FARM AND FUEL
There are few things are more certain than death, taxes and the fact that no American farmer gets out of bed in the morning believing he must feed the world.
Milk the cows? Sure. Plant corn? Maybe. Feed the world? Not a chance.
Yet you can’t open a newspaper or an email without reading someone – mostly farmers, but sometimes ag biz shills – saying they need this (biotech seeds) or that (beheaded “agri-intellectuals”) to achieve their feed-the-world destiny.
The most public of these efforts is a 4,100-word essay by Missouri farmer, and that state’s Farm Bureau vice president, Blake Hurst. Dated July 30 and posted at The American, the Web site of the journal of the American Enterprise Institute, the essay takes a hot poker to what Hurst calls the “critics of industrial farming.”
The biggest of which Hurst points to in the work’s title, The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against the Agri-intellectuals. The “agri-intellectual” epithet is directed at any who dare raise a pencil without first having raised a pen of cattle.
It also serves as a warning that this farmer is about to break a few eggheads, which Hurst does early and acidly.
“Critics of industrial farming spend most of their time concerned with the processes by which food is raised,” suggests Hurst seven paragraphs into his piece. “This is because the results of organic production are so, well, troublesome.”
So, well, why?
Because, “With the subtraction of every unnatural additive, molds, fungus, and bugs increase. Since it is difficult to sell a religion with so many readily quantifiable bad results the trusty family farmer has to be thrown into the breach, saving the whole organic movement by his saintly presence, chewing on his straw, plodding along, at one with his environment, his community, his neighborhood.”
He goes on making similarly simple, often one-sided statements about today’s organic proponents while defending his methods: the combination of biotech seeds and herbicides he uses “actually reduces the pollution I send down the river.” (This is great! I guess). “Consumers benefit from industrial farming through cheap prices,” (so who pays the farm subsidy billions that underpin this cheapness?) and “we have to farm industrially to feed the world.”
First, no one ever asked American farmers to feed the world. Farmers farm because there’s money in it. Period. Would you work “to feed the world” if there wasn’t?
Second, U.S. farmers don’t feed the world. Besides the obvious fact that other nations like Argentina, Brazil and Canada export food, the number of hungry people in the world today now approaches 1 billion, or 200 million more than just a decade ago.
So let’s drop the altruism and stick to facts.
Farmers farm to feed their families through the profit they hope to generate. Profit, after all, is prime motive behind farm group lobbying, Land Grant university research and instruction, checkoff spending and, failing all that, the pressure put on Congress to deliver federal farm programs.
That latter statement, however, gets shakier each passing year since 1996’s Freedom to Farm law. According to June 2009 USDA data, direct government payments averaged $17.3 billion per year from 1999 to 2008 despite the fact that 2005, 2007 and 2008 were three of the largest net farm income years ever.
Feed the world? Come on.
Instead of using that myth to attack agri-intellectuals, let’s use our brains and talents to develop ideas and plans to profit in the fast-changing marketplace. That’s what grandpa and dad did.
Besides, who cares if the customer is short, tall, black, green, ignorant, intellectual or has an eye in the middle of his forehead if his check is good?
Guebert is a syndicated columnist from Delavan, Ill. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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