Most farmers and ranchers in the U.S. agree that government regulations can make agriculture a tough business to navigate. From complicated requirements such as tax documents, regulatory forms and surveys, and never-ending demands for complex paperwork for environmental, export, and livestock health issues, agriculture is an industry fraught with regulatory control and complicated rulemaking at almost every turn.
But while the price of farming and ranching in the U.S. is stiff when it comes to challenging government controls and requirements, a look across our southern border is a quick reminder that producing crops and raising livestock could be much more challenging and a lot less profitable if we didn't live in the Land of the Free.
In the Mexican state of Michoacan for example, a drug cartel known as the Knights Templar has been exacting a tribute from farmers in recent years; not only a cut of profits for what they grow and sell but also the common practice of dictating to farmers when and how much they are allowed to plant.
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Just across the U.S.-Mexico border from South Texas drug gangs in Tamaulipas in Northern Mexico demand many business owners, including farmers and ranchers, pay protection money. The threat to agricultural interests has been so great that Luis Montoya Morelia, the head of federal police in Tamaulipas, reported recently that fishermen along the Gulf coast just south of Brownsville, Texas, have been forced to sell their fish and shrimp to the Zeta cartel for as little as 3 cents a pound. Then the cartel wholesales the products to buyers at a much higher rate.
Mexico's National Security Commissioner, Monte Alejandro Rubido, told reporters in Mexico City recently that ranchers in Tamaulipas were buying grain sorghum from the U.S. because farm equipment companies refused to rent harvesting equipment to them out of fear the equipment would be stolen or destroyed by controlling drug gangs.
In the State of Chihuahua, reports have surfaced that many farmers were paying contract harvesters from a local Mennonite farming community to bring in their crops and in many instances to transport them to market on their behalf because they were the only farmers in the state that the cartels do not harass.
On condition of anonymity a member of a Northern Mennonite farming community reported the cartels avoided trouble with his group because they are a "strong community of about 25,000 members" and were not only willing to confront criminals over such issues as extortion but also because federal and local police were more responsive to the Mennonite community because of an immigration contract reached with the Mexican federal government in the early 20th century that guarantees federal protection.
The same Mennonite community is a major importer of John Deere farming equipment that is brought into Mexico from the United States.
The Mennonites, many of whom fled Europe during and following World War I, first immigrated to Canada, but problems erupted when Canadian law required Mennonite children to attend public schools and to serve in the Canadian military if called. The Mennonites are largely a conservative Christian group who prefer to school their own children and object to serving in the military.
In 1922, a large group of these Canadian Mennonites immigrated once again, this time to Mexico, and divided into two main groups in communities in both Chihuahua and Durango states. The government of Mexico signed an agreement with them allowing religious freedom and home schooling and further guaranteed their safety and protection.
Today there are an estimated 65,000 Menonas--as they are called in Mexico--residing in these areas. The groups operate commercial farms and are extremely successful in exporting a fair percentage of their crops to the U.S. and other markets.
Rubido says the problem has grown in recent years. In Michocan, famous for its citrus production, not just farmers but packing houses and distributors are targeted by cartels, and there have been reports that local law enforcement often collect the tribute on behalf of criminal organizations.
Mexican officials say it is not just farmers and ranchers that are being pressured by organized and makeshift crime groups. Rubido reports there have been an excessive number of crimes including extortion and kidnappings exacted against both businesses and various industries all across Mexico. In addition to agriculture, the mining industry, is also targeted and Mexican officials are reporting local business are plagued by gangs who require tribute from retail stores and outlets while corrupt local police often turn their heads in fear of reprisal.
Just last month the Mexican federal government launched a new law enforcement wing designed to address the escalating problem. The newly formed special task force, or group, is known as the gendarmerie and is made up of recruits that have been trained in other countries. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto told reporters in Mexico City last month that the new enforcement group will patrol urban and rural areas "on foot and on horseback" to begin a crackdown on crimes like extortion. He reports the problem has escalated to such a great extent in recent years that it is impacting Mexico's struggling economy.
While government rules and regulations in the United States will no doubt continue to make life more difficult for farmers and ranchers on this side of the border, most agree that in spite of the problems associated with farming and ranching in the United States, our problems pale in comparison to the dire conditions that exist just across our southern border.