FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bad Farm Policy Contributes to Natural Disasters

Photo Source Jeramey Jannene | CC BY 2.0

Good farm policy works for rural people by stabilizing prices, encouraging the growth of rural communities, and helping farm families deal with natural disasters. This last point is particularly relevant now, as fires rage in the Western US, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods destroy communities around the country, and drought grips much of the South. Yet, instead of creating sensible farm policy that could lessen the effects of climate change and keep farmers on the land, our government promotes environmentally and economically disastrous overproduction.

The direction of most US farm policy concerning the environment and who actually profits from the system, is misguided. Yes, money is made in the food industry, with for example, Land O’Lakes reporting record profits in 2017, and the world’s largest producer and exporter of meat, the Brazilian- based JBS, making huge profits from its control of just under 25% of the US beef market. Meanwhile, farmers are paid a fraction of the food dollar while bearing all the risk, including the brunt of extreme weather. Many farms depend on tax-payer subsidized crop insurance programs that guarantee a profit to private insurance companies. Then consider the conservation title of the Farm Bill, which should encourage farmers to take land out of production and finance environmentally-sustainable practices. Why did politicians cut conservation funding by $6 billion in 2014? The 2018 farm bill will make even deeper cuts, ending the Conservation Stewardship Program, which helps farmers start or improve responsible land, soil, and resource management practices.

This country is experiencing one of the worst farm crises in generations. Low prices are driving grain, dairy, and livestock producers into debt and foreclosure, while Donald Trump’s trade war with China, Mexico, and Canada further depress prices. Production costs including feed, labor, and machinery, are far in excess of sales revenues, as extreme weather adds even more volatility to an occupation plagued by uncertainty.

There is a single factor that overrides the environmental, economic, and cultural crisis of rural America – overproduction.

Since the 1970s, farmers were told to ‘get big or get out,’ and ‘plant fence row to fence row.’ Emphasizing production rather than stewardship has exacerbated the effects we experience following extreme weather. Fond du Lac county, Wisconsin, had 17 tornadoes touch down on August 28th. Similarly, throughout the state, tornadoes and subsequent flooding destroyed roads, homes, and farmland. The problem is that fence-row-to-fence-row farming of row crops leads to erosion, as heavy machinery compacts the soil and agrochemicals reduce soil biodiversity and water-holding capacity. As small farms get pushed out, the remaining farmers expand and focus on commodity grain crops. In 2018, soybean acreage in Wisconsin reached a record 2.7 million acres, up 7% over 2017, while corn acreage remained constant at 3.9 million acres. These two crops now dominate over half of the state’s cropland. Less than 25% of Wisconsin’s 10.1 million crop acres are devoted to pasture/hay/alfalfa and over 100,000 acres of this perennial forage is converted yearlyto corn and soybeans.

Farm policy must remedy, instead of contribute to the environmental problems that climate change aggravates. Establishing a price floor and ceiling for all commodity farm products would help small producers keep farming by stabilizing prices. This would also promote conservation, by removing incentives for surplus production while also promoting diversified cropping systems.

Current farm policy sacrifices stewardship on the altar of profitability. Controlling price and supply would return power to farmers and rural communities. Unfortunately, the Washington power structure cares little for the environment or working families.

Anthony Pahnke is Vice-President of the Family Farm Defenders. He can be reached at: anthonypahnke@sfsu.edu.

Jim Goodman is an organic dairy farmer in Wisconsin. He can be reached at: r.j.goodman@mwt.net. 

 

 

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail