Sunday, May 25, 2008

Farming in the news

Grist had a decent short article this past week on the United States' urgent need for more farmers. Farmers make up 1.6 percent of the US population right now, and onlyy 5.8 percent of those farmers are under the age of 35. Richard Heinberg addressed the same issue around a year and a half ago in one of his Museletters taken from a lecture he delivered to the E.F. Schumacher Society. The situation is no doubt pretty much the same in Canada, and with food shortages becoming more and more of a concern, and as the need for less oil-reliant agriculture continues to grow as we run out of fossil fuels, we can expect to hear about this a lot more.

The USDA has recently decided to eliminate a program used by everyone from environmental groups to industry and trade groups to trace the use and risk of pesticides. Scaled back in 2007, the collection and analysis of data on food crop pesticide usage in the US was regarded as the only ''reliable, plublicly searchable database of its kind'', according to an article in The Daily Green, which also points out that this comes at a time when herbicide use in Monsanto's near-monopoly of Roundup Ready crops has been increasing.


J said...

I think that percentage of farmer's illustrates just how much of our farming is done by very few agribusiness corporations. It's not a wonder most farmers are older though and not many younger people want to get into farming, it's hard work and you really just can't get by as a farmer anymore. It's really sad - one of the most important professions out there - feeding people, is treated as such a low rung commodity.

I think Community Supported Agriculture is hugely important as a result of this. It provides farmers fairer wages and the ability to farm without as much credit. I have recently signed up for one and feel great about it, I share the risks in the deal too.

(I really like Richard Heinburg by the way.)

Any bets as to whether Monsanto had something to do with the scaling back of this program? Unfortunately, I'm from St. Louis, Missouri the home of Monsanto, which I think is perhaps one of the most evil corporations there are. Pretty much anytime I read a piece from GRAIN, Monsanto is implicated in something negative.

M said...

I wish we had a CSA in these parts. It's sort of ironic, since my small city is surrounded by farm country. At the very least, there are a couple of organic growers who show up at the weekly farmer's market, and one of the health food stores is run by a couple of organic farmers who try to focus on selling as much local produce as they can.

The main reason given for the government's dropping the survey is its $8 million dollar price tag. The funny thing is that some large farmer's groups are now freaking out because they realize that without data, farmers' pesticide usage will be subject to speculation and conjecture, and this is coming at a time when people are becoming really conscious about what they eat. California actually monitors pesticide usage independently of the survey, but I think it's the only US state that does so; maybe more will have to follow? In the end (albeit not in the way I'd like to see it happen) this may end up being good for organic farmers, because at least there'll be more certainty of what is or isn't on organic produce.

I haven't heard anything about actual lobbying that may have gone on to get this program scaled back, but judging by all the stories I've read of the millions spent by agribusiness to lobby for the recent Farm Bill, I wouldn't be surprised, but I can only speculate.