We only thought times were tough in the late 70’s and early 80’s. AAM helped all of agriculture far more than any of us will ever know. We motivated people to protest what was happening to farmers, to form new and active organizations to address specific parts of the problem and we made all existing farm organizations better and more representative of their membership.

I ran across an assessment of The Midwest Farm Crises of The 1980’s, by Jason Manning, on a web sight called The Eighties Club (The Ronald Reagan Resource) “The first Reagan budget attempted to slash all farm subsidy programs proposing only $10 billion in expenditures over five years.” “The biggest problem for Reagan and Stockman was that the middle-level farmer-entrepreneur proved to be highly skilled at politicking and publicizing, and was determined not to go quietly.”…”we ended up spending $60 billion over five years rather than $10 billion.” “The American Agriculture Movement (AAM), a lobbying group that grew out of the tractorcade protests of the Seventies, played a crucial roll in the development of the new progressive farm policies of the Eighties.” ANYONE HONEST ABOUT MOST FARM ORGANIZATIONS POSITIONS ON THAT FIRST REAGAN BUGET FOR AGRICULTURE KNOWS THAT AAM IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MOST OF THAT EXTRA $50 BILLION THAT CAME TO RURAL AMERICA.

For those who stayed involved in AAM for any length of time the relationships formed with others fighting for economic justice for all farmers proved far more valuable than all the dollars gained in all the farm bills. Farmers that weren’t involved with AAM got only the benefit of those extra dollars in their communities.

Today American farmers are faced with a cost price squeeze that is worse than the 80’s. All we lack is high interest rates and it looks like they too may be on the way. Crop producers are being hit the hardest and the next farm bill threatens to drop the safety net even farther.

There are two very big differences, the very high cost of all fossil fuel related inputs and the American public's weariness with our dependence on foreign energy. This means a window of opportunity is open to American farmers to become a large and vital part of America’s energy independence. This is an opportunity we must seize now. We all know of the efforts and incentives to increase the use of ethanol and biodiesel, these need to be continued and increased. Yet for all the benefit of solar, wind, ethanol, and biodiesel a much larger benefit to America and especially to American farmers could come from the promotion of crop residues and dedicated energy crops being used to produce energy. The USDA has estimated that up to one third of Americas energy use could be provided by agriculture biomass. This would inject more dollars in the rural economy each year than most farm bills have while creating millions of good local jobs. Using agricultural biomass to replace the use of propane, fuel oil, and natural gas is something America can rapidly tool up to do.

This is the only near term hope for bringing new money to the whole farm economy. The average ton of crop residue has a btu value of over $200 compared to $2.00 fuel oil. This gives no value for the carbon neutral advantage of using biomass to replace fossil fuels. We can compete against fossil fuels with a lower cost, cleaner fuel that consumers want. Putting agriculture in the energy business in a big way with its ability to produce a huge volume of biomass is only going to happen soon and benefit farmers most if we make it happen. To make it happen we in AAM must become informed, (see aaminc.org web links on energy) get involved, involve your neighbor, involve your banker and your political representatives at all levels of government. Get active in your other farm organizations and make them do more to promote agricultures role in energy and do all you can to support AAM’s efforts. We need to inform every consumer about the contribution agriculture can make to bring America closer to energy independence with clean renewable home grown energy. We will find that we have far more allies in this effort than any other AAM has ever tackled, yet you are key to our success. I ask each of you to do whatever you possibly can to help build the future for our children and grandchildren in rural America. This is a change in direction we need to make and the next few months going into the ’06 election and the ’07 farm bill may be the most critical time for American agriculture. AAM is formulating a focused plan of action to accomplish this task. Things don’t just happen, people make things happen. Get informed, watch the web sight for news and don’t hesitate to let any of your officers know of your ideas and willingness to be involved. Together we will have a brighter future.

Larry Matlack
Burrton, KS
President, AAM Inc.