Farmers get little of food dollar

Farmers get little of food dollar

Americans use less of their income to pay for food than people in other countries because farmers make technologies work in the best interests of animals and consumers.

FOOD prices -- especially for meat, poultry and dairy products -- are heading higher in 2013 as livestock and poultry producers respond to very high costs by cutting production.

Beef, pork, chicken and turkey production in 2013 will be reduced from 2012 levels -- only the second time production of all four of the major meats will be under year ago at the same time since the 1980s. Milk production in 2013 will be unchanged from 2012.

The costs are due to demand for corn for ethanol production, which drew 38.1% of the 2012 corn supply to fuel plants, as well as last summer's drought, which was possibly the most severe since the 1930s. Producers are caught with historically the most expensive prices for corn and other feed ingredients.

The production cutbacks are intended to increase prices for meat and milk sufficiently enough to at least cover production costs, although cattle feeders and pork producers are currently forecasted to lose money in 2013.

Cost-driven higher prices will be in place all the way from the farm to the table as processors will need to pay higher prices for livestock and milk, and retailers will need to pay higher prices to stock their dairy and meat cases.

Consumers also will notice this in the grocery bill.

This is why farm and producer groups want consumers to understand that the farm sector is not getting rich off of these higher prices -- contrary to what some activists want people to believe. Indeed, producers are consumers, too.

"Believe me, as a farmer and mother, I definitely pay attention to food prices, because they affect my family's pocketbook, too," said Sara Ross, an Iowa family farmer and a member of CommonGround.

She noted that Americans use less of their income to pay for food than consumers elsewhere -- 6.7% for groceries in the U.S. versus 18-25% or more in other countries (Figure).

She also noted that farmers receive just a fraction of the food dollar, about 12 cents, with most of the dollar going to food processing and the foodservice and retail sectors (Infographic).

CommonGround is an organization of farm women whose families are involved in corn and soybean production.


Mommas tour

CommonGround members often host consumer visits, such as one recently when a group of "mommy bloggers" from Denver, Colo., was invited to tour Cleland Dairy in nearby Erie, Colo. After previous communications, the blogger group -- known as the "Mile High Mommas" -- asked to visit a working farm, which many had never done before.

They were hosted by Josh Cleland and Western Dairy Assn. director Bill Keating, who answered questions running the gamut from cattle rations to government programs that support the dairy industry.

The tour group got to see baby calves. Some in the group questioned why the calves were so quickly separated from their mothers, and Cleland explained that cows are not highly attentive to their babies, so by separating them, farmers can make sure the calves get good care and nutrition. He noted that these actions have reduced infant calf mortality to less than 2%.

The tour also included the milking parlor, where the group discussed feed rations and antibiotic use.

Cleland said cows, like people, get sick and need medication in order to get well and recover.

He pointed to how organic dairies that cannot use antibiotics to treat sick animals must often sell ill cows when they become extremely incapacitated due to lack of treatment.

Some members in the group said they had been inclined to favor organic production but acknowledged that it seemed more humane to provide medical care than to let animals suffer needlessly.

Cleland discussed the importance of the use of corn and dried distillers grains, a byproduct of ethanol production, in feed rations and demonstrated how rations are made.

He also discussed how technologies have made the dairy more efficient and help minimize stress on the animals.

Following the tour, the group's members blogged about their impressions to thousands of people.

Additional information about CommonGround is available at

More information about food prices, dairy farms and how producers care for their animals is available at

Volume:84 Issue:54

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