Farming in the CNMI can be our second largest industry behind tourism. Without trying to be insulting I feel that too many of our local farmers consider farming as a means of either putting extra food on the table or as a hobby. How many regard farming as a business?
In the United States there are over 2.2 million farms covering an area of 922 million acres. As a result the U.S. is the leading global exporter of agricultural goods. For example, it is estimated that in 2012 the U.S. is expected to export over $131 billion! What do those farmers know that we don't? Their average salary is $56,000 annually.
I truly believe that we in the CNMI have the potential to lift ourselves up to prosperity again while using the beautiful fertile soil that we have to its maximum. Guam and other countries are eager to purchase the mountains of crops we can grow with a bit of serious effort on our part. So I am going to spend the next few paragraphs discussing this.
Agribusiness is a generic term for the various businesses involved in food production, including farming and contract farming, seed supply, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, processing and marketing and retail sales. In the United States agribusiness is one of the most profitable businesses and a large contributor to exports. We also have a great potential.
Let's examine the necessary ingredients needed to succeed in developing a viable agribusiness in the CNMI. First, do we have the necessary arable land? Yes, according to the USDA census, we have over 117,760 acres of farm land as compared to Guam with only 13,376 acres. This means that we have over nine times the amount of farmable land available than Guam. Yet, we are currently farming only a mere 3.4 percent of this huge amount of farmable land. So it is obvious that we have the natural resource-farmable land.
The second necessary item is people to farm the land. My research shows that most of us have lost the desire for farming, preferring to work in offices and receiving a salary. However this type of activity is what has caused us to drop into the economic depression we find ourselves in. Unless we wakeup and change our attitude we will sink deeper. But where will we find the people to do farming?
In examining the life of a farmer, it is hard work yet very rewarding. Basically the farmer is an entrepreneur. He decides what his soil should produce; he decides how much it should produce; he decides when to work by scheduling according to the crop he is growing; he also controls where and how he will sell his crops, and he can control his costs by how he plans his work. In other words, a farmer is actually a small businessman.
In the past, many farmers had non-resident workers to assist, but many of them are gone. However many states in the mainland have the same problem, including Hawaii. But farming can be a family business to include the wife, children and relatives. One source of labor can be high school students after school hours. They would be happy to do so and at the same time develop a feel for farming. Another is retirees with time on their hands. Not only will they enjoy being out in the fresh air but will have a purpose instead of sitting at home doing nothing.
I know you will smile at the next suggestion for labor. Why not utilize non-serious crime committing prisoners who can be released for day labor. In this manner they can earn money for their personal needs or save it for when they are released. Is this a dumb suggestion or perhaps worth looking into?
Another suggestion for a labor pool are the thousands of people on food stamps. Even if we can get about 100 people from this group to work even part time on the farms-Wow! What a great source! So you see, if we really want to develop our agribusiness, it is possible. We do have ample manpower.
Next we need a good source of seeds for our crops to grow strong and plentiful. There are many good sources for whatever crop we wish. This is no problem.
The other problems such as water, farm equipment can be easily solved once we decide to farm. I will not go into these matters because unless we develop a strong desire to farm, it will be a futile discussion.
To me the most important thing is the market that we have lying close by waiting for our production of food. Guam can easily absorb almost any amount we can produce. Remember the military also is a great potential customer. How to get the products to market?
Without air cargo transportation it will be difficult, but this problem is being solved. As mentioned before, in a few weeks Arctic Circle Air Services will begin its operation between Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam. It will haul only cargo, not passengers. It will have scheduled flights several times a day and several times a week. It is estimated that this service will greatly open a totally new export market. Yes, I know it is taking a long time. There are so many regulations to follow. But it is happening. You will be informed the day we begin the service.
Guam is waiting for our produce. In fact, even the farmers' cooperative market president has promised to make sure that our produce will be sold in Guam. Many hotels and supermarkets as well as the military are ready to accept our goods. We would be totally foolish to not seize this golden opportunity.
You will hear more about this subject as we progress into it. I realize that perhaps only a handful of farmers will respond, but that is okay. Those few will set the pace and prove that agriculture can be a profitable business. I invite persons interested in joining with our group to do commercial farming please call me and let's talk.
One of the most assuring way for it to be profitable for serious farmers is that a group has been formed that will contract with each farmer to purchase any amount of goods grown. A contract and a price will be negotiated before the produce is even grown. In this manner the farmer is guaranteed that his produce will be sold the minute he delivers it at an agreed upon price. This completes the circle. The farmer grows and the buyer handles the wholesale and the cargo company handles the delivery. Yes, farming can be a profitable business and a great source of income.
Imagine the next time we go to Guam and eat in a restaurant and find out that we are eating vegetables and fruit grown in Saipan! What a proud feeling! We will move from a feeling of helplessness to one of pride.
There is more to this story but let me close with a bit of research concerning the world of agriculture. Numerous studies and surveys show that people engaged in agriculture experience far greater satisfaction and happiness than their urban counterparts in terms of marital happiness, family functioning, spouse appreciation, personal safety and community involvement. In addition the agricultural society has been a source of so much of our heritage (both indigenous and non-indigenous) and national identity. Simply put-the quality of life is better.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787: “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.”
Despite any economic depression, people must eat. Food never goes out of fashion. Agriculture can be our second biggest industry. Yes, farming can be a profitable business. Let's stop feeling so helpless. Let's go to work. Prosperity is waiting. All we have to do is screw up our determination and do it. We have the land; we have the market. But do we have the will and determination? You decide. Have a great week and keep SMILING!