers produces food and fiber for 143 others, for many who are truly in need.
These are mostly family-owned farms. According to the American Farm Bureau, 98 percent of all U.S. farms are owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. Non-family corporations sell about 14 percent of all farm products.
We're good at growing plants and animals for food, fuel, fiber and shelter. We're good at planting, watering, feeding, harvesting and providing for the hungry. But an American farmer must also be a business person, an educator, an environmentalist, a marketing expert, and know the current laws and regulations. We are often hampered by others who want to tell us what we know best how to do!
The farmers and ranchers all across our state have earned some pats on the back. According to the Washington State Farm Bureau, our ag industry employs 160,000 people and contributes 12 percent to our state's economy. We grow more food, feed and seed crops than any other state except California.
For all their good work, farmers and ranchers receive only 19¢ of every dollar spent on food consumed both at home and away from home. The other 81¢ goes into processing, marketing, transportation and distribution. In an effort to increase their share of the profit and to cover their increasing costs, farmers take over one or more of those areas as well. There is a growing list of producers who sell from their farms, or who do processing and/or marketing. Our state has encouraged these efforts in campaigns such as Heart of Washington and Eat Fresh.
Do you think the 19¢ goes into the farmers' pockets? Remember, there are seeds, fertilizers and other supplies to purchase, repairs to do, interest and taxes to pay. Farm labor takes at least half the money. The farmer ends up with about 3¢ on the dollar for all the investment, planning and work he or she does.
By some accounts you would think farmers and ranchers just take from the land. Not so. More than half of them intentionally provide habit for wildlife, so much so that many animals, even predators, have shown significant increases the past few years. From 1997 to 2003, we gave a net increase of wetlands, 44,000 acres per year. Landowners have installed 1.54 million miles of conservation buffers. In addition, the erosion rate has been reduced by more than 40 percent since 1982. It is nonsense that the American farmer does not care for his land. He makes his living from it and stakes his reputation and the life of his family on it.
With all this, the farmer is in danger of losing his land and his water. Others want what we have worked for. Good neighbors next to cities have shared their land for housing, but the demand increases. Many cities have begun to develop empty downtown buildings to alleviate housing needs. Zoning laws keep rural development at a minimum, but land use regulations can work against our industry as well.
We live in a nation and a state that still values what the American and Washington state farmer can and will do, but there are fewer young people who are raised on farms, who know the joys and headaches of raising animals and growing food, and who are willing to work. Most Americans do not appreciate the low food costs. On an average, only 10 percent of our income is spent for food, while in many parts of the world it is 50 percent.
Let's keep our regulations helpful. Let's allow for farmers to remain the agricultural powerhouse we have become. American can be both beautiful and bountiful.
Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), provides her Across our State column as a way to keep local residents informed on what is currently happening in Olympia.