Few things are as idyllic as a scenic drive through farm country – past amber wheat fields, old barns, windmills and green pastures with grazing livestock. It’s an image many perceive as the typical American farm. In reality, agriculture has changed. Farms and ranches are bigger and more concentrated, and fewer people are choosing production agriculture as a way of life. I harbor a little guilt writing this as I’m the first generation in my family to leave agriculture for a career in the private sector. Unlike farmers and ranchers, my day-to-day income isn’t subject to the whims of Mother Nature, and I have great health and retirement benefits.
Earlier this year, Ron McCormick, Walmart’s senior director of sustainable agriculture, testified before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee about the many challenges our farmer partners encounter producing fruits and vegetables for Walmart stores across the country. From floods to droughts, and from invasive insects to disappearing colonies of honeybees that pollinate crops, the hardworking folks growing the food we sell have an abundance of challenges to overcome before a slice of that vine-ripened tomato makes it onto your Certified Angus burger.
A number of us at Walmart have been working with multiple stakeholders to help farmers overcome some of these challenges. Just last week, we worked with leaders in Congress and specifically U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama to pass an amendment to the Farm Bill that will require the Department of Agriculture to issue a report on all the tools available – public and private – to help small farmers overcome the challenges they face growing fruits and vegetables. Importantly, this report will focus on helping increase and improve production from small-holder, women, minority and socially disadvantaged farmers across the country. Hopefully it will serve as a roadmap that we can all use to encourage even more local and regional fruit and vegetable production.
Our work in Alabama with Tuskegee University and others is a great example of what can be accomplished when multiple entities come together to grow opportunities for American farmers. Although we have a number of similar examples in other states, we’d love to grow this program even more and source from farmers of all sizes and from all corners of the country.
On my future drives though farm country, I hope to see a few more hoop houses and vegetable packing sheds next to those windmills and old barns.