"I think it's about time America woke up."
Americans used to be confident that the U.S. was the country that not only fed all its people, but also was proud to feed half the rest of the world off its surplus harvests. Not so anymore! Pat Takasugi, Idaho Department of Agriculture Director points out that the U.S. now imports 50 percent of its food. "Right now we are letting go of our food security," according to Takasugi.
Pat Takasugi, Idaho Department of Agriculture Director, spoke recently at the Western Treasure Valley Economic Outlook and Breakfast, at the Elks Lodge in Ontario, Oregon, February 25, 2005. Although his remarks have not been reported except locally, Mr. Takasugi is trying his best to get the word out about agriculture, food policy and agriculture issues.
Excerpts from coverage by the ARGUS OBSERVOR (daily newspaper in Ontario, Oregon), February 27, 2005 --
"Most of the country is in the world of non-reality," Takasugi said.
Americans are too busy watching the Oscars, he told a large crowd of farmers and business people in attendance.
Contrasting China to what is happening in the U.S., he noted that while old railroads in the U.S. are being turned into bicycle paths, China continues to double-track railroads across the nation.
"While we are busy watching the NHL negotiate to a non-season, the Chinese are locking up resources around the world," he said. That is why fuel prices will not be going down and now is the time to get rid of the SUV, he said.
Going through a list of current trends in agriculture, Takasugi said, "Longterm, I'm pretty optimistic aobut agriculture." The trick will be to hold on until things turn around, he said.
Takasugi then turned to marketing. "We're not good at marketing in agriculture," he said.
In Idaho there are about 25,000 farmers, but Takasugi estimated the number of "real farmers" as low as 5,000 to 10,000. He said there are farmers who have thousands of acres and then there are those with small acreages who have other jobs. It is the farmers in the middle who are disappearing, he said, because of economics.
Some of the trends in agriculture result from urban/rural conflicts over such issues as odors, Takasugi said.
Regulations, he said, are also hurting farmers.
He said he foresees issues involving the Clean Air Act affecting agriculture.
Idaho is moving to strengthen its right-to-farm laws -- or make it more litigation proof -- but in other states those laws are being challenged.
A World Trade Organization ruling against U.S. subsidies on cotton is also troubling, he said.
Now, he said, all subsidies are open for challenge [at the international WTO level].
Food is different than toys or shoes, and needs to be looked at differently than from the attitude that if they cannot compete globally the game is over, he said.
"I see agriculture as a natural resource," he said. He said it is an issue of food safety and food security.
(Patrick A. Takasugi is a third generation farmer from Wilder, Idaho, where he farmed for 20 years and is currently operating over 1,000 irrigated acres. He was appointed Director of Agriculture by Governor Phil Batt on March 18, 1996. He was educated in Idaho schools and received his B.A. from Albertson's College of Idaho in 1971. After college, he enlisted in the U.S. Army qualifying airborne, Ranger, Special Forces, and graduated from the Infantry Officer Candidate School, attaining the rank of captain.)
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