Like most people in agriculture, I get upset when I read articles that refer to welfare farmers or welfare ranchers. Writers who use the word 'welfare' are generally referring to farm subsidies under the Freedom to Farm Act or the leasing of public lands for grazing at rates that would appear to be less than those of private lands.

If one looks at the American public closely, I think an argument could be made that all Americans are subsidized. By whom, you might ask? The size of the federal government debt should tell you that we have spent a lot more than people were willing to pay.

This is a major subsidy. It went for construction. It went for social programs. It went to purchase military equipment and so forth. Everyone benefited in some way but certainly not equally.

Economic Development? Throughout American history, we have offered incentives for certain functions that we felt were in our best interests. For example, the Union Pacific Railroad and others received huge tracts of land to build transcontinental transportation routes. Today, we continue to offer tax breaks and other incentives to companies to get them to locate or relocate and call this subsidization 'economic development.'

We continue to subsidize many industries long after the need to do so. Our highway system continues to deteriorate but we have eliminated the ton-mile tax on heavy trucks.

Despite bumper stickers announcing that a given truck pays several thousand dollars in taxes a year, I seriously doubt that the trucking industry pays for the damage.

Some studies indicate that one loaded truck does more damage than several hundred light vehicles. Drive I-80 sometime and see for yourself the proliferati on of trucks that out-compete adjacent railroads for business.

Yet, if you are in the truck stop business, you probably think you're not subsidized by the general public. In reality, supporting businesses are subsidized through our actions to support the trucking industry and others like it.

If one looks at the 10-year boom in economic expansion in the U.S., cheap food and cheap energy may be the biggest contributors fueling this growth. Americans have more disposable income than ever before, and this money has been invested in the stock market and spent on consumer goods and services.

The Miracle Of Cheap Food Consumers now spend more on entertainment than food. A country that spends less than 10% of its disposable income on food simply has a lot of money to spend on other things.

The explosion in restaurants would not be possible without cheap food and a lot of disposable income. Isn't agriculture subsidizing the public when producers deplete their equity in land and equipment to produce food at below the cost of production?

It has been a national policy, even if not an announced policy, to supply the masses with abundant food at less than affordable prices. Our value system is seriously flawed when food and energy are valued less than most disposable consumer items by the vast majority of citizens.

Changing our value system will not be easy. Until Americans realize, however, that agriculture subsidizes their way of life to a much greater extent than it is subsidized, nothing will change. Even farm and ranch families are subsidizing agriculture, and thus the general public, by working off the farm to maintain a vanishing life style.

Let's Tell Our Story Perhaps the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and other major farm organizations should hire a nationally recognized economist to document our contribution to the subsidization of America. And, certainly, Congress should be held accountable for their actions that threaten to eliminate the family farm/ranch and open space.

This nation can't continue to grow and prosper when its largest industry is receiving 1970s' or lower prices while paying 1990s' prices. Yet, when inflation soars again, much of the blame will be placed on food and energy price increases.

No credit will be given for the fact that inflation has been held in check during the recent economic expansion and much of this has been due to cheap food.

Until the public becomes hungry or agricultural producers can somehow limit production, I seriously doubt that anything will change.