The following is an excerpt of an opinion piece prepared by former U.S. army general Wesley Clark for theKansasCityStar.
A former presidential candidate, Rhodes scholar and graduate of West Point Military Academy, General Clark now serves as co-chairman of Growth Energy.
When the United States rationed food during the Second World War so citizens and soldiers had enough to eat, the secretary of agriculture often repeated the slogan: “Food will win the war and write the peace.”
I think of these words every time I read an article or see a fringe group attacking the modern- day farmer.
I am no farm policy expert, but I know about national security, and I know that farmers are as important today as they were in 1942.
Of course, meeting America’s needs is more challenging today because the U.S. population has nearly tripled over the past 70 years. Meanwhile, the number of farms has plummeted, leaving just 210,000 full-time farms to feed, fuel and clothe more than 300 million Americans.
Think about that sobering fact. More people pass through Wal-Mart’s doors every 21 minutes to buy groceries and clothes than there are farms to grow the goods stocking Wal- Mart’s shelves.
Yet we are dependent on their survival for more than just providing three meals a day. There’s also the health of one of the country’s biggest economic engines at stake.
More than 21 million Americans have jobs rooted in agriculture, the industry boasts a rare trade surplus, and it generates hundreds of billions in economic activity each year.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City credits agriculture with being at the forefront of the nation’s economic recovery. Unfortunately, the Fed also warns that farm debt is rising to dangerous levels, leaving the future of agriculture in a precarious position.
Such a warning should alarm us all, because the farming community is also on the front lines of breaking America’s dependence on foreign oil – perhaps our biggest security threat.
Whether it is ethanol produced from corn, waste-to-energy biomass power derived from crop residue, or wind energy harnessed on farm acres, the Midwest is needed to end our Middle East oil addiction.
As a new Congress debates America’s future, they should think of the 210,000 farms that produce 80 per cent of the country’s agricultural output as a thin green line standing between prosperity and disaster.
We need to abandon questionable regulations based on unsound science that unfairly penalize farmers and renewable, clean-burning biofuels.
Simply put, we must hold the thin green line.
If we cannot feed, fuel and clothe ourselves, then we cannot defend ourselves. If this one bright spot in our economy is choked off, then recession recovery will certainly stall. And, if rural America falters, we open the floodgate to even more fuel produced by nation states that do not share our values and strategic interests and our country is less secure.
America is at a crossroads, just as we were in the 1970s when our reliance on overseas oil first bit us. That’s why elected leaders must put a premium on holding this thin green line through smart government – ranging from fewer onerous regulations to tax, energy, and trade policies that boost bottom lines.
If anyone needs a reminder of what we’re fighting for, read the slogan used by the current agriculture secretary: “If you have trouble with Hugo Chavez providing your oil, how do you feel about him providing your food?”