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Tuesday, 17 August 2010 11:18

Chinese Farmers

Written by  Baxter Black, DVM
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“Basically there’s no income from growing wheat. There’s just enough to keep us alive.” “Farmers’ income falls, thanks to surplus of crops...” “The biggest threat to farmer’s incomes comes from (urban) development of their lands.” “Officials and developers have latched on to it (the farmland) and won’t let go.” “Farmers must somehow be weaned from the land and steered onto productive urban jobs.” “Farmers who have lost their land...find work, but it’s often just picking and selling old garbage...”

Recent newspaper excerpts from Saskatchewan? Kansas? Montana? No. Hebei province, China. Sounds achingly familiar.

China, that for years could not feed itself, is now arguably the world’s leading producer of wheat, as well as cotton and pork. It is odd that modernized farming puts farmers out of business. Why must technology eliminate jobs? I guess it must be easier to fix machinery than to maintain employees.

I remember the year that they eliminated the bracero program in my New Mexico valley. It had allowed farmers to employ Mexican citizens to come north and pick cotton. The labor unions objected that the program took jobs from Americans. That first fall after discontinuing the program, every farmer in the valley had a giant new cotton picker.

I see films of modern automobile manufacturing plants proudly displaying robot arms and mechanical welders and buttons and dials building cars...where people used to stand.

I listen to endless impersonal voice mail that replaced live operators. I see glistening milking parlors, wait a minute! I might be getting too close to home.

In truth, no one wants to go back to picking cotton or milking cows by hand. But it is a fact that technology replaces people. So what do we do with these displaced folks? That’s the problem China is dealing with today. Technology has not so much lowered the income of farmers, as it has raised everyone else’s income, and left farmers behind.

The price of wheat in 1953 was $2.04/bushel. This summer it’s $3.53, in real dollars. In 1953, a new Chevy pickup was $1,407. Today it is $21,325.

The only consolation seems to be basic truth that we aren’t in it for the money. You don’t hear many people say “I’m just ranching till I make enough to buy the car dealership downtown!”

Give us enough to feed our families and maintain some pride in our contribution to the world’s well-being. Let us farm and raise livestock and take care of the land, because it’s what we do. You do the dry cleaning, fix the phone and collect the taxes, because that’s what you do.

How do you say, “We’ll scratch each other’s back,” in Chinese?

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