Profit is not a four-letter word

This blog was originally posted on Dec. 10, 2012. 

By Mike Barnett

Your profitability as a farmer or rancher ranks low on the list of concerns of those who consume your products. I call them customers.

I’ve noted this fact in a survey or two and was reminded of it the other day when a Facebook friend posted some tidbits he had read from an article in the excellent publication Livestock Weekly.

According to the article, consumers believe the priorities for those farmers and ranchers who genuinely try to make a living from agriculture should, from first to last, be:

  • Affordable food
  • Safe food
  • Nutritious food
  • Humane treatment of animals
  • Profitability
  • Productivity

I have no argument with anyone who wants affordable, safe and nutritious food. Our customers are used to that and, in all reality, pretty much take it for granted. Grocery shelves are always stocked. We hear now and again about a food safety issue, but the risk of getting sick from the food you eat is small–especially if you take the proper precautions such as washing and cooking to safe temperatures before eating. As far as nutrition, many say they want nutritious food and head directly to the fast food restaurant and do the opposite. I’m guilty here at times, too.

The real disconnect, however, is the profitability and productivity of the farmer and rancher and their relationship to affordable, safe and nutritious food. Profitability and productivity rank last on our customers’ list of concerns. How is safe and nutritious food going to be affordable if the farmer hasn’t employed knowledge, technology and capital to be productive? We hear so many critics deride technology in agriculture as bad, yet it has proven safe. The result is our food system, the best in the world. Another part of the article demonstrated the importance of productivity. In 1950, it said, there were more than 5.5 million farms. Today, there are two million. If the number of farms and the level of productivity remained constant since 1950, the article said about half the U.S. population would have nothing to eat. That’s sobering.

And profit? Let me let you in on a little secret: Profit is not a dirty word when it comes to agriculture.

Farmers and ranchers have commitments, just like you. They have bills to pay, just like you.

Farmers and ranchers have obligations. They have a responsibility to care for their families, just like you, and they need to make money in order to make that happen.

Farmers and ranchers are caretakers. They are good stewards of their livestock, soil and water resources. If they don’t make a profit, they won’t raise food. You don’t eat.

So affordable, safe and nutritious food? Yes, I’m all for it. Humane treatment of animals? Yes, livestock should be treated well.

Profitability and productivity? Double yes. For without it, everything else is just a house of cards.

And it won’t be a pretty day if they all fall down.

Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
Follow Mike on Twitter and Facebook.

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