Thursday, December 28, 2006

Raise Less Corn: an old slogan reborn

One of the slogans of the 19th century Populist movement was "raise less corn and more hell." It has now been reborn in an op-ed and book by George Pyle, a former editorial page editor for the Salina Journal.

From the op-ed

The USDA's own summary of the issues facing American agriculture --"Strengthening the Foundation for Future Growth in U.S. Agriculture" -- still views farming as an industrial process needing to ramp up production and increase exports.

It's a blueprint for yet another round of taxpayer subsidies that push farmers to max out their production using all the fertilizer and pesticides they can afford.

The government dropped nearly $144 billion on farm subsidies between 1995 and 2004, according to calculations by the Environmental Working Group. The bulk of that money went to an ever-shrinking number of giant companies and cooperatives.

The resulting cut-rate price of corn further encourages feedlot fattening of cattle, hogs and poultry rather than the more natural grazing. The nitrogen-heavy runoff from those massive feeding operations, combined with all the fertilizer that flows from wheat and corn fields in the Plains and upper Midwest, endangers municipal water supplies and once-teeming sea life downstream in the Gulf of Mexico.

Soil conservation is always a part of farm legislation, but a small part. In Kansas, for example, federal farm payments over the decade ending in 2004 totaled $6.2 billion for production subsidies and $1 billion for conservation. When budget hawks start looking for savings, it is the conservation plans, not the subsidies, that are on the chopping block.

And from the books description
farmers are promised a better future if they play ball with the corporations, but caught between the brutal new market and antiquated government support systems, they are forced to grow too much of the wrong crops — crops that will be fed to animals who cannot tolerate them, shipped as dubious "aid" to struggling countries, drive the farmer's take-home pay ever downward, and make us all fatter.

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