In the late 1970s, central bankers decided the threats posed by high inflation were worse than the threat of unemployment and the potential foreclosures of farms and houses. Interest rates went up.
That ended the threat of inflation but not before unemployment rose to levels not seen since the Great Depression. In the early 1980s, farmers who never missed a mortgage payment got foreclosure notices and people lined up at banks to turn in the keys to homes that were suddenly worth far less than the mortgage.
A bank shut down at least one livestock auction business right after a sale, reportedly also scooping up the money from the sale. High interest rates eventually came down but that doesn’t mean that farmers, who worried high interest rates would be with us forever, were wrong to worry. There are always things to worry about. But sometimes we worry about the things we don’t need to, and likely shouldn’t. With that in mind, here are a few things we shouldn’t worry about in agriculture and some we should.
I don’t worry about agriculture feeding the world. We often hear that there will be nine billion people by 2050. But according to the United Nations and several major food aid charities, there is enough food produced to feed everyone. There are about 700 million people in the world in dire food situations, actually starving.
Most of the starving are people trying to survive on less than $2 a day. It’s not pleasant but it is a poverty issue, issues of war and displaced persons and trying to survive under despotic regimes. It’s not an agriculture issue.
2050 is 35 years out. If agricultural production continues to increase at rates of between one and two per cent per year, production will almost double by 2050.
There is a good argument that human beings should try to end poverty (and despotic regimes) but whining about food being too expensive isn’t going to do that. It is not the farmers’ responsibility to produce food without getting paid.
I do worry about land use: Prime farm land swallowed up for housing is just one part of this issue.
A couple of years ago I went to a farm auction. The house was already gone. There was a nice barn, several smaller outbuildings and a number of trees. Today the barns are gone. Likely in a few years the trees will be gone and it will be a cornfield.
I have nothing against cash cropping and larger farms but without a family living there, fewer children will be going to the local school, another family that won’t being going to a rural church. That means a greater chance both school and church will close and one less volunteer at the local fire hall.
It’s a loss to the rural social fabric. I don’t know how to stop the consolidation of farms. I’m not even sure I would want to because larger farms can be more efficient and more profitable. But that loss to the rural social fabric has a real cost and it is one we will struggle with.
I no longer worry about deforestation on a worldwide scale. Locally, there are always issues in erosion-prone areas but the need to feed the world, coupled with high grain prices, is no longer causing mass deforestation in places like South America and China.
In many countries the cutting of forest has ended and in fact millions of acres of farmland around the world have been planted to trees. This is in part because subsistence farmers are either improving farm practices and no longer need to slash and burn to get fresh fertile ground every few years or they’ve moved to cities for better paying jobs. It is questionable whether total reforestation is offsetting total deforestation but it is heading in that direction.
I worry about theft. Not just of a few gallons of fuel or even a four wheeler. There have been a number of major thefts in farm country but perhaps the two biggest in the past few years include the theft of millions of dollars of Quebec maple syrup and the Quebec corn caper.
A few years ago, someone backed up a truck to a private storage facility, filled it with corn and drove away. The theft was repeated nine more times. Ten truck loads total, 460 tonnes of corn, valued at $140,000. The rural landscape is nowhere near as safe as it used to be.
I worry about neonics and algae blooms because of resulting regulations that, while well-meaning, are applied unevenly across different jurisdictions. This has the effect of making the regulatory burden greater for some without solving the problems they are designed to solve.
There are many things you could worry about but only a few that you should. Figuring out which is which is always a thought-provoking process.
Simon Crouch is a Chatham-Kent based reporter with CFCO, CKSY radio stations. He has almost 40 years of media experience much of it reporting on rural and agricultural issues.