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NAFTA and nativism

(Friday, Feb. 10, 2006 -- CropChoice news) --

1. New report outlines agriculture's role in U.S. energy security
2. NAFTA and nativsim
3. Nebraska's nostalgia trip
4. Corn Growers commend GM for support and commitment to energy independence
5. Organic farming could help reduce rural poverty: UN study
6. Ontario pushes for more wind energy

1. New report outlines agricultureís role in U.S. energy security

For Immediate Release
Contact: Bentham Paulos
415.561.6700 or ben@ef.org
Jan. 30, 2006

Harvesting clean energy from Americaís farms and fields can produce substantial new energy, enhance the environment and help rural communities at the same time.

A new report recommends a series of federal and state policy changes that would enable Americaís rural landscape to provide a significant share of the nationís energy needs, help rescue a struggling rural economy and improve the environment. All regions of the country could benefit by processing more biofuels and by developing wind energy.

The report, "The New Harvest: Biofuels and Wind Power for Rural Revitalization and National Energy Security," projects that biofuels, including ethanol from corn stover, wheat straw, grasses and other sources of cellulose, could largely replace gasoline in the vast majority of light-duty vehicles by 2050 ≠ if policies are put into place now. Wind power, at costs competitive with coal and natural gas electricity, could provide 10 percent of U.S. power supplies by 2020.

"These new sources of clean energy would increase our countryís energy security at a time when rapidly growing Asian economies are competing with us for a limited global supply of fossil fuels," says Bentham Paulos, project manager for the Energy Foundation. "As farmers and rural communities look for value- added products they can sell to increase revenues, the $200 billion annual electricity market and the $300 billion motor fuels markets start to look very attractive."

For example, the ability to sell corn for ethanol can increase a farmerís income by $10 per acre. A single ethanol plant in a community can add $110 million to the local economic base. Similarly, using land to generate wind power can increase a farmerís income by thousands of dollars per year, create construction and infrastructure jobs and generate millions in property taxes for local institutions. At a time when global trade treaties are changing the current system of subsidy payments to farmers, these new income sources could sustain rural economies and tax-supported institutions.

The report, funded by the Energy Foundation in partnership with the McKnight Foundation, calls for a national partnership of agricultural and energy interests and a bipartisan political strategy to unite and solidify a rapidly growing Ag-Energy sector.

The report answers questions that have been raised about renewable energy ≠ questions about efficiency, the ability to grow food and fuel at the same time and the amount of fossil fuel needed to produce ethanol. It concludes that new technologies and new ethanol-compatible crops such as switchgrass can make Ag Energy a win-win-win for Americaís energy security, rural economy and the environment if policies are put into place soon.

The report is available at http://www.ef.org/biofuels . Also available is "The New Harvesters," profiles of rural energy entrepreneurs.

2. NAFTA and nativism

By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, February 8, 2006; A19

Everybody talks about globalization; nobody ever does anything about it. The world labor market looms over every horizon with its promise of cheaper goods and lower pay. The public is skeptical, rightly, about the benefits of globalization, but the process of harnessing it, of writing enforceable rules that would benefit not just investors but most of our citizens, is hard to even conceive. And so globalization is experienced by many Americans as a loss of control. Manufacturing moves to China, engineering to India; que sera, sera .

Except on our borders. With the number of immigrants illegally in the United States estimated at 11 million, the tensions between Americans and Mexicans -- chiefly, working-class Americans and working-class Mexicans -- are rising. And those are tensions that congressional Republicans, who don't look to have a lot of other issues they can run on this fall, are eager to stoke.

In December the House approved a bill by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin that would turn all those undocumented immigrants into felons. It would supersede local ordinances that keep police from inquiring into the status of people coming forth to report crimes or help in investigations. It would help create a permanent underground population in our midst, with no hope of ever attaining legal status.

But the most striking aspect of the assault on undocumented immigrants is that it has no theory of causality. Over 40 percent of the Mexicans who have come, legally and illegally, to the United States have done so in the past 15 years. The boom in undocumenteds is even more concentrated than that: There were just 2.5 million such immigrants in the United States in 1995; fully 8 million have arrived since then.

Why? It's not because we've let down our guard at the border; to the contrary, the border is more militarized now than it's ever been. The answer is actually simpler than that. In large part, it's NAFTA.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was sold, of course, as a boon to the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico -- guaranteed both to raise incomes and lower prices, however improbably, throughout the continent. Bipartisan elites promised that it would stanch the flow of illegal immigrants, too. "There will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home," said President Bill Clinton as he was building support for the measure in the spring of 1993.

But NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, could not have been more precisely crafted to increase immigration -- chiefly because of its devastating effect on Mexican agriculture. As liberal economist Jeff Faux points out in "The Global Class War," his just-published indictment of the actual workings of the new economy, Mexico had been home to a poor agrarian sector for generations, which the government helped sustain through price supports on corn and beans. NAFTA, though, put those farmers in direct competition with incomparably more efficient U.S. agribusinesses. It proved to be no contest: From 1993 through 2002, at least 2 million Mexican farmers were driven off their land.

The experience of Mexican industrial workers under NAFTA hasn't been a whole lot better. With the passage of NAFTA, the maquiladoras on the border boomed. But the raison d'etre for these factories was to produce exports at the lowest wages possible, and with the Mexican government determined to keep its workers from unionizing, the NAFTA boom for Mexican workers never materialized. In the pre-NAFTA days of 1975, Faux documents, Mexican wages came to 23 percent of U.S. wages; in 1993-94, just before NAFTA, they amounted to 15 percent; and by 2002 they had sunk to a mere 12 percent.

The official Mexican poverty rate rose from 45.6 percent in 1994 to 50.3 percent in 2000. And that was before competition from China began to shutter the maquiladoras and reduce Mexican wages even more.

So if Sensenbrenner wants to identify a responsible party for the immigration he so deplores, he might take a peek in the mirror. In the winter of '93, he voted for NAFTA. He helped establish a system that increased investment opportunities for major corporations and diminished the rights, power and, in many instances, living standards of workers on both sides of the border. Now he and his Republican colleagues are stirring the resentments of the same American workers they placed in jeopardy by supporting the corporate trade agenda.

Walls on the border won't fix this problem, nor will forcing cops to arrest entire barrios. So long as the global economy is designed, as NAFTA was, to keep workers powerless, Mexican desperation and American anger will only grow. Forget the fence. We need a new rulebook for the world.

3. Nebraska's nostalgia trap

Published: February 5, 2006

On average, Nebraska's economy is doing just fine. But a man whose head is in the oven and whose feet are in the freezer takes no comfort in knowing that his average body temperature is perfectly normal. In the same vein, a casual glance at a graph of Nebraska's population growth shows slow, steady increases, going all the way back to 1900, and conceals the fact that 74 of Nebraska's 93 counties are in extremis, with lower populations today than they had in 1920.

Over a third of the state's 1.7 million residents live in greater Omaha, which is booming by many measures, including population growth. According to Ernie Goss, an economist at Creighton University here, Omaha is growing faster than Des Moines, Kansas City and St. Louis.

What about the rest of Nebraska? Well, it's big: over 77,000 square miles (about 10 percent bigger than the six New England states combined) and 450 miles wide, roughly the distance from Boston to the District of Columbia. Most of the economic growth occurs along the thoroughfares that form what local economists call "the fishhook": Highway 275 from Omaha to Norfolk being the hook, and Interstate 80 from Omaha to Colorado being the stem.

Outside of Omaha and the fishhook, large parts of Nebraska are arguably in trouble. The dismal statistic that trends lower, year after year, for many of these struggling counties, is population.

Farms double in size with a regularity that rivals the seasons, while, almost in tandem, the number of farming families falls by half. The costs for schools, roads and police and fire departments remain relatively constant, but the bodies paying taxes, buying goods and developing land keep disappearing. County officials call it rural flight, brain drain or even mass migration, but despite the alarums, nobody has found a way to stop the excursions.

States like Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin have tried to fight the trend by restricting the corporate consolidation of farms: Keep the farmers on their land by stopping vast corporations from buying 10 farms and consolidating them into one, which is basically what keeps happening.

In 1982, Nebraska went even farther and embedded a ban on corporations owning and operating farms - Initiative 300 - in its Constitution. Last December, a federal judge in Omaha ruled that the ban violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act (because the ban also requires that the person owning most of the farmland also supply most of the daily labor). Some Nebraskans hope the ruling will be overturned, but that seems unlikely.

Opponents of these laws, which purport to protect family farmers, view them as economic nostalgia - like trying to protect the local paper by banning Internet news sites and mandating that the newspaper be delivered by a towheaded kid on a bicycle. If rank protectionism is not the solution, then what is?

Doug German, executive director of Legal Aid of Nebraska, who lives in the central part of the state, just off the fishhook, in Eustis (pop. 425), and provides legal services to the casualties of the state's poorer counties, agrees that rural Nebraska is at a "tipping point." The antidote to its economic depopulation, he believes, does not lie in bringing Intel or Toyota factories to the heartland, but in Nebraskans resolutely blooming where they are planted and developing micro industries capable of flourishing anywhere, with the help of computer and Internet technologies.

I hope Mr. German is right, but I wonder what kind of micro industry will save the likes of Arthur County (half the size of Rhode Island), where the population peaked at 1,412 in 1920, was 442 in 2000, and 402 in 2004? In these parts, during election season, the signs along the road say "Vote for Helen, County Assessor," because there's only one Helen, and she's running unopposed.

Instead of micro industries, a cynical futurist might see mega-farms, owned by global corporations, and farmed by armies of robot combines, controlled by global positioning satellite technology from offices in Omaha.

Richard Dooling is a screenwriter and the author, most recently, of "Bet Your Life."

4. Corn Growers commend GM for support and commitment to energy independence

For Immediate Release
Contact: Larry Mitchell (202) 835-0330

Anaheim, Calif., Feb. 4, 2006 -- The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) commended General Motors today for their continued support of their organization as well as GMís expanding commitment to the nationís energy independence.

"We are exceedingly pleased that once again GM has helped sponsor the ACGA annual convention," said Larry Mitchell, ACGAís Chief Executive. "But more importantly we are very proud of the nationís largest automobile maker for their longtime and expanding commitment to advancing ethanol use."

Earlier this month, General Motors launched an unprecedented national advertising and marketing campaign to build awareness and market acceptance for ethanol/gasoline blended fuel (E85) vehicles. The campaign, "Live Green Go Yellow," will break during the Olympics in February and continue throughout the year with print, web and broadcast media components. The campaign is designed to make consumers, energy producers and policy makers aware of the E85 capability already found on more than 1.5 million GM vehicles in the market, and to pave the way for more E85 vehicles that will launch this year. The ads will also encourage consumers to actively promote E85 in their communities. In 2006, GM will offer nine E85 FlexFuel models, bringing an additional 400,000 E85 FlexFuel vehicles into its fleet.

"Not only does GM share their enthusiasm and vision for the future with farmers, they share similar economic challenges," added Mitchell. "To put this in perspective, we know that GM recently announced a loss of about $8.6 billion last year. We have just calculated the loss by Americaís corn farmers last year at $8.8 billion due to farm policy which allows the prices paid to farmers to fall well below their cost of production."

Mitchell explained that using the U.S. Department of Agricultureís (USDA) data on prices received by farmers and their production (http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/reports/waobr/wasde-bb/2006/wasde430.pdfreport) as well as USDAís cost of production data (http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/CostsAndReturns/data/Forecast/cop_forecast.xls), ACGA has determined that U.S. corn farmers sold their 2005 crop for about 80 cents per bushel less than what it cost them to raise.

"If we review the losses due to poor prices paid to corn, cotton, wheat and soybean farmers combined, we find the loss for the 2005 crop at a staggering $16 billion ≠ almost twice that of GM," added Mitchell. "And that $16 billion loss does not include the losses for all of the other crops, nor does it include the losses due to hurricanes, drought and other natural disasters."

"Further more, if farmers, who are the largest purchasers of pickups in the nation, were to have received that additional $16 billion and had, at best, a break-even year, then they would have helped GM avoid some of their losses as well by having the resources to purchase more of their products," said Mitchell. "The problem is failed farm policy. We must rethink U.S. agriculture policy and change course to ensure farmersí livelihoods, as well as the livelihoods of the people building the nationís cars and trucks. Part of that new course for farm policy involves more energy production on the farm ≠ a course long supported by General Motors."

The American Corn Growers Association represents 14,000 members in 35 states. See www.acga.org .


5. Organic farming could help reduce rural poverty: UN study


Organic food production could offer a way out of poverty for many small farmers in developing countries. But only if they receive government support, says a new study conducted in India and China.

South Asian farmers who have switched over from using synthetic fertiliser to more eco-friendly, traditional forms of organic farming have earned more and achieved a higher standard of living, says a recent study by the United Nations. However, small farmers are often excluded from supportive government reform programmes that encourage organic farming, says the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"In China and India, organic production is growing steadily," says the Italian-sponsored report, presented by the IFADís Phrang Roy and Caroline Heider and senior Italian officials in Rome, on January 25. The study looked at the role of organic agriculture in rural poverty reduction. Also, when and under what conditions organic farming can be integrated into development programmes.

"The value of Chinese exports grew from less than $ 1 million in the mid-1990s to about $ 142 million in 2003, with more than 1,000 companies and farms certified. In India, there has also been remarkable growth, with about 2.5 million hectares under organic farming and 332 new certifications issued during 2004," the report notes.

In addition to bringing about higher prices for agricultural produce, lower unemployment and less rural migration, "organic farming reduces the health risks posed by the use of toxic chemicals, as well as the high costs of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. (Also), the environment benefits from improved soil management and less-polluting techniques," said the IFAD.

However, the paradox is that Indian and Chinese farmers already producing for export are the ones benefiting from this booming sector. Small farmers are often denied government assistance in storing, processing, certifying and exporting their produce, while domestic markets for organic produce are "very limited in China and even scarcer in India". A large proportion of organic products are sold informally without certification controls.

The study points out that for small farmers to want to make the soil improvements that organic farming requires they needed security of tenure, access to family labour and support organisations to help them with training, loans and collective marketing.

In areas where conditions favour the adoption of organic agriculture by small farmers, it could provide a long-term solution to poverty, while reducing migration and improving the health conditions and environment for entire communities.

But, in order to hold out hope for the world's small farmers, organic farming must grow sustainably and not lose its "added value", or prices and incomes would drop, says the study. If organic agriculture expands too rapidly it may lose its added value and prices and incomes could decrease considerably. Organic agriculture should not, therefore, be considered a panacea that can be used to reduce poverty in any environment, at any time, cautions the IFAD.

Source: http://www.un.org/news , January 25, 2005 http://www.ifad.org , January 25, 2005

6. Ontario pushes for more wind power

WindPower Monthly, December 2005

The Ontario government has passed a regulation allowing net metering for renewable energy installations up to 500 kW in size, part of its drive, says energy minister Donna Cansfield, to "promote a more diverse and sustainable supply of electricity" in the Canadian province. The regulation will allow small generators, like farmers, who generate power directly for their own use to also connect to the grid, enabling them to receive credit for any excess electricity they export to it. The property's metre keeps track of what is supplied to the grid and what is consumed from it - and the consumer is billed, or credited, monthly by the utility for the net difference. Credits are carried forward up to 12 months, after which any excess generation remaining falls to the distribution company free of charge. The credit is at the full retail rate, including any non-energy charges that are billed on a per-kWh basis. Until now, net metering in Ontario had been available only at the discretion of local energy distribution companies and usually only up to a ceiling of 50 kW. The program earned the praise of the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ron Bonnett, who said it would "provide farmers with the opportunity to substantially cut their power bills."