Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Sunflower Scandle

This past growing season my family raised a crop of sunflowers at our farm near Olton, Texas. The beautiful, and highly alergetic, flowers are more than just eye candy- they're a cashcrop. We grew the sunflowers mainly because sunflowers are a low-maintenance crop. Sunflowers, if I understand them correctly (though we never talked much), are in the weed family, and if there's one thing our dry dirt farm knows how to grow, it's weeds.

We contracted 130 acres of sunflowers to a panhandle company called High Plains Oil Seed at the to-good-to-be-true price of 28.95 cents per pound. After harvesting, our crop was valued around $14,000. We thought we had a hell of a deal, and so did a lot of other farmers, until...

High Plains Oil Seed didn't honor their contracts, leaving a lot of sunflower farmers penniless and faced with unpayable water, land, and fertilizer bills. Outraged, the farmers hired a laywer and threatened to sue High Plains Oil Seed for the contracted price. The company's response was the same as the farmers: we're broke. Not only was High Plains Oil Seed not willing to honor their contract of 28.95 cents/lb., they said the sunflowers would only be released from the worthless contract if the farmers did not sue. About this time the irrigation bill comes in the mail and my family is forced to take out a loan (against the farm land) to pay it.

Eventually High Plains Oil Seed released our sunflowers. The seeds are now sitting in a barn on the south side of Olton; and their current market value: 14.2 cents/lb., about $7,000; nowhere close to the originally contracted price.

It's hard being a farmer these days, just like it's always been. It's hard enough suffering nature's unpredictable whims and the high cost of diesel and electricity used to run equipment and sprinklers, without being financially crippled by a crooked company who doesn't honor their contracts. And if you think my family has it bad, imagine the farmer who contracted 1,000 acres with the High Plain Oil Seed comany- imagine the financial blackhole he's in.

The woes of small farmers continue to ring over the flat Texas plains, and sunflowers don't look so cute to me anymore.

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