Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton
I don’t talk politics.
I don’t like politics.
So I never thought I’d be writing about the election today, but after seeing the results and a few of the headlines, I decided it would be appropriate. No, I’m not going to get into who won which race in which state and how that will influence Ag policy. This site is named “big picture” for a reason.
The big question journalists are trying to answer today is why voters are so dissatisfied. There was so much hope for change back when President Obama was elected six years ago.
That change never came. In agriculture, his appointment of former lawyer-politician, Tom Vilsack, as Secretary of Agriculture was pivotal in ensuring that corporate agriculture interests would prevail. In my opinion (I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again) I think that Tom Vilsack will go down in history as one of the worst Secretaries of Agriculture that this nation has ever seen. Not since the days that led up to the dust bowl has our nation had such little respect for the soil, for wildlife, or for biodiversity. Under him we lost more than 10 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program acres (CRP) as we ploughed up the Dakota Prairie Pothole region to grow corn that we never needed.
And why? Where did that get us?
A few pockets got lined by taxpayers for a short while, but, by adding so many acres to monoculture crop growing, we ended up with today’s low commodity prices for Midwestern farmers which are below production costs. Today’s producer questions how to eke out a living next year. John Deere, ADM, and Monsanto did fine, however. Their sales have thrived over the past six years. The monarchs, the song birds, the honeybees, the soil, the Gulf Dead Zone, rural populations, rural main streets, rural vitality? Not so thriving. There is always a price to be paid.
Lord knows I’ve tried to explain ad nauseum why the most damaging and senseless policy here in the U.S. is the burning of our corn crop in our gasoline tanks. This policy is the root of the problem that has caused so much of the destruction we’ve seen these past six years. And the small sanely proposed reduction in the ethanol mandate by the EPA last year was never even acted upon, probably because no one wanted it to contribute to a loss of votes in yesterday’s election. Talk about ineffectual government, ineffectual leadership. They can’t even throw us a bone.
We have a population of thoughtful thinking voters who are opposed to corporate agriculture monoculture policies – policies which are financially backed by the tax payer. These voters are not happy.
We have the producers of these monoculture crops who are constantly struggling to pay for their input costs, battle their super weeds, and get the shaft from the public for their farming methods. They are not happy either for the box they’ve been backed into by today’s policy.
We’ve got a nation in which one-third of our adults is obese – at least in part, due to food policies. The fat unhealthy citizen feels helpless and is unhappy.
Thoughtful thinking voters are concerned about food policy and are trying to vote with their dollars to create the change they would like to see. They want to know where their food comes from and they’d like to eat local. I have watched over the past six years as media coverage of farming has exploded because the reader wants to know more. Most of us are concerned about food safety and quality. The foodie voters are unhappy, too.
We’ve got young people who would like to farm. But today’s mess, in part due to high land prices created by our farm bill and our mandated ethanol use, makes it nearly impossible economically for beginners to enter the field. And we sure could use those young farmers. These young would-be farmers aren’t happy with today’s system, either.
Things wouldn’t have to be this way. When we saw an energy crunch back in 2005, we started getting appointed Secretaries of Energy who had PHD’s in physics, who understood the science behind energy.
We need look no further than the EU for a better food and agricultural value system. In the EU, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development has been led by Dacian Cioloş these past four years, a man trained in organic agriculture who values the soil, sustainable farming methods, and who was an advocate for preserving 7 percent of the EU’s farmland for environmental priority areas, areas which would be off-limits to the use of chemicals and high-tech farming methods. EU leaders and its citizens are willing to pay more for their food in order to preserve the smaller farms. They aren’t so interested in exporting agricultural products because they know that there are environmental costs to pay in doing so – which would make the nations there less secure in the future.
Here, it would seem, we try to export agricultural products to help make up for other bad economic choices we’ve made as a nation. Some of this is made possible only through the low wages paid to migrant laborers, another hot button in this election.
Where are we headed? Is there hope for real change in the future in the area of food and agriculture? Can we get Secretaries of Agriculture in the future who actually know the science of Agronomy before being awarded the keys to our agricultural department?
Only with… Hope and major changes.