Balancing ‘free trade’ with free facts


During a long-ago interview, the great grandson of a Kansas homesteader noted that only a handful of the 40 or so families who staked out farms with his family a century before remained after three years of disease, drought and death.
“Looking back on their hardships,” he reflected, “I’ve come to believe that no one ever paid more for land than the people who got it for free.”
His portrayal of “free land” shows homesteading in an honest light; very few possessed the right mix of luck, guts and desire to prove their claim. Far more were beaten and broken by it than succeeded in it.
Classic story. It’s a classically American story, though; we create glowing semi-myths on the success of a few and rarely look into the shadows to see what happened to everyone else.
Free trade is today’s homesteading bonanza; America’s farmers and ranchers, to hear most farm groups tell it, are going to cash in globally if they help push the now-stalled free trade train out of the station.
Daryl Ray, of the University of Tennessee’s Ag Policy Analysis Center, reminds everyone that we’ve heard this “all-we-need-is-market-access” talk before.
“World exports of major crops have continued to increase over the last two-and-a-half decades while the volume of U.S. exports have fallen to 80 percent of their 1979-1981 levels,” Ray recently pointed out.
Winners. The winners in the ag export game – like in almost any other once-dominant American industry – have been “


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.