Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Pending Cataclysm

Incoherent Leadership
The Pending Cataclysm
The Underlying System Obstacles
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

     Sometime during the week of October 23, 2011 the Earth’s population was expected to reach seven billion.  At the current rate of increase, the population should surpass nine billion by 2050.
     In Washington Hill testimony recently, the Executive Director of the Alliance to End World Hunger, Tony Hall, reported that more people die each day from hunger than the deaths of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.  In the same day of testimony, former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman reminded the assemblage that the United States has an ongoing humanitarian obligation regarding the world hunger issue in addition to addressing the more than 45 million Americans who are already on Food Stamp assistance.
     If the forecast is correct, the world has less than 40 years to deal with the onslaught of another two billion people.  That is a net gain of 1.5 people per second until that date is reached. With such an expectation, what should be included in a conceptual array of provisions, laws, policies, and regulations that must be in place to deal with the future food demand?
     Surprisingly, Suzy Friedman of the Environmental Defense Fund offered some fairly common sense advice.  “We can’t put unrealistic demands on farmers that make them lose money, or they won’t be around long enough to keep raising us food,” she said.
     The equally logical suggestions . . . suggestions that work to relieve the constraints upon future production opportunities were not offered.  In fact, the overview of the growth curve was presented with the environmentally correct posturing that American Agriculture has come to expect from its leadership.  “We must face the increasing population growth by decreasing the agricultural footprint,” presented testimony concluded!
      The posturing that is being orchestrated from Washington is not setting the stage for opportunities to expand resource horizons for increasing production . . . the stage has been set to force increases from an ever diminishing resource base.  
      Facing the issues
      The most important example of how government leadership is shaping the playing field for the future is in the production of ethanol.  In 2011, the demand from government mandated ethanol production will consume over 40% of the nation’s corn crop.  From essentially a nonuse alternative, nearly half of the entire nation’s primary production is now diverted from direct food source channels to inefficient fuel alternatives.  Part one of the pending debacle is in play.
      Sitting at the breakfast table with the husband and wife farm or ranch team discussing the insanity of the world they face, they could respond with great authority the measures that constrain their ability to enhance production.  First, they would be worried about line items in their annual budget.  Fuel costs would be a monthly factor. Electricity bills would be matched with those fuel costs.  Quarterly insurance payments would gnaw at their stomachs.  Monthly, quarterly, semiannually, and annually scheduled taxes would be next on the list.  Labor, or the absence thereof, would be high on the list.  Land payments would be next.  Federal and state grazing fees would be flagged.  Irrigation District annual fixed costs would be received late in the year.  Seed, feed, herbicide, fertilizer, supplement, and mineral bills would be stacked in the current file.  Repairs would be next.  Association fees, dues, subscriptions, and donations would worry the harried bill payer.   
     Finally, their personal expenses would be addressed.  Insurance, utilities, and food bills are ongoing like any household.
     If asked how they could envision expanding their revenue stream for the opportunity to include a child in their operation yet another discussion would be revealed.  A whole series of worries and pending expenditures would come into play.  They could recite verse and line about feared acronyms the general public has no knowledge.  NEPA, ESA, OSHA, EPA, USFWS, USFS, ACEC, WSA, RAC, RMP, USDA, and CWA would be topics of discussion.  They could also talk about federal and state work orders and estate taxes. 
    Those from the border areas can talk about OTM, FOB, PAIC, and know the names of Sector Chiefs.  They can also talk about S.1689, S.1024, and H.1505.  Confused?  Collectively, part two of the debacle in play.
     The Governmental Web expands
     If the underlying dilemma Agriculture faces could be encapsulated, perhaps it could be framed by three topics in the news last week.  Those topics include the Administration’s accelerating onslaught on the removal of basic, vital resources from the system; the manifestation of growing social controls of agricultural family units; and the anemic, almost laughable attempt to halt the recruitment shortfall of future farmers and ranchers.               
     Since Secretary Salazar has been at the helm of the Department of Interior, he has overseen the designation of three new national parks, over 1000 miles of scenic rivers, and the addition of two million acres of designated wilderness.  In addition, he has announced that the Administration is set to unveil 100 new projects . . . two in each state.  Shall we join in the elation of this pending escapade?  It is merely the tip of the iceberg that lies symbolically beneath the real plan.
     During the run up of the diversion of nearly half of the nation’s corn crop away from food channels into fuel channels, the industry has increased corn productivity about 5.6%.  To maintain par with the diversion, the industry needed to elevate production nearly eight times that amount.  Implicit in this trend is the dilemma forced upon the greater system when the environmental juggernaut systematically removes resources from the system that cannot be replaced.  The greatest example is the removal of upwards of 70% of the historic levels of cattle on wide expanses of the West.  The foundation of those removals has been predicated and amplified through the retirement of lands from productive opportunities in the zest to save the natural world so heralded by Secretary Salazar and his troops.
     The pending change in Department of Labor child labor orders poses an outright threat to historic Agriculture.  If America is blind to the fact that farmers are not creations of the educational system but stem from the presence of children sitting around tables on farmsteads across this country, it is in for a rude awakening.  Those children become the best farmers in the world because there is continuity in those family units.  They learn the system from the ground up, and, if their presence on the farm is managed by some wage order that denies their parents the supervision and the parental care that is natural and God given, those children will no longer be tied to the land.  The suggestion by this government that it has the right to differentiate and modify parental supervision of their children on the farm through loopholes in business structure is not only preposterous it is outright dangerous.  It is un-American.   
      Finally, how should the news be assessed in last week’s bipartisan effort to enhance the recruitment of future farmers and ranchers into the industry?  The name of the effort is ‘The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act’, but what about the reality of the effort?  What about the irony?  What about the hypocrisy?
     For years the meaningful components of American Agriculture have been neglected.  Research funding in production Agriculture has been slashed.  Those funds have been diverted to human health matters, environmental theory, and social agenda advancements.  The USDA has been transformed into a clearinghouse of wealth redistribution.  Food stamps, environmental boondoggles, and bureaucratic growth have been advanced through trade offs in farm subsidies and the appearance of concern for the direction and the stability of the industry.  Part three of the debacle is exposed.  Little actual investment has been concentrated on the improvement and renewal of our precarious system.
     The Reality
     How is the next real green revolution going to happen?  Where are the infrastructure enhancements? 
     There has not been a water project conceptualized and built in recent memory.  The clear mission of Interior and USDA is to hold steady or reduce the production level expectations of their respective managed lands.  There is a general absence of selective capital investment directed toward any increased production.  The majority of federal investments are wrapped around good intentions but spent on social engineering.  There is no progress by the ineffective Congress in blunting the regulation juggernaut.  There is a demonstrated silent, but shared complicity by Congress to condemn the testimony that suggests agriculture’s footprint must be diminished.  There is unchallenged and shared vilification of the industry by those who are purported to be the government interface with the industry. 
     In truth, there has been a systematic and progressive dismantling of the world’s greatest agricultural system.  The policies have been mismanaged, and  . . . positioned for catastrophic food production shortfalls.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico.  “The government conceived by the Founders was a system not predicated on what a united government could do for the people . . . but what a united people could do for themselves.”

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