When we think about farmers most of us probably have pastoral images of a hard working rural family struggling to make a living off the land. But, what does the term “Big Ag” conjure up? I recall this old news program sponsored by Archer Daniels Midland, “America’s supermarket to the world.”
There was a movie about ADM based on a true scandal. The Informant was based upon the story of Mark Whitacre who was a whistleblower/ informant for the FBI in an investigation of price fixing by ADM. It’s a funny movie worth seeing and the main character was a sort of tragic clown. Whitacre actually went to prison for embezzling in the process of his work for the FBI. ADM was investigated for illegal price-fixing on Lysine and eventually settled, paying more than $100 million in fines. In 2004 ADM also settled for $400 million in a class action for price fixing on high fructose corn syrup. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of “Big Ag.”
We have been hearing a fair amount of advertising lately about supporting farmers. America does need farmers. I’ve heard ads from farm organizations seeking to pressure Congress and the EPA to raise the E15 (ethanol fuel) standard. And with the new Trump trade policies, farmers are complaining that their bottom line is suffering. In fact, big agriculture successfully lobbied the administration for an increase in farm subsidies to counteract the new tariffs. “USDA will authorize up to $12 billion in programs, which is in line with the estimated $11 billion impact of the unjustified retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods. These programs will assist agricultural producers to meet the costs of disrupted markets.”
Ironically, they’re complaining about EXPECTED losses even though most of their profits for this year are already set by contracts. If they are to experience any losses those wouldn’t happen until the 2019 harvest. We are presented a picture of poor, suffering farmers, but is that really the case?
We hear about family farms and it elicits an image of a small nuclear family on a little tract, struggling to survive. In fact, “Family farm” is not a synonym for “small farm.” In 2015, 90 percent of million-dollar farms were family farms. The agricultural industry is perhaps one of the largest beneficiaries of government largesse. According to the EWG Farm Subsidy Database, “The federal government spends more than $20 billion a year on subsidies for farm businesses. About 39 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms receive subsidies, with the lion’s share of the handouts going to the largest producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice.”
Almost of all the commodity payments and crop insurance indemnities are going to millionaires and multimillionaires as measured by farm household net worth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2017 Edition” reports that, “Large-scale farms (large and very large family farms) accounted for just 2.9 percent of all farms, yet received over a third of the commodity payments (35 percent) and almost half of the crop insurance indemnities (46 percent).” And that, “Large family farms, which received 32 percent of commodity payments and 34 percent of crop insurance indemnities, had a median household income of $347,000 (about six times the median income for all U.S. households).”
The Farm bill truly is welfare for the rich. And remember, you and I pay for it. Fact: The Farm-Subsidy System Primarily Helps Large Agricultural Producers. The farm-subsidy system provides limited assistance to small family farms. In 2016, small family farms accounted for 89.9 percent of all farms, yet received only 27 percent of commodity payments and 17 percent of crop insurance indemnities. In addition to all of this, farmers are exempt from federal fuel taxes. If you own a business, you pay federal excise tax at the pump, but farmers are exempt. They buy diesel for their tractors without any tax. It costs the rest of us millions.
Besides getting all of that welfare, big agriculture has added to our costs of transportation to prop up their corn industry with federal ethanol standards. Ethanol may be less expensive at the pump than regular gasoline, but it will cost you more in reduced mileage. E10 gasoline, which is the gas we use in America, actually gives you 2-3 miles per gallon less than gasoline. E85 reduces mileage 7-8 miles per gallon.
In addition to reducing your gas mileage, running ethanol in older cars (newer cars have been re-designed to accommodate) actually does damage to the engine.” A 2012 study by Auto Alliance showed that some cars (model years 2001 to 2009) showed internal engine damage as the result of using an ethanol fuel blend. Damage to the valves and valve seats was evident in some of the cars tested. One of the 16 cars in the Auto Alliance study failed emissions compliance standards, which means it emitted more pollution than allowed by the EPA.”
The original impetus for the government to promote ethanol was to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But, with new discoveries in America, we are now the world’s largest oil producer. Then, the government began pushing ethanol as part of the demand for “green” energy to reverse climate change. But, studies have proved that producing ethanol from grain requires more energy than the combustion of ethanol produces. “An acre of U.S. corn yields about 7,110 pounds of corn for processing into 328 gallons of ethanol. But planting, growing and harvesting that much corn requires about 140 gallons of fossil fuels.” 131,000 BTUs are needed to make 1 gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTU. We are actually burning more carbon producing ethanol than the energy it produces.
So much for reducing our carbon footprint. If there is such a thing as anthropomorphic climate change, we’re making it worse. Even the EPA admits that ethanol production is harming the atmosphere and soil.
It is estimated at this time that roughly 30% of our corn production is used for ethanol. There is little doubt that ethanol production has led to a significant increase in food costs. Have you looked at your food labels? That high fructose corn syrup (hfcs) is in almost everything we eat. Most of our meat is fed on corn.
Have you studied the health impacts of all of that hfcs in our diet? Heart disease, cancer and diabetes are the leading causes of death in America and hfcs plays a significant role in all of those diseases. All of that extra sugar in our diet is really killing us. The corn we are using today for our food is not the same as the corn your grandpa grew. Big farms today are using genetically modified corn, mostly from Monsanto. Have you seen the advertisements for “Roundup Ready Corn”? They are literally putting weed killer, glyphosate, in the corn and telling us that it is safe. The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” A number of EU countries now ban the use of this killer.
These days it seems like many people claim to have gluten allergies. Some researchers think that the real culprit is glyphosate. Monsanto is big Ag and they are killings us.
Image: CCO Creative Commons; https://pixabay.com/en/soil-tilling-farmer-tractor-386749/