Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fueling rural inequities

In the introduction to "Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity" biologist/anthropologist Gregory Bateson wrote the following:
"There us a parallel confusion in the teaching of language which has never been straightened out. Professional linguists nowadays may know what's what, but children in school are still taught nonsense. They are told that a 'noun' is the 'name of a person, place, or thing'; and that a 'verb' is 'an action word,' and so on. That is, they are taught at a tender age that the way to define something is by what it supposedly is in itself -- not by its relations to other things...[A]ll communication necessitates context, and without context there is no meaning."
Today too many grown-up children in positions of power continue to practice what they were taught as they exploit the public's growing environmental awareness by defining green
and renewable by what something is, instead of in terms of its relationships to others. (GW)

The Farmer's Nightmare?

New York Times
August 10, 2007

Only a few years ago, ethanol was just a line in a farm-state politician’s stump speech — something that went down well with the locals but didn’t mean much to anyone else. Now, of course, ethanol is widely touted — and, within reason, rightly so — as an important part of America’s search for energy independence and greener fuels. One day, we may be using cellulosic ethanol, the kind derived from grasses. For now, the ethanol boom is all about corn. And the real question is whether that will finally kill American farming as we know it.

Farmers in the corn belt have watched the coming of the ethanol boom with an ill-concealed excitement. They’ve invested in small-town processing plants, and they’ve happily seen the price of corn fluctuate steadily upward. But land prices have also moved steadily upward. Land set aside for conservation is being put back into production. And a bidding war has broken out over acreage, a war that farmers are sure to lose to speculative investors.

In short, the ethanol boom is accelerating the inequity in the rural landscape. The high price of corn — and the prospect of continued huge demand — doesn’t benefit everyone equally. It gives bigger, richer farmers and outside investors the ability to outcompete their smaller neighbors. It cuts young farmers hoping to get a start out of the equation entirely. It reduces diversity in crops and in farm size.

For the past 75 years, America’s system of farm subsidies has unfortunately driven farming toward such concentration, and there’s no sign that the next farm bill will change that. The difference this time is that American farming is poised on the brink of true industrialization, creating a landscape driven by energy production and what is now called “biorefining.” What we may be witnessing is the beginning of the tragic moment in which the ownership of America’s farmland passes from the farmer to the industrial giants of energy and agricultural production.


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