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Big agriculture's big lie

(Friday, July 22, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Soybean growers could reap benefits from biodiesel industry's rapid growth
2. Relax; Supreme Court's not taking your farm
3. CAFTA-DR is a mistake for America
4. Lies from the government
5. Big agriculture's big lie
6. Back WTO or subsidies go on, U.S. tells Africa
7. Say 'no' to CAFTA
8. Online guide to U.S. organic certifiers published
9. Farm and rural groups urge quick completion of energy bill
10. Area wind energy hopes may get boost

1. Soybean farmers could reap benefits from biodiesel industry's rapid growth

By Matthew Wilde
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, July 17, 2005

IOWA FALLS -- Iowa's biodiesel industry is about to explode, which could lead to higher prices for local soybean farmers.

The state's three biodiesel plants now consume about 18 million bushels of soybeans, producing about 25 million gallons of the renewable fuel a year. But with one plant under construction, another to break ground this month and five more in the planning stages, state soybean officials estimate the industry will eventually consume more than 200 million bushels, or about 40 percent of last year's crop.

Soybean prices could increase 17 cents per bushel on average as a result, according to Karen Anderson, director of marketing for the Iowa State Soybean Association.

Judging by average soybean prices the last 10 years, that's good news to farmers like Dave Strickler of rural Grundy Center. With cash prices often in the high $ 4 per bushel to low $ 6 per bushel range, farmers have had a tough time turning any kind of profit without government help.

For example, last year prices averaged $ 5.05 per bushel, according to Iowa Ag Statistics. Iowa State University estimated the cost of production, on average, for soybeans following corn was $ 6.57 per bushel.

"The impact should be more demand. And with the better demand should be a better prices," said Strickler, president of the Grundy County Soybean Association.

ISA's confidence in higher prices is bolstered by recent legislation supporting biodiesel and other renewable fuels. Congress passed a two-year tax credit --- $ 1 per gallon for 100 percent agri-biodiesel or 50 cents per gallon for other biodiesel such as animal fat --- to give biodiesel equal footing with ethanol. It took effect in January and is expected to be renewed.

The Senate and House of Representatives are currently negotiating a new Energy Bill, which lawmakers hope to have completed by the end of the month. Each have passed their own versions, but the Senate's included a renewable fuels standard of 8 billion gallons a year, effectively doubling the use of ethanol and biodiesel in the country by 2012.

Whether it makes the final version is unknown.

"We can reverse our heavy dependence on foreign oil by investing in renewable resources right here at home," said Sen. Tom Harkin shortly after the bill passed. "This will mean new value-added markets for farmers, increased opportunities for rural businesses and tens of thousands of new jobs in the emerging bioeconomy."

Cargill is expected to break ground later this month on a 37.5 million gallon biodiesel plant in Iowa Falls, next to its soybean crushing facility. Soybean oil that once went to food and export markets will be redirected to the plant.

Iowa's three operating biodiesel plants are West Central Cooperative in Ralston, Soy Solutions in Milford and AGP in Sergeant Bluff. By the time the 25-million-gallon plant in Wall Lake comes on line later this year and Iowa Falls starts making biodiesel next April, Iowa's capacity will more than triple.

"We look at this as a positive for the state, and Iowa Falls is a major piece of the puzzle," Anderson said.

Cargill officials said the Iowa Falls facility currently crushes between 30 million to 35 million bushels of soybeans a year, making soybean meal for livestock feed and soybean oil. Even though more beans won't be purchased after the plant is built, officials said farmers still benefit.

Jim Sutter, vice president of Cargill's grain and oilseed supply chain, said they and other grain processors have had to close or temporarily shutdown crushing plants due to unfavorable market conditions. The addition of the biodiesel refinery should protect the Iowa Falls market.

"This further secures Iowa Falls as a market for farmers ... to keep it running," Sutter said.

Iowa's leading grain economist, Bob Wisner of Iowa State University, also said competition for soybeans from Iowa Falls, processors in Cedar Rapids and the Mississippi River export market could bode well for farmers. With Iowa's ethanol industry booming as well, he said buyers may have to bid up beans to keep farmers from planting too much corn.

While the 17-cent figure provided by ISA is a statewide average, Wisner said for farmers close to Iowa Falls, that could be a few cents low. On the other hand, there may be times the pendulum swings the other way, he said.

"With new demand and competition for crop acres, that should pull the prices up," Wisner said.

Grundy County is situated between Iowa Falls and Cedar Rapids --- both have corn and soybean processors --- and is home to some of the best farm ground in the state. An ethanol plant recently opened in Wellsburg as well.

With high diesel fuel prices, selling close to home is important.

Strickler said truckers charge about 12 cents per bushel to haul to Iowa Falls, while it costs 20 to 22 cents to Cedar Rapids. It costs farmers, like Strickler, who own their own semis, considerably less.

"It cuts down our costs by staying closer to home," said Mark Eilers, who farms near Holland.

Sutter said there will be no changes as far as delivering soybeans to the Iowa Falls Cargill facility once the biodiesel plant is up and running, other than maybe the price. Contracts and cash bids will still be offered.

2. Relax; Supreme Court's not taking your farm

By Alan Guebert
July 17, 2005

To hear the major newspapers and farm groups tell it, the world of private property rights collapsed June 23 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that allowed the city of New London, Conn. to use its powers of eminent domain to condemn homes so privately-financed luxury apartments, a hotel, conference center and Pfizer's corporate offices could be built.

The 5-4 decision was "Eminent Disdain," roared an op-ed headline in the July 9 New York Times.

The American Farm Bureau Federation was "outraged" over the ruling, noted AFBF President Bob Stallman, in a blood-red, lily white and saintly blue Fourth of July press release.

The upshot, Farm Bureau Bob surmised, is "Apparently, no one's home, or farm or ranch land, is safe from government seizure because of this ruling."

Let me see if I understand this. The AFBF is "outraged" with this "apparent" expansion of government power just one month after it was "happy" the Supreme Court categorically stripped farmers and ranchers of their guaranteed First Amendment free speech rights in government checkoff issues?

The inconsistency not only staggers this farm-raised brain, it is built on error.

"The (Supreme) Court did not carve out a whole new definition of eminent domain June 23," says Roger McEowen, associate professor of ag law at Iowa State University. "Instead, it reaffirmed what it had said in two previous cases; one in 1954 and another in 1984."

In fact, explains McEowen, anyone who had been following the Connecticut case, as he was, could have predicted the outcome - as he did in print last March.

"There are five decades of precedent in the case, so an affirming opinion was no shock at all. The only thing that surprised or shocked me was that the decision came on a close 5-4 vote, not a wider 6-3 or 7-2 vote."

According the Iowa professor and lawyer, the Court used the controversial eminent domain case to better clarify when government can use it "takings" powers to promote private development through public use: condos vs. parks, shopping malls vs. highways.

The equation, he explains, is a new balance between public purpose and public use.

"The Court said it is legal to look at a broad number of factors to determine 'public use' when invoking eminent domain," notes McEowen.

In short, invoking eminent domain doesn't have to result in a road, bridge or park; it can result in privately financed luxury apartments, football stadiums or shopping malls if those private ventures generate public purpose - usually greater local taxes to pay for better libraries, schools or roads.

"And the key to that view, according to the Court," adds McEowen, "is a 'development plan,' a roadmap to show the benefits to the public-at-large."

Again, none of this new, says McEowen. "The legal groundwork for this opinion has been around 50 years. Most farm groups and most of the ag press were wrong in saying this decision was such a shock."

The decision, however, will spur state and local governments to re-examine their use of eminent domain. Shortly after the June 23 decision was handed down, the Texas and Illinois state legislatures promised action to limit the use of eminent domain for private investment.

Whether you agree with the Court or not, McEowen suggests, the decision will have one vitally important impact: it will spur public discussion and debate over local land use and local zoning.

"That discussion will be good for society in general and agriculture in particular because it brings local people back into decisions over local land use and local zoning. It puts the ball back into the hands of people."

So "one's home, or farm or ranch land" cannot be taken arbitrarily by the city, county, state or federal government through eminent domain to build, say, a ski resort or golf course?

"Not unless this is a rational use," explains the lawyer, "and there is a development plan in place and public purpose equals public use."

So relax, Bob. This is still America. Except, of course, when it comes to checkoffs.


Columnist Alan Guebert is the owner of Ag Comm in Delavan, Ill. Guebert's Farm and Food File is published weekly throughout the U.S. and Canada. Contact him at agcomm@sbcglobal.net.

3. CAFTA-DR is a Mistake for America

Organization for Competitive Markets

With an impending vote in the House on CAFTA-DR (Central American Free Trade Agreement-Dominican Republic), and its recent passage in the Senate, I urge you to look at the facts of the agreement and let your representative hear your voice.

There are many problems with the way the agreement is written that pertain directly to the American agriculturalist. Trade deficits, job displacement, failure to implement and use Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), labor exploitation, and the continued loss of our national sovereignty are the largest of these problems and the agreement does not address any of these. We must hold strong to the values this country was founded upon by telling those we have elected to the House to defeat CAFTA-DR.

In the early nineties, we passed NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) on the promises that we would decrease our trade deficit, increase profitability in production agriculture, and increase the standard of living in Mexico. Now that the agreement has had ample time to take effect, we look back to see how these promises have fared. The trade deficit for American agriculture was at record levels prior to the closing of the Canadian border to live cattle in 2004, thus granting a somewhat general reprieve for production agriculture. Even with the border closed, the overall deficit continued its decline, just at a slower pace.

We are told the trade deal will increase stability and economic growth in the CAFTA countries; however*, *1.4 million Mexican farmers have lost their jobs since the NAFTA implementation. The number of family farms and ranches in the United States have declined as well. If you take into consideration just cattle operations, the total number has declined from about 1.2 million in 1994 to under 990,000 in 2004. That is a loss of over 210,000 cattle operations alone. Family farms have suffered much the same fate.

The promises made during the NAFTA debate have been proven wrong through real world tests. The funny thing is that the proponents of CAFTA-DR are promising the same things. CAFTA-DR is similar in writing to NAFTA, but with fewer safeguards for the American and Central American ag producer.

The countries that compose CAFTA-DR include Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, and the majority of production agriculturalists in those respective countries don't want to see the agreement passed either. The reason for this is simple: if you are the lowest cost producer and eventually all competition is either pushed out of business or reduced so much that they can no longer pose any substantial risk, do you think that the buyer is then going to give you premiums for your product seeing as how you have produced at such low costs for so long, or will they continue to try to cut corners on your cost so they can procure your product for even less? I believe the latter to be true and have never seen any conscience exercised by big business in matters such as these. Just ask the Mexican producers if that happened to them. You can probably find one right down the street looking for a job.

As independent producers, we have been continually told by organizations and institutions that we have to get to a point where we can compete in a global marketplace. In the United States we produce the safest, highest quality food products in the world and we do so under the strictest of guidelines. Be it food safety guidelines or environmental regulations, we continually exceed international quality standards.

Keeping all of this in mind, we were successful in getting mandatory COOL passed in the last farm bill so that we could "compete in the new global market." Yet, now those that are proponents of CAFTA-DR are the biggest opponents of COOL. There is no language in the current agreement that mandates an origin label on food products.

In the United States we will be forced to again compete with a lower cost, lower quality product without the ability to differentiate between the two. In Central America, this gives rise to another problem. Without some sort of COOL, the possibility of the countries involved in CAFTA-DR to become trans-shipment areas is a reality. For example, Brazil has a supply of 200 million bushels of wheat that it would like to enter into the most lucrative agricultural market in the world - the United States - but does not want to pay the required tariff. So it ships the wheat to Honduras for a short period of time and they in turn ship it to the U.S. tariff free as Honduran wheat. This saturates our market and drives down the domestic wheat price U.S. farmers receive, and it's all done without breaking the laws of CAFTA-DR.

Exploitation of the Central American labor force under CAFTA-DR is a clear and present danger. The average wage for workers in Central America varies from $2 per day in Honduras to $8 per day in Costa Rica. American farmers and ranchers simply cannot compete with these low costs of production. When NAFTA was passed we were promised that labor protections and wages would increase in Mexico. They did not.

In fact, American companies have already relocated some of their factories in nations like Honduras, where young Honduran women are being employed in textile and clothing factories.

Fair trade agreements should encourage and nurture the building of independent economies in lesser developed nations in order to build a marketplace for American products.

CAFTA-DR is the precursor to other, larger Free Trade Agreements such as the Andean Free Trade Agreement and the huge FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas). These two agreements include most South American countries that are not already included in a FTA with the United States. These countries, i.e. Argentina and Brazil, have shown that they are able to produce huge quantities of agricultural goods at a greatly reduced cost of production through everything from government subsidies to cheap land, not to mention the lower pharmaceutical and labor costs.

It is a fact also that the food safety and environmental regulations are, at best, sub-par when compared to those of the United States. So, in essence, by passing CAFTA-DR, the precedent, we are opening our doors to an unending supply of ag products that don't have to meet our safety guidelines. If the huge supply doesn't push American farmers and ranchers out the gate, which it is likely to do alone, the quality and safety of their product might affect consumer confidence which could finish the job.

All of these points lead to this: the slow and continued loss of our national sovereignty.

CAFTA is a threat to the sovereignty and autonomy to local, state, and federal governments, and is in violation of the United States Constitution. CAFTA allows for disputes between the signatories to the agreement to be resolved by tribunals. These foreign CAFTA Tribunals have the power to not only sanction U.S. policy makers, but also to determine whether or not American local and state laws are in compliance with CAFTA. Who is best fit to handle policy considerations concerning such topics as utilities, transportation, public land use, and the granting of public contracts? In the opinion of those in opposition to CAFTA, only those that are close enough to a problem to understand its' complex and subtle details should be charged with giving a solution.

This is why citizens of the United States elect representatives to make decisions regarding public policy. We do not believe that decisions about the legality of local, state, or federal laws should be left up to interpretation by foreign tribunals. If these tribunals are able to rule that local, state, or federal laws are not in compliance with CAFTA's "no more burdensome than necessary to trade" clause, then they are in effect making decisions on public policy that should be left up to those elected by the American people.

CAFTA entrenches the U.S. into a new world order where our future is determined by un-accountable, un-elected bureaucrats and foreign judges. The World Trade Organization has already limited our rural policy options and CAFTA only threatens to limit them further. This is not only in violation of common sense it is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The tenth amendment reserves all powers not delegated to the Federal government to the States, which include the regulation of utilities, transportation, public land use, and the granting of public contracts. Elected officials, sworn to protect the U.S. Constitution, are forbidden from delegating any decision making authority to foreign entities.

George Washington once said, "I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture." He, like many of our early presidents, was a farmer in an independent agrarian society and saw the important role agriculture played in maintaining and improving the United States. I understand that times have changed and we have moved away from the agrarian society to one in which we have become more industrialized, but, make no mistake; agriculture is still the backbone of this country.

Lately, we have seen what a foreign dependency on a product can do for us. I do not care much for paying $2.25/gallon of gas, but is it little more than a financial inconvenience. Imagine if we were to rely on a foreign market for our food and protein. It is more than an inconvenience when you are starving and, you cannot be a superpower if your soldiers are hungry!

Does CAFTA-DR sound like a good deal to you?

4. Lies from the government

JIM GOODMAN, WONEWOC, WISCONSIN via The Agribusiness Examiner

Why should we expect that we would be told the truth? Isn’t that a bit antiquated, the concept that the Administration should be honest with us? When FDR gave his fireside chats, people listened and had hope; they felt he was being straight with them, telling it like it like it was. We want to believe our President and his Administration, have we now become accustomed to believing lies? and why are we so happy to do so?

We are now into our fifth year of happily accepting whatever drivel spews forth from the Administration. "I want to be the education President" so we accept No Child Left Behind. "Terrorists hate our freedom" so we get the PATRIOT act. "Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and I know where they are" so we send our children to kill and die for lies. "

The Social Security fund is in danger of insolvency" so we should impoverish our seniors, our disabled and all those less fortunate to the profits of Wall Street?

I am not a teacher (although I have been), nor am I a social scientist, a military tactician or an economist, but I can recognize an ongoing series of lies when I see it. Perhaps we are all so naïve that we believe, or once believed, that the USDA, CDC, FDA and all those governmental regulatory, safety and consumer protection agencies had our best interests at heart. I’m sure at some distant point in the past they did, but that was then, this is now.

Oops, that drug looked pretty good, it was heavily promoted, guess it did cause a lot of heart attacks. Sorry, we sort of ran out of vaccine.

Mad Cow? Not here, safest food supply in the world, those tests were all false positives. False negatives? No way, our testing uses the "gold standard" Well; it wasn’t a "gold standard" at all. Late on Friday June 24, the USDA had to admit that their faulty and inadequate testing was responsible for covering up another domestic case of Mad Cow, for the past seven months.

I farm for a living, and what I see going on in Washington at the USDA really disturbs me, the lies, the consistency of lies, involves the USDA as well. I was always told that experience was the best teacher, perhaps it is, but only if you pay attention.

The UK went through a devastating outbreak of Mad Cow disease, and the accompanying tragedy of human CJD, which may continue to claim lives for years to come. But did we learn from their tragedy, did we listen to their experience? Of course not, we have however, followed their early example and denied that a problem exists.

USDA tells us we can continue to feed cattle blood and slaughterhouse waste to cattle as well as poultry manure and litter (which can contain rendered cattle in the spilled poultry feed) with no concern. The UK thought they could too, and the disease continued to spread and kill, so they banned all animal byproduct feeding to all livestock. But not here, oh no, we can continue to feed animals to animals with no problem.

Why does the USDA and FDA continue to encourage the spread of Mad Cow and possibly human CJD? And why do they continue to lie about it and tell us everything is OK, it’s safe? It is a simple answer; they must be consistent, consistent in the lies that protect them and the industry that profits from those lies.

Whether it’s Halliburton profiting from war, Wall Street profiting from privatizing Social Security, or the rendering industry and beef packers profiting from feeding dead cattle back to live ones. The once grand idea of the common good has given way to doing whatever is necessary to maintain profit for the corporate elite, whether in the destruction of Iraq for oil, or the sellout of our safety for cheap food.

It does not have to be this way, we do not need to feed our cattle blood, meat and manure, they like grass and do well on it. It may seem like a small problem in comparison to war, joblessness, funding cuts for education, veterans and the homeless, but food is essential to everyone. We cannot let them continue to lie about the safety of the food we and others around the world eat every day.

The consistency of lies must stop.

Prove that our food is safe, test it, don’t continue to screen a mere one percent of slaughtered cattle to see if we have Mad Cow, we already know we do. Test for what it is, a human safety issue. The feeding of dead animals back to the living must stop. Can they honestly tell us that this is a natural and healthy practice? What’s next, soylent green?

Jim Goodman, dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin

5. Big agriculture's big lie

A Kansas editor says our assembly-line approach to growing our food is actually contributing to world hunger -- and explains why buying local and buying organic is so important.

By Ira Boudway

July 15, 2005 | If George Pyle thought at all about farming when he joined a Kansas newspaper 27 years ago, he thought it sounded like a pretty boring beat for a young reporter. Beyond that, he was ready to go along with what most people seemed to believe: Agriculture was destined to become completely industrialized, and farmers should rejoice at being relieved of such humble work. But after joining the editorial staff at the Salina Journal -- where Bob Dole famously referred to him as "that liberal editor from Salina" during the '96 campaign -- Pyle found that to be able to do his job he had to care about farming.

"For a Kansas newspaper editor to have no opinion on farm issues," he writes in the prologue to his new book, "Raising Less Corn, More Hell," "would be akin to a Florida counterpart having no thoughts on Medicare." The more questions he asked, the more he began to doubt the prevailing wisdom among land-grant university professors and agribusiness managers that fewer and fewer farmers ought to be growing more and more food on ever larger plots of land.

In the course of three decades as a newspaper writer, Pyle went from feeling that the "farm beat" was like covering the progress of a glacier to understanding that the real story of agriculture in America is quite dramatic. In Pyle's view, our farming culture is based on one big bad idea and one big fat lie.

"The bad idea," he writes, "is the increasing concentration -- economic, political, and genetic -- of the ways in which our food is produced." The lie behind it is that "the world is either short of food or risks being short of food in the near future." With the help of an editorial writers' fellowship, and later as the director of the Prairie Writers Circle at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, Pyle took time away from his daily deadlines to research a book on the American farm economy.

"Raising Less Corn, More Hell" is dedicated to the memory of his father, who was raised on a Kansas farm, but Pyle is no sentimentalist when it comes to the fate of family farms. What the agricultural economy needs, he argues, is a truly free market -- not one kept afloat by federal subsidies and unaccounted environmental damage. The root cause of hunger, he claims, is usually a lack of money. Yet the fear of not having enough food has driven the rise of chemical fertilizers, massive machinery, genetically modified seed, and whatever else will help squeeze greater yields out of every acre.

Meanwhile, the true costs of the industrial system -- eroded soil and depleted aquifers, polluted water and air, desperate and indebted farmers, rundown main streets, unhealthy diets, and a food supply at risk -- are not factored into the price of food.

Even as we push to grow more, the government subsidizes farmers for growing less. The subsidies continually fail to keep up with gains in production, leading to a surplus of food that costs less than it should. This gets shipped abroad and cripples the efforts of third-world countries to develop their own agricultural base. And so the system fails even on its promise to feed the world.

In "Raising Less Corn, More Hell," Pyle has collected the various strands of the long-standing case against industrial agriculture into a compact polemic or -- perhaps more fitting for the work of a practiced editorial writer -- into one long, impassioned Op-Ed. He recently spoke with Salon from his desk at the Salt Lake Tribune.

You mention in your prologue that when you started as a newspaper writer in 1977, you didn't imagine yourself ever writing a book arguing against industrial agriculture. How did you wind up thinking that was what you should write?

Well, I didn't think I'd be writing anything about agriculture. It seemed dull. And the prevailing wisdom at the time was that even farmers thought it was dull and that pushing them out of the business and turning it over to industry was doing them a favor, sparing them the unremitting toil of bumpkins. As a reporter and then later as an editorial writer I tended to accept the idea that this was the way things were going and that there wasn't any point in protesting it. But there were other voices, from farmers and from consumer activists, who were trying to tell me that that wasn't the case, that there were other ways to go and that some decisions that had been made by large agribusinesses and by government were distorting the natural process as opposed to its just being this natural evolution of things.

I think a lot of people might be surprised by the title of your book, by the suggestion that we should be growing less of anything. Could briefly explain why growing less is a good idea?

Most of the problem both for farmers and for people in the world who are hungry or malnourished is not an undersupply but an oversupply that ripples through the economy. Starting in the Depression, the problem was that even dirt-poor, uneducated farmers were producing way more crops than the economy could afford to buy. So the idea was that we would take some land out of production, even destroy crops, and just give farmers money so they can stay in business at least another year. That way they won't just plant and produce as much as they can.

Most farmers can't afford to do what an industry would do in a flooded market -- slow down the production line or lay people off. If you're halfway through the year and it looks like your field of wheat is not going to make much money, but there's a big market for sunflower seeds, it's too late to tear up the wheat and plant sunflower seeds.

Ideally, if you match the supply with the demand, farmers can make a living off the market -- not off the government. But every time you take land out of production, that's accompanied by a new strain of hybrid corn or a new process, so that even though there are fewer acres, there are more crops. Taking land out of production doesn't lower the yields; it also doesn't raise the number of people who are buying.

Is the problem of not having enough cash to buy the food mainly encountered in the developing world?

Well, you'll see it in poor neighborhoods in America, but, yeah, just about in every case, whether it's in the developing world or in New York, hunger is caused by too little money, not by too little food. And even in cases where there have been huge famines in Africa and Asia, it's not because there wasn't any food, it's because they didn't have any money to buy food with. There would be relief efforts, but sometimes in the next country, the next province or the next village, you would have plenty of food. The people who were hungry were hungry because they were broke.

If we were to grow less and to get away from subsidies, would that help put cash in the pockets of people who can't afford to buy enough food?

It's the only thing that we might do. I can't guarantee that this would be successful in Africa, but I do know that what we're doing hurts, and what the European Union is doing as well. They have a slightly different way of subsidizing their farmers, but the effect is the same. We sell or give rice, cotton and corn on the world market for less than it really costs to produce it -- and certainly for less than farmers in Africa or Asia can afford to produce it -- so they go out of business or become simple subsistence farmers.

They move to the cities. There aren't enough jobs for them, so you get huge slums and disease, AIDS, prostitution, child slavery, ripe planting grounds for distrust and terrorism, because they're not able to make the agricultural base of their economies work.

Now, if tomorrow we did what I think is the right thing, phase out the subsidies and support our own farmers by paying them to care for land instead of maxing out production and consequently stop flooding foreign markets, they wouldn't all automatically turn into successful farmers in Africa. They've got lots of problems with bad government, corruption and war that make it difficult.

You mention in your prologue that many advocates for small farms are dismissed for "fuzzy-headed nostalgia." You're pretty careful to distance yourself from that kind of sentimental reasoning. How do you make your case without indulging in it?

It is difficult. I do think that the real advocates, especially those who are also farmers, they understand that it's a market they're in. They understand that they have to have a product that people want to buy. They are hoping that the government will not get in their way, that academia will not put all of its efforts into inventing things that are good on a huge scale and have little application on a small scale, like GPS systems for leveling fields. I think they think that they can do pretty well in a truly open market, as opposed to the one that's distorted by our failure to enforce environmental and antitrust laws. That would give them a chance.

So they're generally not plucking at our heartstrings deliberately, but that's certainly the way it's spun by the apologists for industrial agriculture, who say you shouldn't try to cling to a way of life that's gone the way of all things, and you shouldn't expect us to risk having less food or risk having more expensive food just to save Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. The successful organic farmers don't expect to be taken care of out of charity. They want to make a living by selling a better product.

Another way you often see this spun is that the people who are against industrial agriculture are spoiled urbanites who can afford to buy organic vegetables and grass-fed beef and like to feel self-righteous about it. How do you respond to the suggestion that this cause is a luxury of the privileged?

Well, you do run into that. I mean there's a downtown farmers' market here in Salt Lake City on Saturday mornings, and the place is lousy with Volvos and people who come down because they've got some disposable income and don't have to work that day. But these changes are more and more reaching into your average supermarket. When you consider that out of every disposable consumer dollar that's spent on food, two cents of it gets to the farmer, I don't think it would be so horrible if four cents got to the farmer. That would help them out a lot, and it wouldn't hurt us at all.

Would you say that moving toward a small-farm model is not something that just makes life a little bit sweeter for those who can afford it but is a necessary change?

Yes, in the long term. I mean it starts out, like a lot of things start out, as something to gladden the bleeding heart. You feel good about helping the farmer and about feeding your children organic food instead of Twinkies. The most successful farmers in the niche markets are those who just are lucky enough or foresighted enough to be close to a city, often close to a university town, places where there's an educated kind of folks who are taking the lead. They're the first ones to seek out organic food, locally produced food, to want to see the face of their farmer in their produce, as the Japanese say.

And they're the ones who get it started, but once somebody gets established in a farmers' market, the regular supermarkets start carrying that stuff and start promoting that they have organic food and have local food. They haven't bragged about that in the past partly because they felt that people like industrial food, that people like the idea that it comes from this stainless steel, pressure-washed factory somewhere, even when it didn't. And now people are starting to understand that they can say, 'Well, you know, this comes from this guy down the road and we're going to charge you ten more cents for it.' And people will buy it.

In the epigraph to one chapter you quote from former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson about how easy it would be for terrorists to attack our food supply. Do you think that it will take a catastrophe on the scale of Sept. 11 for us to see some substantial changes?

I think the problem is that the industrial model is so established and people in power still mostly believe in it. Even the people who have taken this threat seriously are still not questioning the future of this model's existence and its efficiency. They're just trying to find a better way to circle the wagons. They're saying that we need to have surveillance; we need to have walls; we need to keep dogs and guns and barbed wire; we need to have laws saying you can't take pictures of farms.

As for the idea that the best way to deal with this is to decentralize the plants, the farms, the feedlots, the genetics, it may take some kind of crisis to get that through some people's heads. I mentioned in the book that after 9/11 there were some brokerage houses that decided it was not a really smart idea to have everything all in one place. The same logic applies with agriculture. Nature demands it, really. Row after row of exactly identical stalks of corn is not natural. And one of these days Mother Nature, even if no terrorist does it, will look dimly on that and send us some kind of locust or germ or bacteria and wipe them out.

Reading your book I was reminded of Thomas Frank's, "What's the Matter With Kansas?" What do you think of that book? Do you accept Frank's basic analysis that the people of the Midwest have essentially sacrificed their own economic interests in exchange for pandering over what he would call dead-end social causes?

I didn't read his book until I was nearly finished with mine, but I think he's right. People are voting to give more and more power to big business on a promise of, you know, protecting themselves from gay marriage. I think that's true. A friend of mine [Dan Glickman] was a congressman from Wichita and the only Democrat in the state delegation for quite a while. His crowning achievement was to get a law passed that made it less risky for the aircraft industry, which is big in Wichita, to start making single-engine planes again. They'd been worried about liability -- way down the road, after the plane had been sold and sold and sold again.

Then somebody came along and ran against him who worked for one of those aircraft companies. His main campaign was that a sitting congressman was too far left on guns and abortion. And he beat him. I remember a friend of mine, an editorial writer in Wichita, said, 'Well, that just proves those people who work at Boeing are more worried about losing their guns than losing their jobs.'"

I guess the bad guys in this scenario are the agribusiness corporations, Monsanto and ConAgra and such. I'm wondering how you explain their willingness to pursue policies that, if your analysis is right, are not good for anybody in the end.

Whether they're funnin' us or whether they truly believe it -- and I tend to think that they truly believe it -- they base their work on the idea that you need to produce more and more, that there are starving people in Africa and, by God, it's our duty to feed them. I think that they've said that often enough that they may believe it -- continually blinding themselves to the idea that those starving people in Africa will continue to starve until they have some money.

They continue to cling to this idea that one of these days we'll have just the right trade program, or just the right incentive, and all these people around the world will start buying our corn and our wheat. And they'll be fat and happy and we'll be fat and happy. But they don't have any money, and they're not likely to have any money unless they have their own healthy agricultural base.

So what is your prescription for farmers and for city dwellers and lawmakers? What are the most important things to be done immediately?

The macro solution is to move away from the subsidies and to start enforcing antitrust laws. If we enforce the antitrust laws, there would be more people competing to buy the farmers' grain and they might do a better job of surviving off the market instead of off the government. Some argue that it would cost the consumer more, but I don't think it would. If more suppliers had to compete to sell to farmers, and if you had more bidders on their fat cattle, fat hogs and harvested grain, farmers would turn a greater profit. Passing that increased cost along to the consumer depends to a large degree on how many processors there are and how many grocers there are. But even if that price does get passed along, it's already so small it wouldn't make much difference.

So the big answer is to enforce antitrust laws and to change or get rid of subsidies. What about individual citizens who have no connection to farming? What can they do?

Well, they can be more effective consumers. And more people are doing that. Buy organic. Buying local is even more important. If you've got organic that comes from a long way away or local that you're not too sure about, it's better to buy local and cut out the middle man. The cynical reason to do that is, if there's anything wrong with it, you know where it came from. So much of this stuff you got no idea where it comes from. The beef goes into this huge maw and it's ground and re-ground and distributed and packaged and repackaged. If you buy from the small processing plant or directly from the farmer and there is something wrong with it, then you just don't buy from him. And he'll notice.

About the writer
Ira Boudway is an editorial fellow in Salon's New York office.

6. Back WTO or farm subsidies go on, U.S. tells Africa

Alistair Thomson, Reuters, July 19, 2005

DAKAR, July 19 (Reuters) - The United States has told African nations they must await a global trade deal before Washington will cut farm export subsidies, warning that failure at WTO talks in December could see subsidies extended for years.

A meeting in Senegal's capital Dakar with the 37 countries eligible for trade perks under Washington's African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has offered U.S. trade chiefs a chance to explain to African counterparts G8 commitments made earlier this month to end farm export subsidies damaging African farmers.

African officials have said they will press for a timetable, but U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told them not to expect one until other rich countries agreed to dismantle their subsidies too in World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Hong Kong in December under the so-called Doha round of negotiations.

"If we do not complete the Doha round in December the whole world will move on," Johanns told a news conference in Dakar late on Monday after the three-day AGOA meeting opened. "If we do not (complete Doha) a new farm bill will be set in place for a number of years and we will have lost the opportunity quite literally into the next decade," he said.

U.S. farm bills usually last 5-7 years, and the next one would probably be passed in 2007, meaning that failure to reach a deal on free trade in Hong Kong would likely see U.S. farm subsidies extended at least to 2012, Johanns said.

"If we don't have a WTO agreement I believe there will be a temptation to pass much the same bill (as the current one)," he said. "Congress is very reluctant to change farm bills after they've been put in place."


Johanns urged African countries to work with Washington's negotiators to ensure a deal at the Hong Kong talks, which will bring together ministers from all 148 WTO member states.

The WTO's Doha round, due to be completed by the end of 2006, virtually collapsed after talks in Mexico in 2003 failed to reach a deal on subsidies with poor countries refusing to accept concessions they said would damage their economies.

"All AGOA countries and all others need to work cooperatively, to show resolve to stay at the table until we get a good WTO agreement," Johanns said. "The developing countries and the developed countries in our world need a successful WTO round."

Johanns said a U.S. proposal to end cotton export subsidies was proof of Washington's commitment to end subsidies blamed by some for keeping African farmers in poverty. Washington has missed a July 1 WTO deadline to end cotton export subsidies, but President George W. Bush has asked Congress to eliminate subsidies as part of budget legislation to be considered in September.

The United States is the world's top cotton exporter, and growers in poor West African states say they can not compete with subsidised U.S. exports.

U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to close the three-day meeting in Senegal to show top-level commitment to boosting the AGOA programme, designed to help African nations trade their way out of poverty.

7. Say 'no' to CAFTA

Huntsville Times, July 17, 2005

A current radio commercial urges Alabamians to oppose CAFTA "because CAFTA rhymes with NAFTA" and references the opposition to NAFTA of H. Ross Perot, the erstwhile presidential candidate who once claimed President George H.W. Bush was plotting to disrupt Perot's daughter's wedding.

No, that ad doesn't give you much meat to chew on. Anyone who would oppose the Central American Free Trade Agreement (or CAFTA-DR, now that leaders in the Dominican Republic have come aboard) on the basis of that sound byte isn't thinking things through.

But within the complicated legislation are very good reasons for Americans to withhold their support. Some involve border security.

To start with, the proposal that the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on this month has to be up or down. That might be a good idea on federal court nominees, but the notion that a trade document can't be amended by representatives of different constituencies across the country should raise red flags.

And CAFTA has other problems. What it primarily does is ease the way for investors to come into poor countries and make them poorer. Laws that help strengthen local economies take back seats to international business' needs. Problems between nations and business will be decided by secret panels, with business holding the upper hand. Local efforts to protect the environment and improve the lots of workers, particularly women, will be stymied.

Proponents make much of the fact that ending produce tariffs will help U.S. farmers. What will happen, however, is that Central American family farms will no longer be able to compete. Those who live on the land must find work elsewhere - primarily the United States.

The giant sucking sound from Mexico, thanks to NAFTA, is the United States sucking in an estimated 600 poverty-stricken peasants a day who can no longer eke out a marginal existence in their homeland. Yes, it may take workers longer to get from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, et al., to our borders, but if CAFTA passes, they are coming.

In an opinion-page column for The Washington Post, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., says that a free-trade agreement with Central America "must be to expand markets and raise living standards, not promote a race to the bottom."

CAFTA promises more bottom-feeding - not just for working people in Central America but for many in the United States as well.

It's another license to outsource, to run roughshod over people already living on the margins, to do to other another region what has been done to labor in Mexico.

The proposal needs to be reworked. This is another area where bipartisan efforts are needed. As it stands, CAFTA will mostly benefit only the very rich, the very powerful and the very greedy - and should be rejected.

By David Prather, for the editorial board. E-mail: davidp@htimes.com

8. Online Guide to U.S. Organic Certifiers Published

For Immediate Release
July 21, 2005

CONTACT: Greg Bowman, The Rodale Institute (610) 683-1470 or Erica Walz, OFRF (435) 826-4579

(Santa Cruz, CA / Kutztown, PA) - The Rodale Institute’s NewFarm.org and the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) today announced the New Farm Guide to U.S. Organic Certifiers, an online resource where farmers can find comprehensive profiles of participating organic certifiers, including fee structures, available services and geographic areas served. It is the only qualitative organic certifier guide available.

Access the guide at http://www.newfarm.org/ocdbt/press.

Featured is information on a wide variety of characteristics of certifiers accredited by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). Farmers can browse all certifiers, compare the full profiles of two certifiers or search by criteria such as farm size and type of operations certified.

"A farmer can click on ‘livestock’ and ‘Ohio,’ and instantly see all the listed certifiers that will serve that type of operation in that state," said Greg Bowman, on-line editor at NewFarm.org.

The guide is a collaborative effort of OFRF and The Rodale Institute® (TRI) through its outreach website, NewFarm.org. Institute staff developed an online survey that OFRF used to actively collect data from certifiers. TRI followed up to create the user-friendly database for the certifier descriptions.

"OFRF had published a more limited directory for years, and this was a big leap forward. The Rodale Institute’s NewFarm.org has on-line publishing skills to greatly enhance this service to farmers, and we’re very pleased with the results," said Erica Walz, OFRF Communications Projects Manager.

As part of its commitment to expanding "farmer-to-farmer know-how," the website created the interactive "Certification Forum" where farmers can post exchanges and ask questions on their experiences with a certifier or the certification process.

Already, 65 certifiers have created profiles out of a total of 99 certifiers currently accredited by the USDA to work in the U.S. New certifiers are welcome to add their profiles, and participating certifiers may update their agency’s listing at any time.

The U.S. Guide to Organic Certifiers can also be accessed from the OFRF website at http://www.ofrf.org


The Rodale Institute is a world-leading, not-for-profit educational and research organization dedicated to regenerative and organic agriculture. The Institute has worked globally for 56 years to achieve a regenerative food system that renews environmental and human health, bringing to life the philosophy that "Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People®."

The Organic Farming Research Foundation was founded in 1990 to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming practices. OFRF’s mission is to sponsor research related to organic farming; to disseminate research results to organic farmers and to growers interested in adopting organic production systems; and to educate the public and decision makers about organic farming issues.

9. Farm and Rural Groups Urge Quick Completion of Energy Bill

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2005 -- The Alliance for Rural America, a coalition of grassroots organizations representing agricultural and rural energy issues, have urged members of the House-Senate energy bill conference committee to agree on comprehensive legislation that will address the disproportionate impact that rising energy prices have on rural America at a time when prices farmers and ranchers receive for commodity crops are declining.

In a letter to the select members from each chamber who are working out the differences between separate House and Senate energy bills, the ARA expressed its support for several key components it wants the new energy bill to contain, including:

  • extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind generated electricity;
  • incentives to upgrade and expand the electric transmission grid;
  • the updated Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) in the Senate bill, which has the support of 70 senators and numerous representatives; and
  • electricity reliability provisions.

"We urge you and others in Congress to continue your momentum and pass a comprehensive energy bill before you recess later this summer," wrote Larry Mitchell, ARA spokesman. "You must continue to provide the leadership and initiative to move our nation toward an energy system that is more diverse, decentralized, domestic and renewable."

The Alliance for Rural America's nine member organizations represent over 750,000 farmers and farm families. The ARA was formed in 1997 to represent the farm community on energy and environmental issues. ARA’s membership includes American Agriculture Movement, American Corn Growers Association, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, National Association of Farmer Elected Committees, National Farmers Organization, The National Grange, Women Involved in Farm Economics, Soybean Producers of America, and Oklahoma Farmers Union.

10. Area Wind Energy Hopes May Get Boost

Press & Dakotan...Yankton, SD
July 21, 2005

TYNDALL -- The measure of wind-energy potential could receive a huge boost in southeast South Dakota if an anemometer -- which measures wind volume and speed -- is placed on a cell-phone tower planned for Tyndall, state officials said Wednesday.

The news came during a public wind-energy meeting at the Tyndall Community Center, attended by nearly 150 people.

A group of anemometers known as WRAN -- the Wind Resource Assessment Network -- has been placed in central and northeast South Dakota, said Mike Ropp, an electrical engineer from South Dakota State University in Brookings. However, efforts are under way to place the anemometers across the state, he said.

"WRAN should be expanded to more of the state," Ropp said. "With the new cell tower, there has been a negotiation with the (cell) tower owner. The aim is for one of the sites to come to Tyndall."

The WRAN effort has also looked at southeast sites near Beresford and in the Turkey Ridge area near Freeman, Ropp said.

"We have enough funding for six more sites in the state," he said. "The communities have been investing 50-50 with us, which has helped stretch the available funding."

Tyndall provides an example of local support for WRAN, said Public Utilities Commissioner Bob Sahr.

"The City of Tyndall has offered to be a partner and put up $2,500 toward the project," he said. "The anemometer would measure wind speeds at 50, 70 and 90 feet above the ground. They already measure at 50 and 70 feet, so they would be adding the readings at 90 feet."

If a Tyndall site finds success, it could usher in more anemometers in southeast South Dakota, Sahr said.

"If we get other good sites, there is the opportunity to highlight wind resources in the region," he said. "Right now, we are light years ahead of many other states in wind energy."

Sahr said he wants to see more anemometers around the state. Whereas most of the current wind-energy studies are commissioned and retained by private parties, the WRAN findings will become public knowledge and easily accessible, he said.

"When I became PUC chairman in 2003, it was one of my priorities to get more sites built," Sahr said. "We have aggressively expanded the program. We want the findings to be publicly available."

More information will show even greater wind-energy potential in the state, which will attract more investors, Sahr predicted.

"There is a lot of momentum for wind power in South Dakota. There is more interest among developers on possible South Dakota sites," he said. "We have the best windpower potential in the United States. The Hyde County wind farm is one of the best wind farms in North America. We have to get successful (with WRAN) in order to generate more interests."

The WRAN findings could prove highly profitable as both a scientific and marketing tool, Sahr said.

"There are great revenue opportunities for South Dakota, but we have to tell all about our windpower dynamics," he said.

The Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED), the PUC, East River Electric and local sources have provided a number of resources for the WRAN effort, Ropp said.

"This has given us a good competitive edge," he said.

The South Dakota Legislature has watched out for the public's interest, but many challenges lie ahead, Ropp said.

"The ones who tend to get run over (with wind-energy concerns) are the people on the ground," he said. "The South Dakota legislators have been heads up in looking out for the public's interests and staying vigilant."

All areas of agriculture are interested in promoting wind energy, said Dan McGuire, "Wealth from the Wind" director of the American Corn Growers Association from Lincoln, Neb.

"We want farmers to make more money," he said.

The five keys to windpower development are resources, land rights, turbines, financing and energy markets, McGuire said.

"There is room for different wind-farm models," he said.

Wednesday's program included remarks from District 19 State Sen. Frank Kloucek, D-Scotland, and Reps. Jim Putnam, R-Armour, and Gary Jerke, R-Tripp. The audience also heard updates on the federal energy bill and other issues from staff members of U.S. Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune.

Afterward, Yankton mayor Curt Bernard said he sees potential for wind energy in southeast South Dakota.

"There is a ton of wind energy here. Anything we can do to help efficiently create investment and foster an income stream is good for economic development," he said.

"It's neat to work on this stuff as a region. We have this 100 miles of Missouri National Recreation River, now we all have to work together (as an economic corridor)."

More information on WRAN can be found at www.sdwind.com. More information on a September wind-energy conference at Brookings can be found at the PUC link on www.state.sd.us.