The Crisis Farmers Face

RICHARD plows the same fields his great-grandfather farmed some 100 years ago. Yet, in 2001 this Canadian farmer was the first in four generations of his family to fail to harvest any crops. They were ravaged by drought. Low crop prices in previous years and rising costs have added to his distress. Lamented Richard: “The hole just keeps getting deeper and there’s no way out.”

In the Corn Belt of the United States, Larry owned a farm that had belonged to his family for 115 years. “I felt I had a responsibility to keep the farm going, make it profitable . . . , and I wasn’t able to do it,” he says. Larry and his wife lost their farm.

Larry and Richard are not alone. In Britain the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among farm animals exacted an enormous financial and emotional toll on farmers. One news report stated: “Daily life on a British farm​—even one which the disease has not reached—​is marked by anxiety, isolation, and a desperate struggle to stave off creditors.” In some developing lands, war, drought, rapid population growth, and a host of other factors have frustrated the efforts of farmers. Governments are forced to import food​—food that many families cannot afford to buy.

 Thus, the problems of farmers have widespread impact. Even so, few urban dwellers give much thought to the challenges of agriculture. Almost 50 years ago, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower aptly stated: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” Farmers today likewise feel that much of the world is out of touch with agriculture and the important role of farmers. “We’re pretty complacent about where our food comes from,” laments one Canadian farmer. “Before the plastic wrap gets put on it and it gets put on a store shelf, a lot of people’s hands have touched it.”

Since we are all dependent upon the farming industry, the problems of farmers cannot be ignored. Sociologists Don A. Dillman and Daryl J. Hobbs warn: “In our highly interdependent society, rural problems quickly become urban problems and vice versa. Neither the urban nor rural portions of our society can flourish for long while the other languishes behind.” Furthermore, in today’s global village, an economic downturn in one nation can drastically affect the sale of crops and the cost of production in other lands.

Little wonder, then, that the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health reported: “Farming is one of the 10 most stressful occupations in the United States.” What are some of the factors behind the farm crisis? How can farmers cope? Is there any reason to believe the crisis can be solved?

[Blurb on page 4]

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field”