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Increasing food costs stir farmers' ire, also

It was truly enlightening to learn of the disagreement occurring over food prices between U.S. supermarkets and the big food manufacturers. Grain farmers are not happy about it, either.

Early last summer, when oil and grain prices were at high levels, agriculture was being blamed for the higher food prices that American consumers were experiencing. The giant food manufacturers wasted no time hiking prices or re-packaging some of their products into smaller containers, placing the blame squarely on farmers' backs.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) spent millions using protests, news conferences, and lobbying Congress to promote the notion to the public that high commodity prices were the main push behind higher food prices. Even at this price peak, the farmer's share of wheat in a typical 20 oz. loaf of bread was only approximately 16 cents, and his share in an 18 oz. box of corn flakes was a mere 8 cents.

Eight months later, grain prices have collapsed to levels approaching half of what they were last June, with March 9 grain bids from Andale Farmers Coop at $5.28 per bushel for wheat and $3.23 per bushel for corn. Now a loaf of bread contains 9 cents worth of wheat, and a box of corn flakes has five cents worth of corn in it.

Meanwhile, food prices have increased by 2.5%, as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Food and Beverages. This raises serious questions about the credibility of the GMA's assertions, especially in light of sharply lower fuel (transportation) costs. Recently, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer discussed the agriculture/ethanol smear campaign done by GMA, saying they were "trying to justify their corporate policy of increasing costs to the consumer by blaming it on somebody else." Was the GMA's action a smokescreen to divert attention away from the soaring profits being recorded in the food industry over the past year?

American farmers work hard every day to raise safe, high quality food for the dinner tables of American consumers. In unison with state and federal food safety efforts, we take this job very seriously. We refuse to be unfairly and falsely accused of being responsible for the rising retail prices of food and expect the truth to be told.

--Kent Winter and Mike Patry, Sedgwick County, Kan., Farm Bureau Agricultural Association Board Members

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