State government officials insist they aren’t neglecting agriculture and see a bright future for farming in Missouri. Agriculture remains Missouri’s top industry, pumping more than $12 billion into the economy annually, directly and indirectly employing more than half a million Missourians, 16% of the total state employment. Still, it doesn’t often get top billing in a state legislature desperate to generate jobs.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Charlie Kruse worries that too many Missourians are too removed from the farm.
“I just think sometimes we take things for granted,” Kruse says. “I hope we don’t take for granted this great abundance of food that we have in this country to the point that we do things that really impede our ability to produce and to continue to produce this quality food.”
Few speeches or news conferences on economic development mention farming. Governor Nixon, though, says that doesn’t mean it’s ignored.
“It’s certainly something we talked about a lot as we’ve pushed forward on our science reinvestment act,” Nixon tells the Missourinet. “That’s right down central when it comes down to plant and animal science.”
As Nixon views the needs of struggling farmers, he sees a need for capital and technology.
“Missouri farmers are a resolute group, folks that have embraced technology in the past. We want to make sure they do here. We want to make sure they have the capital to do what it takes to get going,” Nixon says. “I feel very strongly that we are in a state with a rich tradition of agriculture, a tradition which we are confident will continue.”
Recession still has the nation in its grip. Farming is affected just like every other sector. But State Agriculture Director Jon Hagler insists recessions bring opportunities. Hagler says farm interests must make sure consumers understand the impact of agriculture on their lives.
“I really look at the future as bright,” Hagler says. “Agriculture is going to go on and I predict it’s going to lead this state into better economic times.”
The House Interim Committee on Emerging Issues in Agriculture report stated that, “It is evident that Missouri agriculture is at a crossroads.” Chairman Charlie Schlottach (R-Owensville) says farming’s future is tied to consumer curiosity; people asking where their food comes from.
“If we empowered the consumer to ask that time and time again that would be a tremendous desirable change on agriculture,” Schlottach says.
Rep. Tom Loehner, who farms near Koeltztown, says farmers have almost done their job too well: an abundance has made consumers complacent. He points out that the current generation has never gone to a grocery store than wasn’t stocked with a wide variety of food.
Loehner has heard the promises from various businesses that come to the legislature for help; promises to create jobs that either make somebody money or save somebody money.
“If we do our job, we have fed somebody. And that’s something that no other industry can say,” Loehner tells us. “That’s our main goal. That’s our purpose for farming, is to feed the country, not to get rich, not to be a land tycoon. It’s to feed the country. The inside soul of every farmer is to feed the world and that’s what we do.”