Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The gift that keeps on giving..

Thanks to Methadoneklinic's wife to (indirectly) pointing me in the direction of this article that talks of New Zealand Scientists trying to see if the distance food travels really is harmful to the environment.

Which lead me to yet another great article in regards to a topic I touched on briefly before about corn in America today. I’ve been reading Omnivores Dilemma and enjoying Michael Pollack’s writing immensely, though a little heavy on the science sometimes. He does a lot of talking in the first few chapters of the book about the financial plight facing American corn farmers today. The biggest and most crucial point he seems to make is how our government seems to not only to be the cause of the issue (though I’m really not surprised) but only compounds things by "staying the course" in all that they do in regards to corn and agriculture as a whole for the country.

The article I found in the NY TIMES addresses the high market for corn farmers land. Though it may not seem weird to the uninformed, allow me to give some detail as to why this worries me.

The financial issues I mentioned before stem from the falling prices of Type 2 corn, which is the kind that is grow on 90% of Americas large scale corn farming land. The prices have been falling since the revamp of The New Deal during the Nixon administration. The surplus of corn has basically become greater due to the shift in how America buys its corn from the farmers. Higher yield=higher profit... as least you think it should. What’s happening is a kind of agricultural/Fiscal twilight zone in which the more farmers farm, the less they tend to make. There are a number of reasons for this, hence why the first few chapters in Omnivores Dilemma are solely about corn, which I can’t possibly type out here.

Suffice it to say, the American corn farmer is not going to be making it on the Forbes top 500 list ANY time soon, but the corporations that buy from them just might.

But about the article in question..
Now that you know a little history, let’s talk about the present. "Corn Land", as Ill call it, is being bought up at very high prices (compared to original cost) because of really one thing... Ethanol. This byproduct from processing corn is being seen by some as the way out of our current energy crisis and dependence of fossil fuels.

Ever forward acting, and less forward thinking we seem to want to buy up "Corn Land" to create Ethanol farms. Now I wouldn’t say using a resource in hopes of "saving ourselves" is not a bad idea, especially when it’s a renewable resource... but what we face now is a serious long term crisis.

We are robbing peter to pay paul here folks. The outlined life of a bundle of corn, at least 90% of type 2 corn, is a series of tubes, holding pens, and grinders bent on both supplying us with the processed food we love oh so much and the stockyards where we keep our thousands upon thousands of herds of cattle in the form of feed.

Pick up any jar of processed food and look at the ingredient label. Chances are you’ll be staring at least 3 items on that label that are derived from corn.

So take a step back and take a good look at the facts. Corn Farmers barely stay afloat farming the large amounts of corn we need to produce the lifestyle we have become accustom to, along comes the chance to sell the farm for more then its really worth and your told its in the name of saving the environment.

I put myself in the shoes of those farmers. I see a way out of struggling to keep my farm afloat that will net profit for me.

I’m afraid for the American corn farmer folks, and I think maybe you should be to..
You think the price of milk is high now? I hate to see it soon if this keeps up..


methadoneklinic said...


one a more serious note, you seem to have put some effort into being informed on this topic. Your writing is intelligent and leads the reader through your point of view in a clear manner. You ever think of writing something for a group like NPR? I'm sure there is no money in it, but couldn't hurt to add to your "I've been published here" list.

The O said...

That's an interesting point about the ethanol farms, one I wouldn't have thought about. Is the issue moreso in the cornbelt states, or nationwide?

The Foodist said...


oh stop your making me blush


I believe the problem may be nationwide, but the majority of the corn used in processed foods and animal feeds comes from the "cornbelt states" you mention.

Think of this way, any added stress anywhere in the system will and can be felt by the whole system.

I thought about this as well after I made the post, maybe the plus side to all of this is we will, as a country, start eating less processed foods and begin thinking more along the lines of "Buy Localy, Think Globaly"