Comment: This Thanksgiving, thank farmers, too, for the meal

Compared to what you pay for turkey, stuffing and more, farmers earn a few cents for what they provide.

By Pam Lewison / For The Herald

Whether you love cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, or all of the above, we can all agree that Thanksgiving is probably the most food-centric holiday of the year.

I grew up on a farm near Moses Lake, and Thanksgiving was one of the few times our family could all sit around the table without having done most of a day’s work first. Even as we dug into the bounty before us, we were aware of the hardworking farmers and livestock producers who had made our meal possible.

Without farmers we wouldn’t eat, so the National Farmer’s Union regularly updates what it calls “The Farmer’s Share,” an information sheet listing how much the farmer takes home out of the retail price of various grocery items.

Some of the items that might grace a Thanksgiving table this year include:

Turkey, of its $1.99-a-pound price, the farmer gets six cents a pound; stuffing at $3.99 a pound nets 6 cents a pound for the farmer; cranberries at 25 cents an ounce, earn the farmer 2 cents an ounce; sweet corn at 14 cents an ounce, three cents for the farmer; green beans at $1.99 pound, 47 cents a pound for the farmer; potatoes at 99 cents a pound, 12 cents for the farmer; and milk at $3.49 a gallon, $1.54 a gallon for the farmer.

On average, farmers and ranchers take home about 14.3 cents for every dollar Americans spend on food. In 2020, the take home earnings for farmers from the Thanksgiving meal was 11.9 cents per dollar, a decline from 2019’s 12.15 cents. The take-home earnings for farmers are what they use to pay their employees as well as covering the costs of inputs like fuel, property taxes, and equipment purchases. Increased costs in food prices almost never translate into increased take-home earnings for farmers and ranchers but rather for the middlemen in the food supply chain; the grocery store, food processors, and food shippers.

This holiday is about gratitude, when we give thanks for the many blessings we’ve received through the year. Washington state’s agricultural community provides a bounty from the berry producers in the Skagit Valley to the rolling grain fields of the Palouse, from the cattle ranches of the Okanogan Highlands to the orchards of the Yakima Valley. We are fortunate to enjoy such a variety of local specialties from which to choose. As we celebrate family, friendship and abundance around the table on Thanksgiving Day, let’s remember the hard-working men and women, and their families, who made the feast of the day possible.

Pam Lewison is the agriculture research director for the Washington Policy Center and a fourth-generation farmer in Eastern Washington. Her work can be found at washingtonpolicy.org and on Thanksgiving tables around the Northwest.

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