By Sheila McCoy
Retired national director Jerry Blonigen of the National Farmers Organization and his wife, Diane, farmed for over 30 years in St. Martin until they moved to St. Stephen 22 years ago.
Their passion for the agricultural industry remains, if for nothing else but to be a voice for farmers, Blonigen said.
For the last 50 years, the couple has raised awareness about how the federal government’s involvement in agriculture hurts the farmers.
Blonigen said many farmers depend on various subsidy programs the government offers in order to survive.
But in turn, that also gives the government the power to control the quantity and type of product the farmer plants.
“They’re only allowed to plant so much. If they plant more and actually end up making some money on it, they don’t qualify for the programs. It’s like a vicious cycle,” he said.
Blonigen believes one step to increase commodity prices is for more farmers to unite and agree on a set commodity price.
“One way would be to contract grain, such as corn. If you have enough control of the grain, then people have to come to you. If they don’t buy, then they go without,” Blonigen said.
Blonigen said that increased commodity prices would positively affect communities financially, as well.
“So if a farmer can get a fair price for the milk, he has enough money to buy and do other things to improve the farm. Many will then spend the money in the local community, which is fundamental for a strong community economy,” he said.
Blonigen estimates farmers get about 20 or 30 percent of the total price of a gallon of milk.
“Even the cardboard box of a box of cereal is more expensive than what the farmer gets for the product,” he said.
Blonigen has often seen corporate farms move into an area, only to use products and services that are not local.
Blonigen said it wasn’t until after World War II that the federal government established a parity price on food.
“All wealth has to come from the earth. If you put a price on anything that is consumed that comes from the earth, which is less than the parity, it will slow the economy down,” Blonigen said.
The parity in agriculture refers to the need for the selling price of a product to increase or decrease with the same amount of fluctuation of the price it costs to produce.
However, with the parity price commonly set at lower than the cost of production, farmers nationwide hurt financially, Blonigen said.
“What’s hopeful is that it can be changed by reversing what’s been done. The economy can be turned around if farmers are paid a fair price that includes the cost of production plus a reasonable profit,” he said.
Because of this, Blonigen believes the Great Recession the United States experienced from December 2007 to June 2009 could have been avoided.
Blonigen’s book, “The Demise of the Family Farm and Its Consequences,” was published in October 2015.
He wrote it for several reasons; mainly to raise awareness that the economy is directly impacted by the commodity prices that are paid to farmers for their products, and to spread hope that the downward spiral can be reversed.
As Blonigen is getting older, he also hopes the book will inspire someone else to pick up the baton and continue to raise awareness.
Blonigen’s book is sold at the “Ben Around Books” in Paynesville.