NPR ran a story this week about how farmers now have the highest occupational suicide rate in The United States. Note that educators are lowest in this risk pool, so it’s not about salary. This is about the soil, the earth, and an impossible task to squeeze blood from a stone. Any large scale commercial farmer, we’re talking mostly people growing industrial crops like soy, corn, and grains, are waking up to the loss of any financial safety net from the government. First I have to ask why these large scale places need such a safety net that without it, their farms fail, and second, why supposed food crops are tied up in political shenanigans.
The first question takes us deep into the history of farming in America. From The Dust Bowl on, government stepped in to give financial buffers to farms when bad weather or international trade prices caused a major upset to profit margins. We’re still talking about mega farms, places where a mono-crop policy of planting the most lucrative plants like fuel crops, and animal feed crops for factory farms, overtook a farmer’s focus on feeding people. These industrial farmers are still fed the myth that farming feeds America, but that is a threadbare story. Most soy, wheat, and corn goes overseas, into ethanol, or down a pig/cow/chicken’s throat in a feed lot where the animals are fed more than just grains.
Perhaps it is the realization that most farmers really aren’t feeding people any more, which has an effect on their moral fiber. Maybe the idea of poisoning the land with chemicals to get a better crop, while seeing the devastation it causes, then feeling their hands are tied, pushes farmers on large grow operations to despair. Most large farms in the Midwest are controlled by corporations, not the families running the farms. Those bright red barns and smiling faces of young families we see all over the consumer market are total facade. Politically, it’s a staple in conservative rhetoric, and the conservative minds of Midwestern towns eat it up, like they eat up Tyson meat products and push into WalMart with open arms, not realizing those are the companies preying on their small town industries and putting them all out of work.
I feel this personally, as an Oklahoma native, watching my father’s small home town disintegrate before my eyes as the peanut and cotton industries abandon the state for international markets, ushering oil and gas to drill and frack, polluting water and soil even more. What I see planted near town now is fuel crops for ethanol, and that plays into the commercial energy market just fine. But there are no more family farms, and the only real cattle ranch left is the Braum’s corporation; an ice-cream chain that is known for using growth hormones in their animals to produce more milk. Those cows are not happily wandering a grassy plain, but cooped up in a milk parlor while what’s left of their range is carved into drill decks for more fracking operations.
Another article I read recently about farmer’s suicide links the current crisis to a commercial fallout in the 1980s. In a nut shell, the farming economy bottomed out, and loans were called in. Millions of acres of land were lost to corporate mega-conglomerates who seized on privatizing farming and creating the huge mega-farms we know today across the Midwest. The control of farming was finalized with the patenting of life, and any farmer not participating in the Monsanto seed programs ended up in court battles over GMO seed contaminating their crops. For those who are still unaware of these practices, read this. Monsanto, and other large industrial agricultural companies now run farming practices and prices all over the world. This is part of a much larger consolidation of all consumer goods into the hands of a few large businesses which now run the world economy, and not for the greater good of the people, but for the profit of investors.
Food is not a stock, it’s a staple for survival, and that’s why most of us who go into growing food feel passionate about what we do. Some farmers keep to the organic method, and have a successful time of growing smaller, better quality crops that people will eat. But the capitalist market wants its share of profit, and food is a requirement to live, so it’s an easy market to corner and control with the right execution. Farmers are the one’s being executed, through manipulation of the market, and a false floor of economic support promised by government, then pulled out from under them like a cheap rug.
When farmers are forced to sell their land, they loose the ability to control their lives, and put food on the table, even for themselves. If you know a farmer, you know someone who lives a very thin profit margin, but it’s not just happening in farming these days. With such success in the agricultural market, corporate America is turning to every field, not just those of wheat and soy, but those of education, construction, medicine, you name it, a corporate Leviathan with “investors” is lurking in wait for the next big cash cow to slaughter. Sadly, we the people are on the chopping block, along with our health, sanity, and freedom.