Hardly Worth the Effort Corn Harvest
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Hardly Worth the Effort Corn Harvest • Posted: Sep 23, 2018 11:37:04Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Midwestern farmers in the US are growing corn at very high densities these days. Individual plants, by visual inspection, are now being grown within three inches of each other. And, the individual plants are big and strong, with stalks nearly two inches wide at base and sometimes seven or eight feet high. I remember crawling amongst corn plants as a young boy and I could easily squeeze between them moving from row to row. Can’t do that now. The mature thickness of corn may have been the same back then, but I’d swear they didn’t grow nearly as high and their leaves were never as long and luxurious, nor were the ears as big. Consequently, today’s yield per acre has increased dramatically. But, profit per acre has not improved much at all. If I remember correctly, average 2017 profit per acre, as reported over local radio in Nebraska last Spring, was something like $40 per acre. And that was predicted to fall in 2018 due to higher fuel costs. And now, our current President has disturbed things even more with his self-imposed tariff war. If farmers can’t make a profit, what’s the point of farming?

Relatively low food costs are a luxury for Americans, a luxury that keeps most underpaid Americans at least adequately fed. But, indications are that situation isn’t going to last much longer. Inflation is looming as Congressional Republicans insist on raising the National Debt by trillions of dollars with so called “economy boosting tax cuts.” Their countering plan to achieve budget balance is to cut spending and print money in the form of selling more Treasury Notes. But, that plan is going to raise interest rates significantly, which will increase costs to expand business activity, and eliminate social safety nets like unemployment benefits, farm price supports, and food stamps, not to mention further cuts to spending on education and basic research. More money in the system, higher interest rates, lack of investment in our future, less of a social safety net, and now tariffs will mean higher inflation and a probable recession in the very near future. Just what none of us needs right now, farmers especially.

The silly thing is that farmers have voted overwhelmingly during the last several elections in favor of those same GOP policies and for this current President.

I’ve sat down with farmers in cafes over morning coffee and listened to their concerns and reasoning. They are not stupid people. They know their business. What many of them apparently do not know or appreciate is the complexity by which the current world economy works and the ease with which talking heads on Fox News and talk radio are able to convince them Democrats, so called “freeloaders on the dole”, and immigrants are the cause of their decreasing profit margins. They aren’t.

The current incentive is for farmers to clear and cultivate more and more acreage. The consequence of that trend is the disappearance of more and more forests and untouched grass and wetlands, further squeezing water resources and habitat needed to sustain biodiversity. Being close to the land themselves, most farmers certainly realize that is an unhealthy self-defeating trend. I suggest they take a look at vertical farming. Maybe that direction offers a wiser more viable kind of hope.

Farmers and underemployed underpaid workers need to ask themselves: Who currently has all the money? Because, it certainly isn’t them. And also ask, what politicians advocating for what policies will help redistribute some of the world’s ill-distributed wealth that farmers hard work and risk taking has created? When they find the answers to those questions, they should vote for elected officials that actually have farmers’ and workers’ interests and wellbeing in mind, instead of their own and the interests of exploitive elites running big corporations.

You see, a walk down a country road now and then can be enlightening.

(Note: Several university published studies of farm income per acre over several years are available online. The above quoted average return of $40 per acre for Nebraska during 2017 probably included land costs or the cost to rent additional land beyond what is owned outright. By most charts, returns on land owned outright and depending on crop planted can range between $100-$300 per acre. But, add in the fact that most farmers also rent land beyond the 500 or 1000 acres they own outright and average return per acre drops significantly to that $40 per acre range, or even less.)

Sunday, September 8th, 2013