Mother Jones: U.S. Commodity Farming System is a Massive Money-Loser

A column by Tom Philpott, food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones magazine, makes a strong case for one of the biggest flaws in the current U.S. agricultural system that is heavily oriented toward producing massive amounts of commodity crops such as corn and soybeans: that it is a huge money-loser for farmers… and for American taxpayers.

Good Food on Every Table believes this article, titled The Midwest’s Vast Farms are Losing a Ton of Money This Year, is worthy of your attention, so we are linking to it here. We hope this important topic will stimulate much discussion, and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section here.

Philpott references a study by Iowa State University agricultural economist Chad Hart, to which his story links, that finds farmers stand to lose $225 an acre on corn and $100 an acre on soybeans. The causes are a bumper crop that has driven prices for these commodities down to their lowest levels since 2006, combined with rising prices for inputs such as seed, fertilizers, and pesticides (most big commodity farms use conventional agriculture practices).

“So if you’re an Iowa farmer with a 2,000-acre farm, and you planted it half and half in these two dominant crops, you stand to lose $325,000 on this year’s harvest,” Philpott wrote.

Not that there will be a mass exodus off the farm because, Philpott notes, most of that financial hardship will be transferred to … you. He wrote that the continuation of longstanding crop subsidy programs that are heavily focused on commodity crops is “enshrined by the farm bill signed in February,” and “will likely wipe out much of the huge gap between farmers’ costs and what the market gives them.”

As is true of most advocates of a more sustainable food system, Philpott does not call for an immediate massive overhaul of the existing system, but rather an incremental approach: “Why not take some of the Midwest’s vast stock of farmland — say, 10 percent? — and devote it to vegetable and fruit production? And take another slice of it and bring it back to perennial grass for pasture-based beef and pork production? Both vegetables and pastured meat deliver much more income pre acre than commodity corn and soybeans, once the systems are up and running and the infrastructure in place.”

The entire article is recommended, and we welcome your feedback.

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