Local beef solves global trade tensions.

‘Five things cattle producers should know about beef trade with Japan’

Headlines mentioning what we all ‘need to know’ about various countries around the world clog up nearly every artery of agricultural media I encounter. The global publicity fits, I suppose, considering farmers today are told they need to be as proficient at world-wide economics as they are at fixing equipment with baler twine and a scrap of metal salvaged from the road ditch.

You’ve probably read the tired old mantra in one form or another. Modern farmers need to be chemists. We need to be weathermen. Those smart phones need to keep us connected to market prices in Chicago. And the list goes on.

As I was reading this morning and I came across the Japan trade deal headline (one I’ve been saving in my inbox for some time), I couldn’t help thinking that we really shouldn’t need to know anything about Japan at all. Or China and Australia and Uruguay and Argentina, or even Canada. But the headlines are there and farmers obsess over what’s happening everywhere but at home.

The only reason we’re fussing is because everyone produces the same end product. A steak in Maine is the same as a steak in southern California. In fact, a person on a road trip from Maine to California could spend the entire journey indulging on steaks that are remarkably consistent. Furthermore, steaks in other countries are becoming alarmingly homogeneous, too. When food is all the same because every bit is produced by and for only a handful of companies, competition starts to get a little tricky. When your steak can seamlessly be replaced with another steak, it’s no longer demand that draws customers and pays your bills, it’s politicking.

Which brings us full circle to the trade deal with Japan. We’re trying to grease the wheels to make a little money flow, and many a cattlemen is waiting with bated breath to see if this will finally be the windfall deal that nudges the price of their communal commodity beef upwards so they can make a profit. Of course, in the midst of it all, no shortage of political poop is being thrown around. Everyone is trying to stick the blame turd on someone else’s shoulder: ‘It’s your fault the farmers are struggling!’

Well, not really. What we’re experiencing is the turmoil caused by creating an extremely complicated fix for a relatively straightforward problem. Whoever decides to participate in the complexity can be blamed for subjecting themselves to the rigors of keeping up to it.

At home, we don’t have to worry a bit about the Japanese taste for American beef, because our steaks stay close to home. We aren’t aspiring to the lofty goal of feeding the world; we’re feeding our neighbors. Our beef is entirely unique. It stands out in a crowd, because it truly cannot be purchased anywhere else. The traveler in our hypothetical cross country tour, should she stop by Clarion and visit our farm, would find a steak that’s not replicated again on the whole journey. See my point?

A regional economy solves the Japan crisis, because nobody is exporting to the other country. This frees up space in the mind of both the farmer and the consumer to be used for other creative ideas that can further alleviate the need to follow headlines streaming in from a different part of the world. Think how liberating such a reality is: when something goes wrong in China that affects beef prices, we don’t have to even think about it. If we did have to think about it, what would we do anyway? Wring our hands and hope some slick politician can come up with a good deal. Indeed, when it comes to the stuff we eat, active engagement and proximate sales are far superior to hoping for the best and taking what comes.

I’m a farmer. I don’t need to know about global economics. I need to know about the culture of my hometown. How brilliantly simple.