If you like to eat, then please thank a farmer
If you plan to eat something today, please thank a farmer.
If you enjoy beef, pork, poultry, vegetables, fruit, milk, cheese, butter, bread ... virtually everything you eat comes from a farm. Buying groceries or ordering take-out is part of our lifestyle, but we rarely think about all the things that need to happen to get the food to the supermarket or restaurant.
Agriculture is not easy, but it sure is essential.
Farmers comprise about 2 percent of the national population. They feed the other 98 percent who don't farm. These are some of the things farmers need to succeed:
» Affordable water and land.
» Customer markets. Like any business, farmers need customers -- supermarkets, restaurants and individuals.
» Multiple revenue streams. Hawaii agriculture can be more successful if farms can have more than one customer market or more than one source of farm income. For example, a farmer who grows tomatoes in Hawaii sells all his best tomatoes, but throws away most of his off-grade because he lacks the facilities to turn his off-grade tomatoes into ketchup or tomato sauce. So, unlike a farmer on the mainland who is able to generate revenue on his off-grade tomatoes, a Hawaii farmer simply throws his away. This makes Hawaii's products more expensive.
» Affordable transportation. Agricultural products require special handling so fresh products won't spoil on their way from the farm to their customers. Transportation expenses can be a major expense, and it's important to keep them as affordable as possible.
» Supportive regulations. Government policies have a huge impact on agriculture. Some examples: Residential building codes can make it cost-prohibitive to build a simple greenhouse. Food safety standards are set far higher than the scientific data warrants, thereby driving up the costs to farmers. Small farmers tend to be especially hard hit by such onerous regulations.
Self-sufficiency is a hot topic in Hawaii lately. It's a good concept but a hard one to achieve. Local agriculture is a critical part of any discussion on self-sufficiency.
First, we import 85 percent of everything we eat. If we want to be more self-sufficient, we need to support and grow local agriculture.
Second, production of biofuels can improve energy sustainability, but will improve self-sufficiency only if Hawaii farmers can grow high-oil crops to supply the biofuel plants.
And third, increased globalization means we are importing more and more produce. While this means we can enjoy, say, strawberries from the mainland or New Zealand, it also means we are importing unwanted insects and other pests that hitchhike in on the imported produce and escape into our environment. Invasive species are less of a problem if you buy local. So, Hawaii agriculture plays a role in protecting our environment.
Agriculture is tied to a number of other important issues:
» Can we improve policies so agriculture and development can co-exist harmoniously?
» Can we expand export opportunities for our local farmers so they can compete in the global economy?
» Can we do a better job of embracing all types of legitimate agriculture? This includes embracing groundbreaking research and technology.
» Finally, can we do more to support local agriculture? Thank a farmer. Buy local agriculture products. Think about what it took for you to have your dinner tonight.