Blog | March 22, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniFarmland is selling at a record high in the US as crop prices rise, particularly corn. Additionally, banks have recently been offering very low-interest loans for those buying farmland. This may seem like a victory for farmers, but economists and bankers predict that this trend won’t last. If crop prices start to fall, the price of land will also drop. This means that if farmers overexpand or do not take necessary precautions, they may face sudden debt. Since 2007 overall farmers’ debt in the nation has risen almost 30 percent, expected to hit an astounding $277.4 billion in 2013. This debt sprouts from outlets such as loans from banks, Farm Credit and the Farm Service Agency. Still, that figure is thought to be an underestimate, since debt to private companies such as John Deere is largely unknown. The cost to rent farmland is also increasing, a matter that will also become troublesome if crop prices fall.

As the cattle herd in the US diminishes, outside producers will have the opportunity to take over American exporting markets. At 89.3 million head, the herd in the nation right now is the smallest it has been in 60 years. The numbers are reflective of new technology and genetic developments that allow farmers to produce the same yield of beef with fewer cattle. The drought last year resulted in many farmers reducing the number of animals they raised, since the cost of feed rose dramatically. If environmental conditions stabilize, it is likely that many farmers will avoid culling animals, reducing the amount of overall beef produced. This tactic would help compensate for losses from the drought. If the drought continues, however, the US beef supply for consumers will probably shrink as  Canada has faced an outbreak of mad cow disease and Mexico is dealing with its own drought. Right now the US is the biggest importer of meats while being the fourth largest exporter. The condition of the domestic cattle herd will likely boost Australia’s beef exports, which has risen 3.5 percent in the past year.

Kathleen Merrigan, known as an advocate to local and regional food systems, stepped down from her position as the Deputy Agriculture Secretary for the US Department of Agriculture. Merrigan served for the entirety of President Obama’s first term where she created the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign. Merrigan’s position was the second highest rank in the department under Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture for the USDA. Merrigan championed farming through countless trips to schools and colleges as well as aiding in the expansion of farmers markets across the country. Merrigan has also been a supporter of the organic movement, helping to draft the country’s laws for organic food in 1990. In 2010, she was honored in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. More recently, she was also awarded the Sustainable Leadership Award by the James Beard Foundation in 2012.

farmers market

A new NPR report shows that while the local food movement is growing dramatically, farmers do not necessarily get to reap the benefits. Even though there are more farmers markets, small farms are still facing the challenge of making a decent living wage. Some farmers have needed to resort to sacrificing benefits such as insurance in order to live with the profits made through agriculture. David Swenson, an economist at Iowa Sate told NPR that if a small farmer grew enough produce to feed 5,000 people, the total income would only reach about $35,000, disregarding any wages for labor to help on the farm and require about 25 acres of farmland. As a result, many farmers must sell to corporations such as Wal-Mart in order to sustain themselves.

Whole Foods Market has taken a stand against for transparency when it comes to food produced with genetically modified organisms. They recently announced that by 2018, all of the GMO products in its stores in the US and Canada will be clearly labeled. As of now there are no laws regarding labeling a product that contains GMOs, but Whole Foods feels the consumer has the right to more information when making a purchase. Further, the grocery chain has vowed to increase support of certified organic products. The Huffington Post teamed up with YouGov for a poll that found 82 percent of Americans are in favor of GMO labeling. This week Whole Foods also joined over 2,000 other retail stores in vowing to keep a new breed of genetically engineered salmon out of its stores. The salmon, which is still under review by the FDA, will be the first GE animal product to be commercially sold.

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