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Several Missed Points

This was an OK program, but it was a one-time, hour-long overview of a vitally important industry that is taken for granted in the U.S. However, there were several missed points:

1. The prices of most agriculture products are heavily influenced by a handful of corporations such as Tyson, Con-Agra, IBP, Archer-Daniels-Midland, McDonald's, Burger King, General Mills, Kellogg, etc. They are in business for a profit, and they can and will buy from the lowest-cost producer anywhere in the world. On April 2, 2002, McDonald's announced that they would be importing beef from New Zealand and Australia for use in a test in the Southeastern U.S. Supply and cost were named as the factors. I interpreted that to mean that they could no longer get an endless supply of cheap U.S. beef.

2. Grain, meat, and produce are regularly imported from South American countries. I do not see that those producers are required to practice soil conservation and to limit acreage per farm, as U.S. farmers must do to qualify for USDA farm subsidies. I doubt that all those countries have minimum wage laws, farm equipment safety requirements, or all of the other myriad requirements set by our governments. I think that the subsidy that U.S. producers receive is only a slight help towards leveling a very slanted playing field.

3. I've often thought that the subsidies help keep U.S. producers on the farm. If the subsidies were to end, I can envision a massive shift of ex-farmers going into urban areas to compete for jobs now held by urban residents. I don't think the urban workers would fare very well in competition with the new hard-working competition. The urban workers would have a double whammy of sharply higher food prices (as only corporate farms would be left), and sharply lower incomes due to the new skilled ex-farmers who certainly know how to do honest, long, hard work, be it physical labor, skilled mechanical work, or shrewd financial management.

Warren Otte
Pleasanton, CA

posted April 4, 2002
Conservation Ignored

I liked the segment on antibiotics very much. But the other part was lacking in a very fundamental truth about agriculture: it occupies most of our land and affects all of our water. It's not just the financial well-being of farmers that is at stake, it's whether we will have topsoil centuries from now, whether our rivers will silt up, and whether our trees and wetlands will disappear.

You talked frequently about efficiency and competitiveness, but not about sustainability and conservation. You failed to mention the Environmental Working Group, which has had a big impact on the farm bill. This group argues that subsidizing production leads the big farmers to buy up the small ones and to farm less sustainably, and recommends rewarding farmers for caring for the land.

Other conservation issues that were suggested but not addressed in your show: Why should native grasslands in Ukraine and Brazil be plowed up to produce something that we can already produce on existing crop land? Why do many poor countries have such poor agricultural productivity? (Because they let their soil erode long ago.)

Farm subsidies cut both ways when it comes to conservation. Farm programs and conservation programs often provide conflicting incentives. What would happen to the land and water with no farm subsidies, or with different kinds of subsidies, is every bit as important as economic considerations.

Chris Robbins
Northfield, MN

Related Link: Environmental Working Group

posted March 27, 2002
Poor Reporting

It was very sad to hear the shotty investigation that went into this report. The majority of the chicken and turkey producers in the U.S. (the people that sell the most meat), use the same methods as the Danes (with the exception of antibiotics). Many to most large poultry producers do use very high biosecurity and they do disinfect and clean the pens when the birds go to slaugher (the exact same methods as the Danes). To confirm this call a major producer like Tyson and ask them for yourselves.

I am a veterinarian, so I'm very familiar with animals, antibiotics, and farming.


Reporter Daniel Zwedling Responds:
I appreciate J.M.'s comments. But my research contradicts his claims.

posted March 27, 2002
Slowly Squeezed Out

What an incredible piece. This is why I listen to NPR. I wonder what all the city people will eat when all the good farm land is paved over and "developed"? I hope they eat concrete. As a small farm owner, I am slowly being squeezed out of existance by "development". It is as inexorable as the rotation of the planet.

My sincerest kudoes to all of you who put this brilliant piece together.

Very Best Wishes,

Julie Murphy
Tonganoxie KS

posted March 20, 2002
Spread the Word

This was great. I wish the part on antibiotics could be required listening for everyone in the country. It was good to hear that McDonald's at least says it's using undosed chickens; I hope it spreads. I don't eat at McDonald's, but like my chicken in Asian restaurants.

Gail Hershberger
Tucson AZ (listening to Phoenox station KJZZ, available in Tucson)

posted March 20, 2002

Family Farms

In effect, government subsidies are going to agricultural technology providers and not to the farmers. Subsidies allow agribusiness to maintain constant or very slowly changing prices for herbicides, seeds, insectisides and equipment. This is why there is no agricultural equivalent of "Moore's Law" as it manifests itself in computer science. I was disappointed that your program ignored this issue.

Stanley Willliamson
San Diego, CA

posted November 2, 2001

Who Bought the Farm? The Bank and I!

I was quite impressed with the quality and accuracy of your documentary report on the family farm and the current subsidies. Having twenty plus years of "growing" what you would recognize as a precision farm and being skeptical of public opinion, I always cringe when I hear of an upcoming farm story. So, as I anticipated you airing, I expected misinformation. Instead, you painted a reasonable portrait of the serious state of the industry.

Concern over the future of government subsidies is real. However, the subsidy is not welfare, and it is an insult to consider it that. It is part of the reason why, as you stated, Americans spend so much less for food then the rest of the world. The dollars spent in subsidies are multiplied several times over in savings to you, the consumer. It is indeed an imperfect system, but I assure you that the sharpest minds are working to draft a new farm bill for the good of the industry and the country (if politics will stay out of the way).

The answer is not to pull money out of the equation, but to assure open and equitable trading in the world market. I can compete with Brazilian soybeans, but it's tough to lobby in Washington against the American banks that finance their forest destructions and cropland conversions. My rice is grown more efficiently and progressively than Japan's or Europe's, but if you want a real story, look at the yens and euros they pour into the industry. Their governments shell out the bucks, sometimes tenfold, to support their agriculture and slap tariffs on ours. The American economy is the most consumer-based in the world, and commodities flow freely in, but not out. The cost of that is borne on the producers in this country. To balance the equation, the U.S. government must subsidize or open world trade barriers.

The answer is not to remove my compensation for subsidizing your nourishment, but to further improve the effectiveness of the programs to stabilize the agricultural economy. I'll not ask to raise the price of a box of Corn Flakes, knowing that if I received two more cents it would double my income, if you'll not label a true consumer benefit program as "farmer welfare". Again, although I carried on with my comments, I congratulate you on an unbiased investigative report.

Gregory Baltz
Pocahontas, AR

PS: The banjo music played in the background is not what you would hear in my air-conditioned cab with an AM-FM-CD-Cassette-WhetherBand radio.

posted September 26, 2001

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