Former Ag Secretary John Block –

Hello everybody out there in farm country.

And now for today’s commentary—

When my father started farming 75 years ago, one third of our nation’s population were farmers. Today, only three percent are farmers; an amazing transformation.

Under President Roosevelt in the ’30s and ’40s with the Depression and World War, the federal government tried to help farmers and influence their production decisions. We had price supports and land set asides in the ’70s and early ’80s. All of this was designed to cut production and strengthen price.

When I was Secretary of Agriculture, we began the process of backing away from government manipulation in favor of allowing the market to work. We have come a long way. When we write the farm bill this year (if we get it done), we will take another step away from government subsidies and control.

Our farm subsidies have declined over the years. We’re not the leader in this reform process, though. New Zealand is. New Zealand has the lowest level of government support of the developed countries at 1% of total farm income.

Australia’s subsidies are 3% of total farm income with the U.S. at 4%.

European farm subsidies have been coming down but are still high at 22%. The countries with a lot of reform ahead of them are South Korea, Japan, Norway – all above 47%. That’s right, 47% of farm income coming from the government.

Now, back to the U.S. – according to USDA, another surprising fact is that total crop land in the U.S. has decreased by 34 million acres between 2002 and 2007. That is the lowest level of crop land in 65 years.

Wait a minute – I thought we were cutting down the trees and plowing up the fields to grow corn for ethanol. The fact is that ethanol production has not resulted in expansion of crop acres at all. In addition, acres of grass land, pasture, and forest land has increased. The Renewable Fuels Association makes the point that it is “ironic” that the land use debate has fixated on biofuels, when the actual culprit of land conversion has been urban sprawl which has quadrupled in the last 60 years.

So, we’re not gobbling up fragile land to meet the demand for more crop production. We’re growing more on less crop land. As President Reagan used to say, “Facts are stubborn things.” Farming today has changed. It’s not my grandfather’s business.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.