Farm, Food and Biofuel Report
by Natasha Chart, Fri Jul 06, 2007 at 04:50:49 PM EDT
A couple days ago, the New York Times posted an article about the debate on farm subsidies, leaving readers with a rhetorical query about whether substantial progress was going to be made on cutting them. Umm, probably not. Unless, that is, every single member of the House Committee on Agriculture gets hundreds of phone calls from their constituents asking for caps on farm subsidies pronto. And even then, frankly, the odds are slim.
Consider that the Bush administration's secretary of agriculture got accused of instigating class warfare for some of his stances against farm subsidies, though it must be granted, there are issues with the Bush administration's proposals, as well.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson has yet to publish his revised Farm Bill, but when he does, he says there will be two of them. One will include policies with budget allocations, the other will include policies that will only be funded if offsets are found. Which is to say, they probably won't be funded. My mentors at the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have put together an action alert highlighting four agricultural sustainablility policies that should go in the real Farm Bill, the one that will be funded. They include support for new farmers and ranchers, conservation incentives for working farmlands, improving local food distribution infrastructure, and support for transitions to organic and sustainable farming.
The American Enterprise Institute tries their hand at commissioning policy research on the Farm Bill's impacts. I'm working through the environmental policy papers bit by bit, but I will say that it's a darn shame their piece on the Conservation Reserve Program was put together by someone who thinks that surface runoff and groundwater infiltration are "mutually exclusive" attributes for any given piece of land. My soil science teacher would SO have flunked this guy. That is, if they handed out grades at adorable liberal arts colleges.
You've got to be pretty hard up as a con artist to scam Missouri hay farmers. Good gods, but I guess it's tough times all around.
Wheat orders are up, but the U.S. crop isn't that great because of heavy rain, while other world producers have been hit by droughts like the ones that diminished last year's U.S. harvest. Unpredictable weather for urban workers = expand your collection of all-weather gear. Unpredictable weather for farmers = less food. Thank you, catastrophic climate disruption.
The freedom-hating French agriculture ministry comes over all open source-like, adopting Linux and planning to migrate to OpenOffice. According to the article, the entire French government intends to follow suit.
Yet while their penguins are triumphant, their swans, not so much. Three swans are confirmed dead of bird flu, H5N1, in eastern France. Strict bans have been enacted on pigeon racing, not making that up, and officials are being portrayed as extra-nervous after recent discoveries of infected wild birds in neighboring Germany.
The Jamaican government is on the lookout for cheap fertilizer, after ammonia fertilizers increased in price from $14k/ton to $24k/ton over the last year. But remember, ladies and gents, the only thing to fear from fossil fuel supply squeezes is a little extra cost filling up the gas tank. Pay no attention to that food supply behind the curtain.
The United Nations says that biofuel demand is changing agricultural markets, though they don't yet have enough information to put out clear policy recommendations.
The European Union starts to look at environmentally damaging biofuels production, saying that they'll ban subsidies of biofuel sources that further degrade the environment and cause higher carbon emissions. Of primary concern are the conversion of wetlands and peat bogs, whose drainage causes considerable release of carbon dioxide as the organic material that was previously kept waterlogged is released to the air, speeding microbial decomposition.