Farmers need a cut of the dough, too

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Hey, grain farmers, wouldn’t you like to see a $20 a week raise in your “base pay,” retroactive to your very first harvest a lifetime ago?

How about a commission? Would you like a slice of the pie every time some of your products are sold?

On strike. I remember several years ago, bakery truck drivers went on strike and managed to capture virtually everyone’s attention after members of the Cleveland-based union said some changes in their wages were due.

News reports carried the basic facts: bakeries offered a three-year contract containing a $5-a-week raise retroactive about six months. In trying to reach an agreement, the bakeries asked that bread sales commission be reduced from 8 to 7 percent for recently hired workers.

Union members argued that they wouldn’t accept lower commission for the new guys, they wanted their pay raise retroactive to the end of the old contract rather than just six months back, and they said the $5 raise wouldn’t do.

Considering the cost of living, they wanted a $10 a week raise in base pay.

Basic ingredients. When I read the basic ingredients of one loaf of bread these guys were fighting over, I couldn’t help but wonder who deserves a cut of the dough: wheat flour, corn syrup, soybean oil, corn flour, soy flour, malted barley.

Picture yourself as the farmer starting the war long before the situation reaches the loaf of bread stage:

“Hey, Joe, I’ve got 200 bushels of wheat to sell.”

“Okay. The best I can give you is $2.60 a bushel.”

A little more. “No way, Joe. I want a cost of living increase, health benefits and a life insurance policy, and I demand a 19 percent commission on any of my wheat you sell in the coming year. After all, it wouldn’t even exist for re-sale if it weren’t for my efforts. And I could use a new pick-up truck as a signing bonus.”

“Well, Pete, I don’t know…. Like I said, $2.60…”

“I’m telling you, Joe, that is just way under my cost of living. You’ll be hearing more about this on the national news and your name will be all over the newspapers if you don’t meet my demands!”

Doesn’t work that way. Now, back to reality. Why is it that it never works that way?

Farming is one of the three basic sources of national wealth and yet it always, always gets shuffled to the bottom of the deck of political cards.

I talked with a man the other day who has run a strong business for many years. Within the past two years he has been forced to lay off hundreds of employees because of lost business.

He has been undercut by cheaper product, manufactured out of this country by a work force that will work for far less money than his employees were willing to accept.

Quality v. quantity. “Quality doesn’t matter anymore – cost is the final determination, and we just can’t compete with cheap labor and cheaper, inferior products.”

Manufacturing is now living the same nightmare that farmers have lived for years – hard work, a good and stable product produced year after year, but no control over outside forces.

Perchance to dream. Maybe the final answer is for farmers to all become pro ball players, sign a shoe contract, develop a line of sports wear, hunting and fishing gear, endorse a telecommunications company … Hey, it doesn’t cost a thing to dream!

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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