Farm, Food and Biofuel Report

United States

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.

Tags: Agriculture, biofuel, bird flu, Collin Peterson, conservation, farm bill, H5N1 (all tags)



Re: Farm, Food and Biofuel Report

One of the dirty little secrets that the food lobby doesn't want anyone to know is that the industry, from the growing, watering and transport of food, mostly for feed for livestock, is that they produce a massive amount of greenhouse gases akin to cars.

by jgarcia 2007-07-06 06:12PM | 0 recs
Reduce carbon footprint: Eat less meat

NY Times printed a list of way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Number 1. Eat less meat. n/01gside.html?ex=1184385600&en=9453 57aa7a2bd675&ei=5070&emc=eta1

by Bush Bites 2007-07-07 09:13AM | 0 recs
Meat is not the problem

If you're talking about confined animal feeding operations, CAFOs, you have a point.

You might consider, however, that eating grass-fed meat also helps reduce carbon emissions. If you're getting genuinely pasture raised beef or free range chickens, it helps maintain steady grass cover (good for soil organic matter build-up and erosion reduction) and ecological diversity among birds, rodents and harder to see critters.

It's impossible to have a closed or tight nutrient cycle that doesn't include a mix of both plants and animals. The problem comes in when you have all the animals in one place and all the plants in another. But grasslands need grazers, grazing animals (if they're really getting the bulk of their nutrition from grazing) need a diverse grass community, and the soil beneath builds more organic matter (read: stores more carbon) the more robust and varied such a system is.

Plants and animals evolved together in tightly bound interdependencies, as well as in escalating chemical/mechanical arms races, and are the reason for each other's diversity. Disregarding the importance of this fact, whether by maintaining them in abnormal separation or by trying to zero out one side of the equation, will never achieve good results. Certainly, nothing that could be creditably billed as sustainability.

While it's probably a good idea to eat less meat, and most people don't need all that much, eliminating the farming of animals is not the cure-all that some would have you believe.

by Natasha Chart 2007-07-07 12:58PM | 0 recs
Great to see you!

Be it said, in the nonspecialist lefty sphere, there's not a lot of juice in the farm bill, despite the meager efforts of yours truly and some others to get some interest going.

So - great to see another viewpoint on the side of the righteous - or, at least, not on the side of obscene corporate welfare!

It does occur to me that the amendments which the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (how un-American is that?!) as set out in this PDF are on the modest side.

Which I'm sure has been carefully calibrated to give them a chance of getting through; but only points out the general helplessness of said side of the righteous in making headway against Big Ag.

So far as I can see, what eventually gets enacted will be the result of civil war between the ag interests, rather than the prevailing of sanity. Which will probably mean it'll turn out to be a sharing of booty among the pirates.

As long as the pirates are trying to cut each others' throats, we can dream.

by skeptic06 2007-07-07 06:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Great to see you!

Thanks :D

It's remained an obscure issue for a very long time, though. Not many people have a frame to hang it on, so a lot of educational groundwork will be needed to get it on people's priority list. Nice to meet someone else who's been watching, though.

by Natasha Chart 2007-07-07 01:01PM | 0 recs


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