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Agriculture

AGRICULTURAL  PAPER

November 1987

INTRODUCTION

We Face Reality

In the Unsettling of America Wendell Berry wrote:

To live undestructively in an economy that is overwhelmingly destructive requires of any one of us, or of any small group of us, a great deal more work than we have yet been able to do…Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we live and think.

What Is the Reality?

We live in a society with a scientific, technological mindset. This society has in theory and practice adopted the secular religion of science created in main by the Newtonian [materialistic-mechanical) world view and the Baconlan dogma of the scientific method to be readily applied for practical solutions to every sort of problem in satisfying society’s needs and wants.

The practice of science was meant to free the human mind from superstitions and prejudices…in the process of liberating, we have become captives of new kinds of prejudices…. Within rigorous carricula of modern scientific rational education, we are taught to be objective, not compassionate; we are taught to be efficient, not morally concerned. In short, the Newtonian and Baconian moralities stand for the attitude of the domination of nature and other civilizations via instrumental and quantitative manipulation, coercion, and compulsion… Science has become a most ruthless tool in the pursuit of our secular goals, and ultimately, through the marriage with technology, came to epitomize the occidental frame of mind…. Entailed in such beliefs are the germs of the ecological doom, not in the rudiments of the Judeo-Christian tradition as Lynn White insists, but in sentiments like Bacon’s are concealed the seeds of ecological disaster [Berry].

This growing ecological disaster has, however, brought a moral crisis to science just as western society seemed poised to triumph over the natural world. Everywhere people are becoming aware of this crisis, and while most are fearful or apathetic, we believe that signs of change can no longer be ignored. The work of Rachel Carson, E.F. Schumacher, Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, the New Alchemy Institute, and the organic agricultural movement such as the Rodale Project is spreading. Natural scientists including physicists are calling for basic changes, for an ecological conscience — the land ethic Aldo Leopold described almost half a century ago:

Obligations have no meaning without conscience and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from man to land. No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions [The Land Ethic, 1949].

N. Scott Momaday in his American Land Ethic wrote:

I believe it  possible to formulate an ethical idea of the land–a. notion of what is and must be in our daily  lives –and I believe moreover it is absolutely necessary to do so. It would seem on the surface of things that a land ethic is something that is alien to, or at least dormant in, most Americans. Most of us have developed an attitude of indifference toward that land…… Surely that ethic is merely latent in ourselves. It must now be activated, I believe.

We Americans must come again to a moral comprehension of earth and air. We must live according to the principle of a land ethic. The alternative is that we shall not live at all.

A land ethic, we believe, becomes more possible amid the present hubris and power of the scientific establishment as some within the establishment speak out boldly. For example, Roger S Jones, associate professor of physics at the University of Minnesota, has written:

Whenever we lose sight of the human source and origin of an idea, it becomes an idol—a symbol to which we attribute an absolute and objective authority. As Einstein and others have pointed out, the theories of science are fundamentally creations of the human mind. But because science claims to deal with an objective reality, we tend to treat its ideas and models as real and independent of their human creators. We idolize the concepts and theories of science.

The biblical sin of idolatry refers not just to the making of graven images, but to their worship…Neither the prophets of ancient Israel nor the medieval church fathers ever had to deal with idolatry on the vast scale that exists today in the name of science. For science has become our state religion, scientists our infallible priests, and scientific theories our icons and salvation.

THE LAND GRANT SYSTEM: POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

Re-education and Reorientation

The South Dakota Resources Coalition recommends that top priority be immediately given to certain changes in the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Extension Service/County Agent/Homemaker/4-H system. These changes must not be in fits and starts or bits and pieces as the system is now attempting but must work toward a con­sistent, holistic, and sustainable agriculture, SDRC endorses:

  1. Diversified methods of farming rather than monocultures.
  2. Diversified animal production rather than specialized, one-faceted, confinement animal production.
  3. A more intermediate, decentralized agriculture rather than a huge industrialized agriculture.
  4. Intensive education directed to all South Dakotans on the implications of industrialized agriculture with particular emphasis on the market system revolution.
  5. Integrated pest management (IPM) and regenerative (organic) farming methods rather than chemical methods.
  6. Education that stresses interdependence and community rather than the myth of rugged individualism and extreme competitiveness.

These are politically explosive changes, and while the land-grant establishment continues to maintain the facade of moral neutrality, it has been completely politicized. It must look for funding from public tax monies from public, yet it has been compromised by narrow commodity groups, agribusiness interests and Chamber of Commerce values. The choice of Earl Butz for the main speaker at the 1987 South Dakota State University Farm Fest Days is symptomatic. Dr. Butz has been an official “pitchman” for industrial agriculture for almost forty years. The land-grant establishment must come to realize that unless it does a complete turnabout in its educational orientation, it will rapidly become obsolete if indeed it is not already so. Urban society will refuse to fund a concentrated industrialized agriculture system’s research.

What can the South Dakota Resources Coalition do?

  1. Build coalitions with urban interest groups like the League of Women Voters, labor unions and church groups to demand reform.
  2. Maintain a strong lobbying presence in the county commissions and State legislature particularly when appropriations are being decided.
  3. Build networks with national groups — the Rural Project, the Land Stewardship Project and farm organizations like the Farmers Union, NFO, and American Agriculture Movement for letter writing campaigns and lobbying Congress, with particular attention to urban congress­men and senators.

The task we face in this most important area is very difficult but not impossible. We find renewed motivation in the recent remark in the Wall Street Journal (Aug 31, 1987) by the highly respected professor Emeritus, Dr. Harold Breimyer of the University of Missouri, that “land-grant universities don’t sell their souls to private industry—they willing give them away.”

Rebuilding a Family Farm System

A family farm system, modest in size, diversified in production, using appropriate technology, and with a commitment to careful stewardship is not self sustaining under the present system The family farm structure was brought into being by national policy and legislation. It will survive only if national policy and legislation insure its preservation. Hard decisions must be made now at the national level to reverse present policy. We must insure widespread access to land with a clear mandate for farmer/operator ownership and economic stability and vastly improved soil stewardship practices.

What needs to be done?

State Level

  1. Set up mediation teams in farm bankruptcy disputes as other states are doing.
  2. Join compacts with other states to study and implement controls over trans-national grain companies, as other states have done and which South Dakota legislators have refused to do.
  3. Seek out possibilities of financing young farmers’ entry into agriculture much as the Housing Authority has done for people seeking home ownership.
  4. Insist that the land-grant institutions educate farmers on the necessity of forming collective bargaining associations to obtain equitable prices for their production instead of putting priority on increased food production for cheap food exports to foreign nations
  5. Enact corporate agribusiness laws that require corporations serve the common good and that have real teeth. Integrated factory production like the National Farms’ (Bass Brothers of Texas) hog factory unit planned for the Pierre area, for example, could not operate under enlightened laws.

National

  1. Subsidize only farm/families who/are actively engaged in the management of and who provide all capital and half of the labor for family farms. Income subsidies must be modest in amount ($15-$25,000) and geared toward the main­tenance of the family. In this way, farmers would not be subsidized to expand cash-crop operations, employ massive machinery and chemical inputs, and the encouragement of tax loss industrial factory would be no longer in place.
  2. We must have a national “sod buster” law now with teeth. Present regulations could end up like the ten-year “soil bank” program of the ‘50s which was in effect 10 year fallow programs, and millions of acres of fragile soils were brought back into production as soon as payments ended. If and when “sod buster” regulations expire in the1990s, legislation should demand that highly erodible soils be kept in grass, that wetlands be maintained or the operator must forfeit all payments under the program. This law would apply also to land transferred from one owner to another.
  3. We must reform the management of farm programs and subsidies. Before 1953, government programs were managed at the county level by farmer committee members on a volunteer basis. We now have professional managers. We feel some mix of farmer and professional management and oversight would be preferable to the present system.
  4. Defund all USDA land-grant research in genetic engineering that would encourage agricultural over-production or centralization of control by agri-business. However, we encourage adequate funding of genetic engineering that would improve resistance to diseases and insects and improve nutritional value without increasing concentrations of natural plant toxins provided that the new seed stocks are freely and widely distributed. Further preservation of the gene pool of all commercial crops should be supported at a high level through plant exploration, collection of historical varieties not necessarily currently popular, and adequate storage and maintenance systems in low risk geographical sites.
  5. Fund decentralized cooperative marketing systems for production of fresh vegetables and fruits and organic grains and meats such as are flourishing in Massachusetts.
  6. Fund an integrated holistic organic educational system for agriculture and cut out all redundant production research which now goes on in such activities as field trials for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and animal breeding and feeding trials.
  7. Remodel Statistical Reporting Services so farmers’ income is computed realistically Farm subsidies now account for SO percent and more of net income. Adding billions of dollars in living in one’s home and consuming food produced in one’s garden and computing these as part of farmers’ net income distorts the true financial condition of the whole national view of agriculture.
  8. Institute a national crash educational program that accurately portrays the implications of corporate/integrated/hacienda farming vis a vis a centralized modest farming structure so that the nation can understand what is at stake.
  9. Agricultural lands should be taxed on the basis of their non-irrigated productive capacity rather than their market value for potential recreational or commercial purposes. Inflation of agricultural land values from adjacent land uses should not be borne by a sparse agricultural base.
  10. Close up remaining loopholes allowing both outside investors and active farmers to expand industrial farming such as rapid write-offs for confinement facilities.
  11. Clarify the Reclamation Reform Act of 1982 which was intended to end delivery of subsidized irrigation water to large landholders. Bureau of Reclamation rules adopted (April 1987) under the 1982 law nullified the intended revision and created a series of loopholes that guarantee large farms a supply of water at one-sixth the cost to the nation’s taxpayers. The creation of “paper farms” from leased lands should be clearly prohibited. SDRC also advocates ending federally developed water to any irrigating entity whose land exceeds the acreage limit rather than merely clarifying the 1982 law’s intent to charge such entities the “full cost” of delivery. Such “full cost” does not include capital costs of development, could usurp water supplies needed for domestic use, could create demand for delivery from wild and scenic river sources, and could exacerbate already serious water pollution problems.

    SDRC further advocates that all beneficiaries of federal water delivery be required to institute and maintain “best management” technology and practices suitable for their operations for the purpose of minimizing water consumption and return flow pollution.

  12. Place an indefinite moratorium on federal authorization and funding of proposed new irrigation projects until such time as crops to be grown on such projects are needed for domestic consumption. The present local cost/share requirement should be continued.
  13. Replace the present 2.S mill charge for pumping irrigation water on present projects with a pricing structure that covers the federal cost of supplying pumping power as well as discontinuing the present subsidy of irrigators by dryland farmers and other federal power users.
  14. Place rural electric cooperatives, whether distribution or generator/trans­mission entities fully under the authority of the state public utilities commissions or similar agencies. Rural electric customers are paying higher costs than necessary because of unregulated practices of rural electric co-ops: promotion of electrical consumption through advertising and consumption-inducing price structures, overbuilding of capacity, and freedom from regulation. The so-called “member-controlled” boards of cooperatives do not insure policy in the best interests of members since they tend to be self-perpetuating and indoctrinated with the empire building inclinations of management. It should be noted that rural electrics have been eager to serve hog, cattle and poultry confinement systems. $DRC regards such systems as unnecessary competition for farmers raising animals by humane methods, unnecessarily energy consumptive and water polluting, detrimental to property values of nearby landowners, and harmful to consumers because of hormone and antibiotic residues as well as the high fat content of confinement animals.

SDRC applauds the load management systems instituted in some coops during the time of high energy costs but believes these systems and other conservation measures should be expanded rather than defeated by promotion of inefficient space heating and other practices designed to swallow up cooperative overcapacity.

Environmental Considerations

  1. The nation’s remaining class 1 and 2 agricultural lands of at least a section (640 acres) should not be subject to eminent domain for non-agricultural purposes nor should they be marketable for non-agricultural purposes.
  2. Every farm should be required to adopt a conservation plan and should be eligible for federal subsidies only if the farm is in compliance with the plan. The “sodbuster” provision of the 1986 farm law is a step in the right direction but should be expanded to include shelterbelts. Farms which remove shelterbelts should not be eligible for subsidy payments for crops on that land and should be required to repay any federal cost/share provided for planting/renewing the shelterbelt.
  3. The Water Bank program and Land and Conservation Fund should be continuously expanded to encourage farmers to preserve wetlands.
  4. Water pollution from nitrate fertilizers costs the nation hundreds of millions in dollars in contamination of domestic water supplies. South Dakota State University’s Water Resources Institute stated (September 1987) that up to 90% of South Dakota’s water pollution is from agriculture. These fertilizers have also damaged the ozone layer and so will share responsibility for thousands of new cases of skin cancer. The land-grant system must help farmers move to a regenerative system and away from chemical fertilizer farming.
  5. Agriculture has become dependent on fossil fuels which will become increasingly scarce and expensive in the future; it is imperative that railroads be re-vitalized to transport farm products and that the land-grant system and rural electric coops seek ways of making renewable energy resources practical for the agricultural community. We view alcohol production from cereal crops with caution. We oppose the use of irrigated crops for energy production and farm subsidies to crops for energy production.

Conclusion

We conclude our policy statement to reaffirm the desperate need for farmers to receive equitable income (the cost of production plus a reasonable profit). With national policy and programs, with a system of education geared to a rebuilding of a modest family farm structure, this nation can then renew a flourishing rural community of beauty, and viable small towns with strong school systems and stability both for rural and urban people.

This agricultural policy paper was adopted by the Board of Directors of the South Dakota Resources Coalition on November 14, 1987.

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