Originally published in Tampa Bay Online -
Commentary by Greg Schwarz
Greg Schwarz is a third-generation corn, soybean and turkey producer who serves as president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.
When you hear Wesley Clark preach about the importance of the "thin green line" to America's security, you assume he's talking about soldiers. After all, Clark served as a general in the U.S. Army and was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.
Recently though, Clark has used the term to refer to America's farmers and ranchers, who are dwindling in numbers but are tasked with feeding and clothing a growing national and world population.
To illustrate just how tenuous the situation has become, Clark uses a mind-blowing stat. "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."
There are just 210,000 full-time farms in this country to support 300 million Americans and countless foreign customers. Yet these farms are facing a host of challenges, ranging from policy attacks, to innovation hurdles, to onerous government regulations that drive up the cost of doing business and make it more difficult to attract the young growers needed to boost farmers' ranks.
As Clark puts it: "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."
This week, Tampa will be home to more thin green line members than any place in the nation, when it hosts the annual Commodity Classic trade show. Corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum farmers from all across the country will be here to chart a course for the industry's future while enjoying Florida's countless amenities.
Chances are good that if you ate a bowl of cereal, a sandwich or any meat today, it made its way to your plate because of the hard work of someone at this convention.
The show will be in town March 3-5, and when you see growers around the city, I'd encourage you to spend a little time getting to know the few of us who still make a living on the farm. In doing so, you'd be strengthening the thin green line.
That's because most Americans have sadly lost touch with our rural roots and take for granted an affordable, abundant food system that the rest of the world envies. But we need to reconnect, because there's so much at stake.
Agriculture supports 21 million American jobs — more than the U.S. automotive industry. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has credited agriculture with kick-starting the country's economic resurgence. And it remains one of the lone bright spots in America's trade portfolio, setting a record in exports last year with nearly $116 billion in sales.
Of course, farmers need to do their part in defending the agricultural industry, too. We need to do a better job of educating our urban neighbors about our profession and listening to our customers about food-related issues. And farmers need to be more cordial with one another and rise above petty differences over farm policy nuances or battles for market share that sometime divide us.
This week, I challenge everyone — farmers and Tampa residents alike — to make an effort to strengthen communications. As Clark summed up his plea: "We must hold the thin green line." America's security might just depend on it.