U.S.’s distorted agriculture

November 30, 2021

Bay Area, Calif.–This fall, Suzanne and I decided to drive to Wisconsin to visit a friend. One thing we wanted to check was the extent of drought in North America. How far east did it extend? Depleted reservoirs extended as far east as Wyoming. The situation changed by the time we got to Minnesota. In the Mississippi valley there were hundreds of lakes and wetlands, plenty of water.

I talked to some farmers in Wisconsin. They said they were having no problem with drought. Suzanne said it was shocking for her to see so much “unescorted water.” It was just lying around, not being used.

Corn fields near Royal, Illinois. Photo: Daniel Schwen https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Dschwen


Everywhere, we saw corn. It was all the same size. People told me it was cloned. As we drove west from Illinois through Iowa and Nebraska, we saw the same corn in field after field, an ocean of corn.

I did some research and discovered that about 10% of the U.S. corn crop is used as food, one third of which is converted into high-fructose corn syrup. This sweetener is going into sodas and a disturbingly large number of other items. More than 40% of the corn goes into making ethanol for cars, and about 45% goes to make silage for animals. These animals are kept in cramped lots and fed silage to fatten them as quickly as possible. Range-fed cattle take about three years to fatten for the market. Corn-fed cattle are fattened in about a year. These cattle are also fed antibiotics to counter the bad effects of their high-starch corn silage diet.

What makes this story of U.S. corn so poignant is seeing first-hand what current agricultural policy is doing to us. The U.S. has used subsidies and regulations to lock our farmers into producing a vast supply of cheap starch that goes into producing sweet sodas and processed food that we shouldn’t be eating. At the same time, these farmers aren’t able to produce the kind of food that we really need.

Those of us who live in the Bay Area are living in a bubble. Tomorrow I can drive, or walk, a half mile to a wonderful produce market that provides a large variety of high-quality fruit and vegetables. There are millions of Americans living in the many states that have to drive a hundred miles to get good quality food, and they include the farmers.

–Charles Kimbrell

One thought on “U.S.’s distorted agriculture

  1. This is true–and so much more. The consolidation of land into large agro-business holdings and loss of sustainable family farming to large corporations. This and federal benefits skewed to large farms had led to Black farmers disproportionately losing their land. Then we could talk about farming practices: lack of genetic diversity in cloned crops can make entire fields susceptible to the same insect and disease pests. Pests evolve resistance to chemical pesticides, and chemical fertilizers do not provide everything needed to create healthy resilient soils. The short-term search for profit leads to long-term wastelands. The dustbowls in the Midwest during the 1930’s should be studied today.

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