I gave up on local TV newscasts years ago, frustrated by all the filler and sensational crime coverage that pushes out coverage of issues that have a real effect on residents.

American Farmland Trust’s message misses the mark

Chris Koger
News Editor

Case in point: A recent story on a 10% state tax on tanning salon visits in Kansas. Turns out salon owners are worried students can’t afford this “necessity” any more.

Yawn.

What I really find distasteful, though, are the teasers throughout the newscast, designed to keep viewers from changing the channel.

These usually prey on people’s fears — “Find out what deadly toxins are in your house!” or “Your children could be at risk. Find out why!” You get the idea.

This brings to mind a recent warning from the American Farmland Trust.

The U.S. needs 13 million more acres (about twice the size of Maryland) of fruits and vegetables to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily allowances, according to the trust.

The USDA and Department of Health and Human Services reconsider dietary needs every five years, and a public comment session on suggested changes closed in mid-July.

The U.S. is already unable to grow all the fresh produce to meet the 2005 standards, American Farmland Trust president Jon Scholl worries.

“With the majority of these fruits and vegetables grown in the path of development, and the need for 13 million more acres, we must ask, how can we afford to lose another acre of farmland and still expect to improve the health of our nation?” Scholl said in a news release.

I think we can agree the trust’s mission of conserving ranch and farmland is admirable, but there’s a severe disconnect with how the produce industry works.

Demand — not government-generated figures — drives decisions for growers.

The industry has made great strides in promoting consumption, whether it’s the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s consumer outreach and the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters campaign; the United Fresh Produce Association’s push for more federal dollars to enhance healthy options in schools; or the Produce Marketing Association’s participation in a campaign to double the amount of produce consumed at restaurants.

But we’re nowhere near being able to sell fruits and vegetables grown on an extra 13 million acres, despite Sholl asserting that recent interest in fighting obesity makes a “great opportunity for farmers to expand into fruit and vegetable production.”

That’s not likely to happen — growers all around are a smart enough bunch, and won’t switch from wheat, corn or soybeans without checking demand.

The message that a majority of fruit and vegetable acreage in the U.S. is in the path of development is also a fallacy.

Yes, imports are increasing, but that’s not a simple consequence of a loss of U.S. acreage. Seasonality and many other reasons factor into why companies import fruits and vegetables.

At the same time, new varieties and production practices make specialty crop growers far more efficient at producing more on less acreage.

Check the USDA’s annual reports on fruit and vegetable production. For the most part, acreage and/or total production is stable or growing.

American Farmland Trust, put this idea where it belongs: out to pasture.

E-mail ckoger@thepacker.com

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