August 11, 2010

Small Farms Beyond Thunderdome

Filed under: Food and Farms, Relocalization — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 6:00 pm


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. 


  1. Well said from the son of a farmer.

    The problem is that ag-subsidies not only screw-up the current economics but also the future farm sibblings who plan upon flawed information.

    Comment by Stephen A. Boyko — August 11, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

    • Thanks. Yup, subsidies for concentrated interests can never generate any other than flawed information, since the information is about nothing whatsoever other than the short-term profit of those interests.

      Comment by Russ — August 12, 2010 @ 4:59 am

  2. How can the US be an efficient market economy with flawed information? see the following excerpts from:

    Winds of Change, The National Interest


    Stephen A. Boyko & Merle Coe

    The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, raised the level of concern that the U.S. is dependent on oil from countries that may be harboring or financing terrorists, or that may be taken over by regimes sympathetic to terrorists. Nuclear power has been marketed as an alternative to oil for the production of electricity and a way to make America less dependent on Middle Eastern oil. While advocates and opponents of nuclear energy debate the merits of this alternative, each side knows to the penny the costs involved in producing, using, and storing the required materials. Such precision is missing from an analysis of oil.
    The U.S. is strongly committed to protecting its “oil pipeline.” Notwithstanding the fact that the price of a barrel of oil has doubled in two years, imported oil remains an important economic input. The U.S imports about 50 percent of its total demand or 4.2 billion barrels of oil annually. At the recent market price range of $60-to-65 per barrel, this equates to an annual expenditure in the range of $250-to-275 billion. Expendi¬tures for imported oil dwarf the total amount spent on foreign aid, exceed the budget deficit, approach the trade deficit, and, are a sizable per¬cent¬age of Gross Domestic Product.
    But where is the approximate $200 billion spent on military services required to protect the pipeline? The longer American military personnel are used to protect vulnerable oil installations in conflict-prone countries, the more persuasive becomes the argument to include the growing militarization of our foreign energy policy in the price at the pump. While the current price of gas nears the March 1981, all-time high, inflation-adjusted price of $3.12 a gallon, if the military costs were allocated as a direct tax on oil imports, the price consumers could pay for a gallon of gasoline could be as high as $5.20.
    Published Friday, August 11, 2006

    The Aiken Standard’s August 9th editorial entitled “Despite gas price hikes we don’t change our ways” could more appropriately be entitled “Despite editorial attempts at manipulation we shouldn’t change our ways”.

    The lack of a clearly delineated energy policy and associated course of action for broad societal issues involving the “economy” suggest that while people may have notions about what this term means, few are able to define it precisely. This vague¬ness enables journalists, politicians, and policy makers to disseminate opinions with a minimum of critical analysis. This lack of precise terminology and related understanding of conceptual interrelationships characterizes much of the discourse related US energy policy that contributes to a polarization of public opinion and related ease of policy manipulation.

    We live in a market economy—a dynamical, non-linear system that drives resources to their highest and best use. Using unidimensional, linear descriptors such as the “cost of a gallon of gasoline” in a non-linear system is contextually conflicting and begs the question of cost in relation to what? How many readers would like the current price of their home to approximate its cost when a gallon of gas was $.25? Further, higher costs provide greater incentives for innovation of an alternative source of energy.

    Comment by Stephen A. Boyko — August 12, 2010 @ 11:10 am

  3. Really excellent post! Sustainability and decentralization — can’t say it enough.

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    Comment by i on the ball patriot — August 14, 2010 @ 7:13 am

    • That’s the ticket! Nature never deceives because she needs more than what’s necessary; but she punishes those who do.

      Comment by Russ — August 14, 2010 @ 7:31 am

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