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Food Log: The American Farmer

on January 21, 2012

The American farmer has just about the only occupation I can think of that can be so adversely affected by circumstances completely out of his control. Each one puts in more hours and provides essential commodities for more people—an average of 155 people per farmer—than any other job. Why then, are America’s farmers not more protected?

In Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he describes the gradual plight of the American Farmer. Parts of the New Deal were enacted after the Great Depression to aid farmers in evening out the surplus of food, the excess of which the average American could not afford to purchase. Although farming conditions did not necessarily improve after this, the U.S. government certainly helped to even out costs for the farmers that remained. However, around the time of the Nixon administration, the government had started to do more for the crops rather than the farmers themselves. I’m talking specifically about corn.

As of 2009, Iowa was the single greatest corn producing state—yielding 182 bushels per acre. Through Pollan’s book, I have begun to realize how deep corn farmers are sinking into a no-win situation. Corn cultivation has become an intricate dance between economics, regulation, supply, demand, science and technology. Technology has slowly made farming more efficient, but, just as in any market, improved technology diffuses quickly. A new type of tractor or a new brand of seed is only beneficial for a season before everyone around catches on. The Omnivore’s Dilemma explains that at the end of the day, American corn farmers are still stuck between a rock and a hard place, or on the technological treadmill as it is known: Government provided deficiency payments encourage farmers to produce as much corn as possible, then to sell it, regardless of market demand. However, this drives prices down. The only way to make up for the difference is by producing more corn.

Nevermind health concerns raised by the consistent use of genetically modified corn. Nevermind the strain on the land and the imbalance of types of crops produced in our country. Clearly, something needs to be done to help American farmers, preferably through legislation. We are all connected by the simple fact that food is essential for life. Therefore, the welfare of those farmers in Iowa who grow hundreds of acres of corn should be a concern for all of us. If farms continue to disappear, food as we know it will change entirely.

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