Consumers of food from farms could change the course of the political composition in Congress on November 8 and the strength of the country’s rural economy could be a tipping point in two years.
The consumer will be heard at the polls as agriculture remains the number one industry in Pennsylvania, according to U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Howard, who is running against Democrat Michael Molesevich of Lewisburg.
Inside a storage shed at Eck’s Agway in Jersey Shore, Thompson, which represents the 15th
Congressional District, listened as farmers and other residents of this western Lycoming County borough surrounded by farmland voice their concerns.
They talked about the inflationary pressures on them, the cost of production, their return on dairy, skyrocketing gasoline and diesel prices, higher fertilizer costs, and a generation of people paying almond, cashew and pea milk on cereal and make smoothies from non-dairy cows.
Thompson, who heads the Agriculture Committee, said many elements of the current Farm Bill, which legislatively ends in September 2023, need to be reconsidered.
Federal legislation impacts farmers, ranchers, foresters and businesses such as feed mills and merchants serving rural communities, he said.
The rural economy is vital in Pennsylvania and the Northeast
One in seven jobs is directly related to agriculture, including general farming, dairy farming, animal husbandry, sales, food processing, and produce and transportation , Thompson said.
Concerns have been raised about the disappearance of small family farms and the loss of family farms to green energy, such as solar panel fields and wind turbines.
While Thompson said he’s not against green power, he noted that these types of alternative energy sources shouldn’t replace productive farmland.
Science, technology and innovation is fine, but the American farmer’s side needs to be heard, he said.
For example, methane gas — the kind that is emitted by dairy cattle and beef cattle and other types of creatures that live on farms — is needed, he claimed.
“We need carbon” said Thompson.
While it is true that plants and some algae absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and release oxygen (O2) through the process of photosynthesis, plants do not have the ability to do the same for methane ( CH4).
What he said is happening in some circles on the political left, it’s the Democrats “turned science into political science”.
“Data and science are on our side”, he said. “We need American farmers and those in rural areas to tell our stories.”
Labeling farmers climate criminals is wrong, he said, and will lead to consumer needs being overlooked. Offering them incentives such as inheritance tax exemptions could be a start to keeping family farms going, he noted.
A dairy farm advocate
When it comes to the consumption of dairy and milk products, consumers have been misled about the nutritional value of dairy and milk products, notwithstanding people who may be suffering from some sort of medical allergy.
Whole milk isn’t the enemy or cause of heart attacks and diabetes, Thompson said.
Since 2010, thanks to a child nutrition bill and when advertisements began to proliferate for other types of milk alternatives, the nation has lost an entire generation of milk drinkers, though the truth is that whole milk contains 3.25% milk fat, he explained.
However, milk and dairy products remain the “the biggest product in the state of Pennsylvania”, he said. Just look at the Farm Show in Harrisburg, the butter sculpture exhibit and the milkshakes being sold.
Unsurprisingly, whole milk made a comeback during the COVID-19 pandemic, as consumers locked down and working from home went to stores to drink it. This has actually helped farmers, as the consumption of milk and dairy products increased once people were forced to stay indoors more and shifted to milk consumption, he said. .
Other support for the milk came from grassroots organizations such as 97 Milk, he said.
To further support the challenges dairy farmers face, Thompson said it’s important to educate families that whole milk is healthy for children and adults.
“I am a milk defender” he said. “I have milk and sawdust in my blood.”