Thank you to all the folks who gave us their attention this year at our various speaking engagements. We reprint here a letter that gives some of the background to those talks:
— I caught a cold this week and have spent a day or two inside, and you will be the sufferers for it! Both of you asked if I could send you some of the sources for the information we are collecting on the history of the industrialization of American agriculture, so I’m pulling it together here so I can send it to each of you. It’s only a tiny bit of what’s out there, but a picture is growing.
Take a look at the Committee for Economic Development’s 1962 document ‘An Adaptive Program for Agriculture’ (http://www.normeconomics.org/AN%20ADAPTIVE%20PROGRAM%20FOR%20AG.pdf). This is just a sample of their work, as you can note on the first page of text, which refers to the existence of three previous documents authored by the Committee. This version of the 1962 document is not the final draft, so it is larded with those insertions labeled ‘memoranda of comment, reservation or dissent’ in which various members of the committee state varying opinions on the policies being outlined and proposed. Any summary I might attempt would be biased, so I won’t attempt, but the document is not long. Note: The Section IV reference to previous measures taken by the federal government ‘to deal with the farm problem’ – that is, ‘government purchase of agricultural products at prices above free market levels’ – fails to note that this ‘purchase’ was in the form of a loan against the commodity, which if redeemed by the farmer was redeemed with interest; if the commodity was retained by the government, rebounding prices post-harvest meant that the loan/price given by the government for the grain originally could no longer be considered ‘above market price’. In one of his essays, Wendell Berry notes that the program as a whole produced a net profit (for the taxpayer).
See also this document (https://www.iatp.org/documents/crisis-design-brief-review-us-farm-policy) from the League of Rural Voters Education Project, published in 1987 – Crisis By Design: A Brief Review of U.S. Farm Policy. Much faster read.
For a more recent example of government/industrial/agribusiness strategies to replace small farmers with industrial megafarms, will-they, nil-they, there’s the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in a document much bruited about since 2006, Livestock’s Long Shadow. It’s 400 pages long, but check out p.73 for a statement of intention: as demand for meat/dairy has gone and will go up, to reduce environmental impact we need to increase the number and size of factory farms and retire ‘marginally used land’ (read: small mixed farms, peasant farms, non-commercial farms). And later, ‘The loss of competitiveness requires policy interventions, not necessarily to maintain smallholder involvement in agriculture, but to provide opportunities for finding livelihoods outside the agricultural sector.’ In the words of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, those in ag are to “get big or get out”, advice only helpful to those with access to big Capital; coincidentally or not, the very people who authored the first document on this list.
This document is also the source of the oft-repeated assertion that livestock are responsible for more human-activity-induced greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector, including transport. I know James is already aware that perusal of the document reveals gaping flaws in the methodology of data collection and analysis, flaws which completely undermine the value of the FAO’s statistics. I think he may even have met the California scientist whose paper on the subject, ‘Livestock’s Contributions to Climate Change: Facts and Fiction’(http://liveccms.pantheonsite.io/sites/default/files/livestocks_contribution_to_climate_change_facts_and_fiction.pdf) is widely accepted as a rebuttal of the UN document’s conclusions. Personally I disagree with Dr. Mitloehner’s proposal that centralizing all agricultural production would reduce its environmental impact, but his analysis of the way the FAO skewed their figures stands on its own.
My favorite source of information is the heavily-researched and exhaustively footnoted Meat: A Benign Extravagance, authored by British journalist/farmer Simon Fairlie. It consists of 15 stand-alone essays, so you can read it in chunks, and not necessarily in consecutive order. I think you would both share my strong impression that Mr. Fairlie is exerting himself to be even-handed; unlike most of the folks writing on the subject of meat in the human diet, and its production, his personal views on the subject are the reverse of extreme.
Thank you both for your patience when I go into lecture mode. This is some of the most exciting reading I do: as I accumulate information, I’m gaining a deeper, clearer, and, what is most wonderful, rational picture of How We Got Where We Are, and I can’t help wanting to share it.
Farmers and homesteaders: this is what political power allied to capital are planning for your little acreage of food and fertility. Don’t think the demise of the small farm has been an accident.