Energy and environmental factors decree that America needs millions of small farmers. Even today smaller farms are more productive, more energy-efficient, and more ecologically sound. Peak Oil and the looming energy descent mandate that we Get Small or Get Dead whether we want to or not.
With agriculture, we have the same situation as with energy. Just as with fossil fuel extraction, the industrial agriculture rackets have been heavily subsidized and empowered by the system in many other ways. Just as with renewables, alternatives to the agribusiness model (“get big or get out”, monoculture, heavy use of fossil-fuel based fertilizer and pesticide, GMOs and patenting of seeds) have been neglected where not actively assaulted.
In both cases the overarching feature is a giant centralized structure dependent upon cheap, plentiful fossil fuels. The result in both cases is a heavily tipped playing field.
While by now there’s little return on seeking reform within the system, I thought that just once for the record I’d jot down what should have been done by way of reform. (And also perhaps to help set standards for relocalization activists who might need to pretend to advocate solutions within the system, just to refute the charge of “all you do is criticize and demand the impossible” or some such garbage. Sort of like the way in some company I’ll still say something like “they should have included Kaufmann-Brown in the finance bill”, even though real freedom activists understand how pointless such complaints are.)
So here’s what I would advocate if I had to reform within the system. I’d strip away all government steroids for the already engorged, while deploying investment in transformative technologies, practices, structures.
In the case of agriculture this would mean such things as tax credits and loan guarantees for small farms, perhaps various carrots and sticks for states and municipalities to adopt policies more friendly to decentralized food production, organics, CSAs, single-plot gardening (why shouldn’t this get the same tax incentives as e.g. a home office?).
I would abolish corn ethanol subsidies and mandates, and end all support for biofuels in general. Ethanol is a pure racket which has never capitalistically supported itself and never will. It’s simply taking food from the mouths of the hungry (driving up the price and tying up vast tracts of land) in order to burn it in gas tanks to zombify the doomed car culture.
Factory farms, aka CAFOs, must be banned completely. They’re absolute economic, social, environmental, and animal cruelty disasters. Worst of all, by concentrating so many animal pathogens in such crowded spaces they cause constant epidemic outbreaks. This chronic state of disease is met with an ever-escalating regimen of antibiotics, which are in turn counteracted by constantly mutating germs. It’s simply a biological arms race. The odds are that when the next great lethal pandemic afflicts mankind, it will have arisen at a CAFO. (The swine flu is believed to have arisen at a Smithfield facility in Mexico. Just a little gift from Rahm, Clinton, and NAFTA. Since Obama hired Rahm the swine flu becomes his baby too.) Factory farms are literally unregulated bioweapons laboratories.
Since the biotech companies themselves claim genetic modification is indistinguishable from age-old hybridization techniques, it follows that they shouldn’t be able to patent genes or organisms.
What’s more, since the food supply is a social good and a strategic element, it shouldn’t be held hostage to any corporate interest at any point. The genetics of the world ecosystem are public property, and no one ever had a right to enclose them or to allow them to be enclosed. So right there all such patents are invalid and vacated. The fact is, man does not need GMOs, just like we didn’t need monoculture in the first place. Diversified cultivation of wild varieties has always been more productive for local and regional populations. It was only corporate globalism which wanted and needed to build the Tower of Babel of monoculture, fossil-fuel fertilizer and pesticides, and growing global distribution, these three always circulating in an ever-intensifying loop.
So that’s part of what I’d do if I had the federal power at my disposal. Of course the idea of using the central power structure to decentralize agriculture would be ironic, and is in fact impossible. As we know, the kleptocracy cannot be reformed. But as an exercise in civics, we can still find occasion to cite the theoretical principle (sometimes even realized in practice, in other times and places) that the system must be accountable to the people.
Energy descent is imminent, and it would have been better if we could have found the wisdom and will to effect an organized energy transformation, within the context of a general program which sought everywhere to rehabilitate our adversarial relationship with nature, lead us beyond and above fossil fuels, and ameliorate if not end social exploitation, domination, and cruelty. All this could be done through the disempowerment of large structures and the empowerment of smaller forms.
Nature is going to force us to do so anyway, so it would be better if we did it according to a plan, instead of heedlessly partying our way right off a cliff.