I love reading the industrial ag magazines my friend shares with me.
They’re full of fanciful ads like a two-page spread from Syngenta featuring a cornfield full of mechanical arms precisely plucking individual weeds, and another two-pager from Bayer CropScience with a spread of soybean leaves lounging in a pool replete with sunglasses, a cool glass of iced tea, and the morning paper.
I impressed with how the Monsanto ad shows a homey picture of a boy riding on his dad’s shoulders, surveying a beautiful stand of corn while talking about how little the “refuge” acreage to ward off insecticide resistance has to be these days–“as little as 5%”–though we know from studies that the company’s “respect the refuge” line hasn’t been respected in practice.
But, it’s good to know from the ad’s copy that this anonymous farmer is “dedicated to proper stewardship” “no matter what the amount” of acreage he has to sacrifice to borers. Pretty corny.
The articles get me, too. Last fall, there was a doozy of an article in one of the big-ag magazines my friend shares about how you could use actual animal manure–POOP of all things!–in your fields to decrease fertilizer costs. We had a pretty good laugh over that.
In the February edition of Corn & Soybean Digest, it was the back page article (the web version is titled differently and doesn’t have the table the print version includes ) on the financials of corn growing and marketing that got my attention.
The author, Richard Brock, points to higher-than-expected yields this season (165.2 bushels per acre) as something wondrous, but possibly troubling, given that yield increases “are growing at a more rapid rate than demand for corn for ethanol.”
He also notes that “carryover supplies over the next couple of years could increase at an alarming rate,” with an estimate of 2010-2011 carryover supplies reaching 2.2 billion bushels, versus this year’s estimate of 1.709 billion bushels.
Either way, that’s a lot of corn, and that much in carryover could easily work to depress the price farmers can get for the next crop below what it costs for them to produce it.
But not to worry! Brock lets farmers know that “corn production will continue to be profitable” and that to deal with all this crazy amount of corn, all they need to do is, “adjust their profit formula…to one of planning on bigger yields rather than higher prices.”
Because we have so much corn, they way producers should deal with that is to try to grow even more?
I can see how that works on an individual scale–if one producer put more acreage into production and/or attempted to squeeze every last bushel out of every one of his or her acres (using, of course, more chemical to achieve that lofty goal), he or she might be able to make it in a market where prices look to be going down.
But if every producer puts his or her operation into full-throttle, does that make the situation better for each one of those producers? Of course it doesn’t. It makes it worse for everybody–a rat race that only compounds the loss of smaller farms and good stewardship in the face of make-it-or-break-it fencerow-to-fencerow mega-farming.
What’s an individual farmer to do in this scenario? If you don’t run the race, you risk getting run over, or run out of business.
I know it’s sometimes hard for independent-minded farmers to cooperate with each other and to work together for leverage and protection, but I’m reminded of that old saying–“hang together, or hang separately.”
We need a more progressive farm policy that’s not simply a remnant of the Earl Butz days–one that protects and rewards farmers for real stewardship as much as current policy protects and rewards monopolistic seed and chemical companies.