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美國農民處境艱難,政府卻不關注

Beth Ford 2019年12月08日

動蕩的市場和自然災害讓美國農民目前的境遇雪上加霜。

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試想一下,如果有一種計算機病毒消減了蘋果、谷歌和Facebook的半數產能,或者華爾街的銀行家們眼睜睜地看著一個季度的獲利付之東流,那肯定是轟動全美國的大新聞,當局也會迅速采取政治行動。然而,這正是美國農民所面臨的處境,卻未被足夠的重視。

美國的農民有著自己的驕傲和謙遜的品格,通常不愿意為自己發聲,但現在他們正處于極端困難的時期,動蕩的市場和自然災害讓美國農民的境遇雪上加霜。由于大宗商品價格持續走低,2018年農業收入的中位數跌至負的1,500美元,而2017年的平均農業收入為43,000美元。在美國中西部農業州,2018年依據《美國破產法第12章》申請破產的案例已經升至十年來的最高水平,而此前這些州的農產品的銷售額能夠占到全美的近一半。

接著是中西部地區遭遇洪澇災害。由于今年降雨過多、土地浸水,農民播種的時間大大延遲,隨著種植期的結束,有的農民甚至得考慮今年是否要種植農作物。截至6月9日,美國大豆產量最高的幾個州,僅有60%的大豆田種上了大豆,而往年這個時候,這個數字通常是90%。在玉米的高產州,往年這個時候玉米可以達到100%的種植,而今年只有83%。

即便在最好的年份,出現這種問題也是災難性的。而現實情況是,農村地區的商業營收與農戶的收入和生計息息相關,農民所處的鄉村社區現在也是步履維艱。和我們一樣,農民也希望自己的社區能夠繁榮強大,可以擁有優質的教育、良好的醫療保健服務、先進的技術。然而這些領域現在也面臨著諸多挑戰。

據統計,約三分之一生活在農村的美國人和四分之一的農場主家中沒有寬帶,這使他們無法使用遠程醫療和教育工具。為了讓孩子可以完成作業,許多父母只能開車帶孩子去當地的麥當勞上網。美國鄉村地區還面臨醫生短缺的問題,自2010年以來,已經有超過100家鄉村醫院關閉,與此同時,農場生活帶來的危險以及阿片危機造成悲劇也讓農民備受煎熬。據美國農業局聯合會(American Farm Bureau Federation)的一項調查顯示:“四分之三(74%)的農民和農場工人受到或曾經受到阿片類藥物濫用的直接影響,阿片成癮者中要么是相識的人,要么就是自己的家人,有的是非法服用過阿片類藥物,也有自身曾經阿片上癮。”

Land O’Lakes公司是美國最大的農民業合作社之一,作為首席執行官,這些問題一直困擾著我。能夠有機會與這些農戶一起工作是我一生的榮幸,他們在困難面前表現出了巨大的韌性、樂觀、創業精神和創新精神。96%的農場由家庭所有,他們明白行業具有周期性,也從未在挫折面前放棄。他們盡心打理著土地,希望能夠將土地留給子孫后代。

但只靠農民解決不了現在的問題。國家必須傾聽來自其中心地帶的聲音。我們不只要同情受災社區的人,更要認識到我們是命運共同體,認識到農業是美國經濟和安全的基石。美國城市生產的產品至關重要,但是如果沒有興旺的農村和農業經濟,沒有其為不斷發展的人類社會提供豐富、平價的食物,美國的立國之柱必將崩塌。

我們要設法增加農村地區的投資,創造更多的就業機會。貿易是壯大農業經濟的基石,Land O’Lakes公司繼續敦促國會批準USMCA貿易協定,同時呼吁特朗普政府擴大對現有貿易伙伴的農產品出口。在當前的危機時刻,政策扶持對農民而言至關重要,2018年兩黨強有力的農業法案就是一個很好的例證,該法案改善了乳制品生產商的安全網絡,并為農民制定了新的心理健康援助計劃。

政府推出的政策還必須鼓勵創新。這是Land O’Lakes公司與其他農業公司支持公、私部門在美國農村地區擴大寬帶覆蓋的原因。也正為此,我們一直努力部署包括數字可持續發展平臺在內的尖端農業技術,幫助農民更好地保護和利用其擁有的自然資源。

只有不到五分之一的美國人居住在農村地區,但他們占到了美國軍人的44%。國家需要他們時,他們義無反顧,現在輪到我們給他們以回報了。(財富中文網)

本文作者貝斯·福特是Land O’Lakes, Inc.公司的總裁兼首席執行官。

譯者:梁宇

審校:夏林

Imagine, if you can, a computer virus that cut the productivity of Apple, Google, and Facebook in half. Or try to imagine Wall Street’s investment bankers seeing a season’s worth of deals washed away. Such calamities would dominate our nation’s news and drive swift political action. Yet that is precisely what America’s farmers face right now. And, as a country, we aren’t paying nearly enough attention.

Farmers are generally too proud and humble to speak out, but the truth is we are living through an extremely difficult period of market turmoil and natural disasters. Due largely to sustained low commodity prices, average farm income in 2017 was $43,000, while the median farm income for 2018 was negative $1,500. In 2018, Chapter 12 bankruptcies in the farm states across the Midwest that are responsible for nearly half of all sales of U.S farm products rose to the highest level in a decade.

And then the floods came to the Midwest. Farmers have been significantly delayed in their planting this year due to rain and soggy ground, and as the planting window closes, some will have to make a decision about whether to plant a crop this year at all. As of June 9, just 60% of America’s soybean acres had been planted in our highest-producing states, compared with nearly 90% typically planted by this time of year. And just 83% of the corn crop is in the ground in the most productive states, a number that should be pushing 100%.

These disasters would be catastrophic at the best of times. But the fact is the rural communities in which our farmers operate are also struggling because local businesses’ revenue and incomes are tied to farmers’ incomes and livelihoods. Farmers and rural families want the same things for their communities that we all do: access to quality education, health care, and technology, and strong local communities. There are challenges in these areas, as well.

Roughly one in three rural Americans, and one in four farmers, are without broadband access, cutting them off from services like telemedicine and educational tools. Many parents have to drive to the local McDonald’s so their kids can get Internet access to finish homework. Rural America faces a shortage of doctors—more than 100 rural hospitals have closed since 2010—even as they endure the regular dangers of farm life and the rolling tragedy of an opioid crisis. “Three in four farmers and farm workers (74%) are or have been directly impacted by opioid abuse, either by knowing someone, having a family member addicted, having taken an illegal opioid or having dealt with addiction themselves,” according to a survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

As the CEO of Land O’Lakes, one of the country’s largest farmer- and retail-member-owned cooperatives, I see these realities all the time. It is the privilege of my life to work with these families who in the face of such hardship demonstrate endless resilience, optimism, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Ninety-six percent of farms are family-owned. These are people who understand the cyclical nature of the industry and don’t give up in the face of setbacks. They protect and care for the land they want to pass on to their children.

But it’s not enough to count on farmers to tough it out. America needs to start listening to the voices of the heartland. It’s not just about feeling empathy for flood-ravaged communities. It is about recognizing our shared destiny. It is about remembering that agriculture is the bedrock of our economy and security. The products of urban America are essential. But without a thriving rural and farm economy producing abundant, affordable food for a growing planet, a foundational pillar of our strength as a country will collapse.

We need to look for ways to drive more investment and job creation in rural areas. For example, because trade is a cornerstone of a strong agricultural economy, Land O’Lakes continues to urge Congress to approve the USMCA trade agreement, while calling on the Trump administration to expand exports with existing trade partners. Policy is critical to help farmers at a time of crisis, a fact reflected in a strong bipartisan 2018 farm bill that improved the safety net for dairy producers and created new mental health assistance programs for farmers.

Policy must also be a catalyst for innovation. That’s why Land O’Lakes and other agricultural companies have supported public and private efforts to expand high-speed broadband access in rural America. And it’s why we’ve striven to deploy cutting-edge ag tech such as digital sustainability platforms to help farmers better safeguard and utilize their natural resources.

Fewer than one in five Americans live in rural areas, but they represent 44% of those serving in our military. When we need them, they stand up. Now it’s our turn to get on our feet.

Beth Ford is the president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc.

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