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This article appears in the April 2, 2021 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

[Print version of this article]

James Benham

Bring in New Ideas and Young Farmers!

Mr. Benham is the President of the Indiana Farmers’ Union. He spoke on Panel 4, “The Challenge of Famine and Pandemics: The Coincidence of Opposites, or Mass Extinction?” of the March 20-21 Schiller Institute’s international conference, “The World at a Crossroad: Two Months into the New Administration.”

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Schiller Institute
James Benham

Good afternoon! My name is James Benham. I’m a farmer from southeast Indiana. I also serve as State President for the Indiana Farmers’ Union, as well as serving on the National Board of Directors for the National Farmers’ Union. I’d like to take this time to thank Helga and the Schiller Institute for the opportunity to speak to you today about agriculture.

I wish I could really tell things that are upswing about agriculture. But, as you know, the global situation is we’re all suffering, and things are not as pretty as we’d like to see them. It’s changed. I’m 70 years old, I’ve actually retired now. But since I was a youth, I can remember back when, 50 years ago, our local agricultural university was telling us that the only thing the crops needed the soil for, was to hold them up. And that man could provide the fertilizer and the chemicals to keep the weeds under control, and so forth. So, in that time frame, what we have done to ourselves, is basically we have raped the soil to the point that the more we put on, we get less results.

Even though it’s kind of a comical thing, and not being deprecating of farmers, but we’re called morons. Not so much because of lack of intelligence, but because of the fact that we continue to put more on and expect more without getting more out of that soil. And the same problem, the type of commodities we produce now and the food we produce, has less value to our bodies than it did 50 years ago.

It’s been a challenge for all of us, and even to our representatives that we elect to work in our nation. We’ve been blessed in the United States over the years, but each generation is getting further and further away from the farm, and they do not understand the problems that go on in agriculture.

So, how do we fix it for all of us?

New Rows to Hoe

The one thing we’ve tried to realize here is we try to buy locally. If you’ve got a neighbor who’s raising cattle or hogs or poultry, buy it from them direct and do your own butchering or have a local butcher process that product for you. Therefore, know your farmer, know your food. Those of us out in the rural area are blessed that way. But the urban folks still have to rely heavily on the national slaughtering companies and the food processing facilities to provide them with food. Therefore, it’s a problem.

So, how do we get past some of these things?

I think we’re going to want to look from a global perspective of trying to do things more regional. Try to get to the point where it just makes sense for all of us to work together.

One of the things that we’ve done here recently, and it’s getting to be more and more, they talk about organic. It seems to be a movement that we’re trying to get back to refurbish those soils from what we have depleted them of over the last 50 years and get back to a more biological atmosphere rather than commercial fertility atmosphere.

I think once we get back to the point that we can get some cover crops involved, eliminate soil erosion, and try to get cover crops that will help produce for out fertility programs for the following year for that crop. We’re going to find out we can raise a good crop without commercial help and without the inputs and things that are degrading our soil.

There are two things I’d like to add before I close here. Communication is the key to all locks. The more we talk about it, the more we’re willing to share ideas. The issue we have for younger farmers (I’m 70 years old and retired) and trying to find young people to come in and farm—with the cost of inputs, the cost of land—it’s really difficult. And with capital gains involved, those of us who got our land thirty, forty or fifty years ago, if we try to sell it now our taxes will be about 50% of the price we get for that land. That makes it cost-prohibitive to try to sell it. Unfortunately, down the road, the way some in this administration think at this point, we’re going to have inheritance tax that will make it impossible for the next generation to keep the farm.

We’ve got issues and it’s something we all need to work together on.

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