Black: Who gets to say what agriculture really is?
“I call to order the meeting of the Committee of the Department of Commerce. The purpose of the agenda today is to assess the importance of agriculture in the state. Our job is to determine which businesses should be included as part of agriculture. Let’s start,” said the chairman.
“Well, obviously,” said the Commissioner of Agriculture, “any business that produces raw product, animal or vegetable, is part of agriculture. Like milk. A dairy should be included.”
“Agreed. How about cheese?”
“It’s made from milk.”
“Yes, but it’s a factory. It only takes milk and converts it to cheese. Their payroll includes truckers, lab techs, sales people and ad agency folks. Should truck drivers and ad copywriters be part of agriculture?”
“Good question, but the cheese plant wouldn’t be in the community if the dairies weren’t nearby.”
“Okay. Let’s come back to that. How about grain elevators?”
“If the farmer stored his grain on his farm it would definitely be farm income. If he stores it in the co-op elevator, it’s still his grain.”
“What if the grain is freighted on a train to Minneapolis and loaded on a barge bound for Irkutsk? Is that shipping still part of the ag economy?”
“So the tow boat pilot is merely a skilled farm hand?”
“We better come back to this.”
“Alright. The feedlot business is definitely agriculture. We can all agree, so, let’s say any cattle feeder who hedges his cattle on the Chicago Board of Trade. Is his broker an agricultural worker?”
“Certainly. He’s directly involved in marketing a raw commodity.”
“What if the broker sells pork belly futures?”
“Pork bellies are produced in a meat processing plant. I assume you think packinghouses are part of the agriculture instead of manufacturing. How ‘bout the butcher who sells packages of bacon in a grocery store? Is he an agricultural worker? And the teenager at Burger King who sells a bacon cheeseburger?”
“I don’t know.”
“So, how are we gonna decide the economic importance of agriculture in any given community, state or nation?”
“It is sure complicated, Mr. Chairman. We’d have to consider imports and exports, a cheap food policy, the smell of the air at the edge of town, muddy tracks on a farm to market road, or the number of implement dealers in the local yellow pages.
Maybe it’s so big a part of the economy that it’s impossible to separate. The only thing I’m sure of…it has somethin’ to do with home grown tomatoes.” ❖