Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who is going to feed us?


I read something interesting in the Wall Street Journal. It was an interview with Stephen Green, the Chairman of HSBC, one of the biggest financial services companies in the world (emphasis added). One paragraph really caught my eye…

"The fundamental aspect of globalization is urbanization, which is spreading everywhere. There isn't a single country in the world that isn't getting more and more urbanized, even the ones that are already quite urbanized, like this one and America," he says. "Last year was the year when we crossed the point where more than half the world's population is in big cities. By 2050 it will be 80% of people who live in cities."

When I read that, I asked the question (as did my wife when I shared her): who is going to feed all these people living in the city? There is nothing more fundamental than food and water. Who cares how your 401(k) is doing when you can’t feed your family?

There is a rapidly widening chasm in America between small, niche or “boutique” specialty farms and enormous corporate megafarms. The “family farm” is going the way of the horse and buggy. It is becoming harder and harder to make it as a traditional family farm. Margins are too thin, prices are too volatile, credit is too hard to come by, farm ground is too expensive and passing farms on from one generation to the next is becoming tax prohibitive. It is impossible for a young couple to start farming a traditional grain and livestock operation full-time. A self-sustaining farm of several hundred acres is going to cost millions just by itself and that doesn’t even count the hundreds of thousands of dollars in machinery and equipment. So smaller farms disappear as the older generation dies and the younger generation moves to the city and jobs in the service industry. Meanwhile the big farms get bigger. A farm with 25,000 dairy cows can operate on thinner margins than one with 75.

America, especially in the Midwest, is an interconnected spiderweb of railroad tracks, grain elevators and shipping terminals, all designed to facilitate moving vast amounts of grain and livestock from millions of small family farms to large processors. As family farms die out, that chain will wither and die. Instead of thousands upon thousands of medium sized family farms, we will have a shrinking number of corporate farms. The food supply chain is getting narrower and narrower and that means that it is more susceptible to some sort of disaster. Farmer Hayseed going bankrupt is one thing. The neighbors will buy his land and his equipment and keep farming. One of these enormous corporate farms goes under and it could have a serious impact on the food supply.

Forget the stock market or the automotive sector. The greatest threat to our economy and long-term economic future is the loss of our agricultural system. Other countries can build cars and computers but no one else can match America’s ability to produce food. Our greatest national resource and our area of greatest competitive advantage is being squandered. Will anyone notice before it is too late?




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4 comments:

James said...

I suppose this is when you'll see me endorse ownership of hunting rifles, shotguns, and other cool 'gathering' tools. We can always eat squirrels and crows into extinction right?

Arthur Sido said...

I own plenty of those already, if things go bad we would be OK but there are a lot of people who would have no clue what to do.

Steve & Paula said...

Then its time to do something I have challenged others to do.
It is time for we as believers, to invite the neighbors in to teach classes on cooking from scratch, gardening, seed saving, animal husbandry and traditional food preservation.
In particular, Believers need to have these skills, and pass them on to the world, using those opportunities to be a living witness.

We need to be as the ant, who stores up for the winter.

I was just listening to something interesting, that if you want an implement that is "old fashioned", for real use in your home, you have to compete with the world for the secret yearning for the old days.
A wood cookstove for example. The costs on those are very high.
And its because of all the people that want there home to look and feel like they are "prepared", while those of us that could and would use them, have to pay that collectors price in order to live sustainably.

In the big picture, I truly believe that God is letting the "world" prep itself for His coming.
As Believers, we long for that day, but meanwhile, we must do what we are comanded in Scripture, and not follow after the worlds way of providing.

Bethany said...

Arthur,

Good thoughts here.

My husband said something the other day that really stuck with me:
We used to have an agri-culture, now we have an agribusiness.

Bethany