Samuelson on technology:
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SPENCER-Orion Samuelson, television and radio’s “Voice of Agriculture,” spoke to a couple hundred Clay County Fair attendees-talking about agriculture today.
Samuelson spoke about migrant farm help and border control, weather, the trade war with China, technology and more.
“This is a nation of immigrants,” he said. “My grandparents came from Norway, but they came through Ellis Island with the proper papers we need immigration laws that give agriculture an opportunity to get the labor they need because American kids today would rather work at McDonald’s than go milk cows at 5:00 in the morning. (Those crossing the border) need to come with the proper papers.”
As he moved on to the weather, Samuelson said he has not encountered anyone in the weather realm who says they have seen or experienced anything like this year brought, from January through the planting season.
“I have yet to see anyone who has seen a more challenging year,” he said. “But looking at history, think about technology and how it has improved and makes it possible to get your crop in when you can’t plant or harvest it on time.”
He went on to say technology has made a big difference in the performance of crops today, including technology within the seed itself, along with mechanical and other agronomical improvements over time.
Samuelson said his go-to meteorologist said he doesn’t see indications of a frost until late October, adding that there should be some degree-day units in September with some temperatures above normal.
Samuelson spoke about the trade war with China, saying that watching those agreements come together is like ‘watching paint dry. It takes forever,’ he said.
He said there are also trade disagreements with the European Union and Japan, but he said the trade war with China is getting the most press because they are the “biggest guerilla in the room.”
“They haven’t been playing by the rules for years,” he said, adding that China has flooded the U.S. with articles saying the U.S. has a $500 billion trade deficit with them.
“Every time I have been back to China it’s a different country in terms of appearance and culture, but one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s the domination of a population by a communist government,” he said. “(The trade war) is hurting American farmers, but you’ve got to play hardball with them. It has to happen, and I think China needs us almost more than we need them.”
He said China has four times the number of hogs in the country than the U.S. does and that they are the largest producer and consumer of pork, with pork being in almost every Chinese dish. African Swine Fever, he added, has had a very large impact on their swine industry-more so than they are saying.
“As hard as they are trying not to buy our pork, I think they are going to have to, to keep their population from becoming extremely unhappy,” he said.
He said a trade agreement with Japan will most likely be confirmed by the end of September, adding that following WW II, Japan purchased more agricultural products from the U.S. than any other country, and continued to be a good trading partner.
Samuelson said an agreement with the European Union has made it challenging to sell agricultural products to them because of the use of biotechnology, including hormones for beef.
“They don’t take our beef over there even though they like it. But the new agreement with the European Union says they will be importing more of our beef and will import more of our agricultural products,” he said.
Samuelson said on the topic of technology in farming that, like it or not, new technology is a ‘must’ if producers are going to be able to feed the growing world population.
“When you look at other countries of the world and how hard their farmers have to work to produce half of what we produce, we just wonder how long that can keep going-so we’ve got to share technology and keep looking for new technology, new seed varieties and new equipment,” he said.
But the cost of it is another story.
“The investment in agriculture today makes it very challenging for young people to get going,” said Samuelson.
He said much farm land will change hands in the next 12 months because of retirement or passing of a family member. He said he tried to urge farmers a few years ago who were approaching retirement without children interested in continuing on the farm, or without children who would do the farming-to find a young person in the neighborhood and find out if they were interested in working on the farm, and if they were, to bring them in.
“Teach them and share with them the profits of the farm, so that when the time comes for them to say goodbye to the farm, you’ll have someone to move in and do what you would like to see done because you have taught them,” he said.
He said the idea-which he said he promoted on the air-went nowhere.
Samuelson said Chicago has an agricultural high school located on the last farm within the city limits, featuring a full ag program. It has cattle and hogs; and neighbors have adapted to the sounds and smells of that farm after they first opposed a farm operating there.
“It has been very successful in teaching young people with no farming experience about agriculture and they (the neighbors) want to continue it,” he said. “That high school produced the first African-American National FFA president.”
Samuelson said some students have to take four different buses within the city, taking 1.5 hours just to get to school each day because they are drawn there and want to learn.
“We need to get those people because they may go on to become a member of congress or the senate or receive the stamp of the governor-that’s who is making farm policy nationally these days it’s not farmers or farm congressmen, because they are outnumbered badly on Capitol Hill,” he said.
Samuelson acknowledged that times are extremely challenging for farmers today. But also encouraged them not to lose heart.
“Look back to the 1980s banks were gone, farm credit was gone, but we came back,” he said. “We’re dealing with some different elements now because of our trade situation, and I almost have to agree with Secretary Sonny Perdue maybe we became too dependent on China.”
Samuelson spoke briefly about the ethanol industry, with production facilities dialing back or closing down altogether.
“The president said he’s going to fix this, but the truth is he needs big oil and big corn for his re-election. I think he’s on the side of the ethanol people on the exemptions they were giving oil refineries they didn’t deserve, and I think he now understands that. I think that’s why he had another White House meeting (the previous day).”
Samuelson said he had spoken at the Clay County Fair a few years ago, and that what has been built up there is to be commended.
“Fairs are educational tools for people who don’t produce their own food, clothes or energy in the (fuel) tank. That’s what you do so very well here at the Clay County Fair,” said Samuelson.
Samuelson was the host of U.S. Farm Report, a weekly television news magazine dedicated to agriculture, from 1975 to 2005. He has since retired from that position and now co-hosts the Morning Show on Saturdays with associate Max Armstrong.
He also hosts a three-minute daily “National Farm Report”, and a weekly commentary, “Samuelson Sez”. Both shows are syndicated on various stations across the country.
Samuelson also hosts “This Week in Agribusiness” on RFD-TV, along with Armstrong.
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