Monday, November 21, 2005

The Painful Truth [WARNING this entry contains content contrary to widely accepted farming practices]

Why is it that in Iowa, a state most often self-identified with personal responsibility, morality, and a firm desire to have the heavy hand of government leave them alone is almost always the one caught red-handed as hypocrites, not only accepting, but seeking government handouts?

Some argue that without these government subsidies, our ability to negotiate in world trade would be hindered. What happened to free trade and capitalism?

Some say that farmers can’t afford the inputs, land payments, and the cost of purchasing and maintaining the large equipment necessary to farm the acreage needed to break even. The buildings full of large, expensive equipment wouldn’t be necessary if farmers would learn to “get by” with 350 or less acres. There are also issues of "keeping up with the Joneses."

Others argue that the subsidies are utilized to assist the local economy. How? Ask the local car dealer (farmers around here buy new vehicles nearly every year). Ask the local lumberyard and contractor (farmers receiving some of the largest subsidies in this county are known to build the fanciest homes in town). And, of course, ask the local bar owner (you’ll find many of those shiny new pick up trucks parked in front of the bar every afternoon). This abject behavior gives all of us involved in agriculture a bad name. There’s also a common reaction among farmers to not want to discuss their farming operations; is it due to the fact that they might reveal just how much you and I are paying to subsidize their chosen vocation?

Dick Thompson of Practical Farmers of Iowa asserts that by having a small farm (350 acres or less), owner/operators “are able to manage each acre with exceptional care, minimizing reliance on the sure-fire chemistry of Monsanto and Dupont – thus minimizing cost and environmental damage as well.” Thompson’s farm is not organic (he uses a variation on the five-year crop rotation), but they have used pesticides only once in the past twenty years. They use no antibiotics or hormones in their pigs and cattle. They do not plant genetically modified crops, yet they have some of the highest crop yields and lowest soil erosion rates in their county. They also have a solid, although not lavish, farm income – without government subsidies, having long ago sworn to refuse them, an act of defiance that many find particularly confounding. Thompson continues, “The problem is we’re raising commodities out here, not crops. But commodities don’t make communities. It takes people to make communities.”

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