My friend Mary wrote the other day to tell me of her grandfather’s dilemma. He’s involved in important litigation aimed at saving his farm, his family business, and hundreds of agricultural jobs in North Carolina. His problems have been produced by a series of unfortunate events. Among them is a radical environmental movement that cares more about trees and fish than it does about human beings.
The Bunting family business was started in the 1950s by brothers C.B. and Duck Bunting. It’s a tough business that requires 365 days of work per year. C.B. and his sons still leave the family Christmas Day lunch every year to help load hogs and do other chores around the farm. C.B. is 84 years old but he still physically corrals the hogs into the truck. The work is not just strenuous. It’s dangerous, too.
Basically they grow and sell wean pigs and completely finished pigs through their own stock and a group of contract growers. Through their companies; Bunting Farms (the pig farm), Wilson Milling (a mill that supplies their feed), and Pine Ridge Foods (a plant that packs their own line of pork) they employ 200 to 300 people. They are the largest employer in Micro, NC, and among the largest in Pinetops, NC.
Bunting Farms produces 400,000 head of hogs a year, with combined gross billings of $70,000,000 a year. They’ve been a real success in rural North Carolina.
But trouble began a few years back. Grain prices, which account for 75 % of the cost of raising a pig, began to skyrocket. They had been around $2.00 a bushel for over ten years. Then, in the summer of 2008, they hit $8.00 a bushel. This was despite two of the largest corn crops in U.S. History.
The principal reason for the price hike was federally mandated use of corn to produce ethanol fuel.
Then the financing issues set in. In June 2008, Bunting Farms asked their banker of 30 years for a 2-3 million dollar line of credit to help them through the storm. Two weeks before their normal loan was to roll over they learned they were not going to receive an additional line of credit. Worse yet, they were not going to roll over their loan.
Imagine having your home mortgage start over each and every year. Further imagine your banker showing up one day and saying “Sorry, we are not going to renew your mortgage. You have two weeks to find and close another loan or we’re taking your house.” This is exactly what happened to the owners of Bunting Farms. And now almost 300 people are out of work.
This is truly a tragedy in four parts:
1. Feed prices skyrocket due to radical environmentalist demands for more ethanol based fuels without consideration of consequences to the local farmers.
2. Financial institutions having to tighten lending exposure due to losses incurred during the home financial crisis.
3. Swine flu hysteria leads to a decrease in demand for pork products – all because of the misnaming of a virus that has nothing to do with hogs.
4. Rising labor costs due to a lack of willing migrant workers who would do the work most Americans don’t want to do.
So the problem is complex. But the solution begins with a call for the White House to take the lead on reversing federally mandated use of corn to produce ethanol fuel. Imagine how many jobs we could save if we turned away from ethanol mandates and towards drilling in ANWR.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for help from this White House. Out in California, water has been diverted from the San Joaquin Valley in order to save the two-inch hypomesus transpacificus fish – also known as the delta smelt. This has caused a severe drought in the area with some farming towns like Mendota seeing unemployment numbers of 40%.
In August, fifty mayors from the San Joaquin Valley asked President Obama to come see the devastation first-hand. He refused. Obama previously denied a request to designate California as a federal disaster area. To do so would have acknowledged the fact that Obama’s radical environmental policies are, quite literally, scorched earth policies. Just go to the San Joachim Valley and you’ll see plenty of scorched earth.
There’s little chance President Obama will take interest in the unforeseen effects his policies are having on the hog farming industry. In his part of the world there’s an endless supply of pork. And there’s no shortage of pigs feeding at the government trough.