Thoughts of the Times; Bronze Age Agriculture

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), February 11, 2000 | Go to article overview

Thoughts of the Times; Bronze Age Agriculture


I have observed Korean farming and I am shocked at the inefficiency. Farming in Korea is still in the Bronze Age. Admittedly there are some tractors and some modern farming equipment in Korea but overall, farming here is incredibly primitive.

I come from a farming family in the U.S. and am sympathetic to farmers, including Korean farmers. Farming costs are high in my country. Labor is prohibitively expensive, land is expensive, the costs of complying with government and environmental regulations are tremendous, taxes are high, equipment and supplies are costly. U.S. farmers must make substantial investments in extremely expensive equipment to remain competitive. This investment often runs into millions of dollars. U.S. farmers commonly use high-tech equipment such as lasers for land leveling, satellite imagery for crop analysis, and computers for many purposes. U.S. farmers face fierce international competition. They are keenly aware of their competitors worldwide. For example, a soybean farmer in Illinois keeps daily tabs on September rainfall in Argentina. He is very knowledgeable about crops worldwide

in countries such as Brazil, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and any other country where he faces international competition. There are databases with the latest intelligence reports on crop estimates worldwide, and U.S. farmers have these databases bookmarked. They know the agricultural policies, such as subsidies, of all these agricultural exporting countries. They are highly literate of international affairs related to agriculture. Many countries have lower operating costs so the U.S. farmer must make up the difference by continually improving his efficiency. If he plants one day too early or one day too late, he may be wiped out financially. He has to analyze his soil to determine the optimum return on his fertilizer investment. He must accurately predict the selling price of his product before he can invest in planting a crop. To do this he must unerringly predict how successful his competitors in many other countries will be this year. He must be aware of changing tastes and

consumer demands in China, Europe, and other market countries. His products must meet constantly changing consumer demands worldwide. He must choose the right variety of seed that will satisfy consumer demands this year. He makes many such critical decisions every day and cannot afford to make a single mistake. One minor mistake and his family farm is gone forever. This eliminates many U.S. farmers. They go bankrupt and their creditors take their farms away. The remaining farmers are the best and the brightest. They become incredibly efficient and savvy or they go out of the business. The process is startlingly similar to evolution, where only the fittest survive. This is why the farming I have observed in Korea is so astonishing to me. It feels like I stepped far back in time. Korea's agricultural roots run deep. Practically every person in Korea has descended from a farming family. This agrarian history has lead to the current popular support for protecting farmers from competition. …

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