What if America’s farmers went on strike? What would happen?
Strikes are not an uncommon tool used, mostly by union organizations, to force the hand of companies they work for to come to the bargaining table and solve issues important to them. Several industries have used this practice, or threats of it, somewhat routinely – like the auto, airline, and package delivery industries. Recent farmer-based strikes in South America and Europe and conversations with U.S. producers got me thinking about what would happen if America’s farmers went on strike.
As with many strikes, timing is important. The goal is to exert as much leverage on the company as possible so the company is inclined to negotiate quicker and with more concessions in order to not disrupt production or service at a key time. Such is often the case in the airline industry just before peak travel times around the holidays.
In the case of farming, the key times for the largest crops (corn and soybeans) would be the spring planting and the fall harvest. Let’s say then, for this discussion, that the farmers chose May and June to strike. What would that look like?
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, approximately 80 percent of the corn and 90 percent of the soybeans are planted during these months.
The planting of crops is strongly dependent on the weather. Get the crop in too early and you risk a late freeze in spring. Get the crop in too late and you risk an early freeze before harvest. Both of those will decimate the crop, assuming you have one at all.
If you don’t properly match the peak growing times of corn to the higher moisture times in the spring for growth and hotter times for maturity and drying, it increases the amount of inputs (water, fertilizer, energy for drying, etc.) and increases the risk of poor yields. This means much less money for the farmer, increased environmental burdens, but more importantly, much less food available for you the consumer.
We all have seen looting and public violence at grocery stores usually related to earthquakes, riots or hurricanes. These all are very local incidents and rarely affected many of us.
The world grain supplies are very tight, if we only harvested a tenth, or even half of the corn and soybean crops, widespread food shortages would result. There would be sharp super-inflation of food prices, empty food aisles and an outpouring of public outcry. We would have a taste of what many nations already experience. It would likely become more profitable to be a food-lord rather than a drug-lord. The United States’ safety, not just New Orleans or L.A., would be in jeopardy.
Farmers, all two percent of the population, have a very important role in all of our lives because food is a necessity not just a choice.
American farmers and ranchers, however, don’t have the luxury of being able to strike. Even if they did, they would not. This nation’s farmers understand they are not just providing a product or service, but that they are providing a necessity. The animal caretakers also understand that they don’t get a day off. Animals don’t know, or care, that it is Saturday or Christmas. They still need to be fed, watered and looked after.
Less than two percent of this nation feeds not only this nation, but contributes significantly to feeding the entire world.
Don’t believe me? Go to your cupboards and throw out anything that contains ingredients derived from products produced by farmers and ranchers. Enjoy your water and eating the cupboard doors! Selfless and giving farmers are the backbone of this country and are essential to our existence.
-Dr. Benjamin Wileman is a graduate student in veterinary medicine. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.