Heaven Forbid that the Farmers Should Eat

By Art Cullen

Store up your canned goods because the drought is going to starve us all. Or so the oil and agri-industrial complex would have us believe if corn hangs around $8 a bushel.

Funny, then, that you could buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts last week at either Fareway or Hy-Vee for less than $2 a pound. Lean, almost pure protein fed on corn and soybeans for $1.49 or $1.69 per pound, depending on where you went.

Often, you can fetch fresh pork loin from the local meat counter for $2.99 or even $1.99 per pound — and it is the best cut of meat you will ever sample from a grill, if l make it.

That’s pretty cheap eating, boys and girls.

Next to the Wheaties box with Gabby Douglas’ picture on the front you will find a box of corn flakes. The corn in that $3 box cost 10 cents. Most of the cost is in packaging and transportation.

In fact, the farmer gets about 14 cents of every dollar spent on food. The processors get about 27 cents, according to US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The processors want $2 corn again, and $4 soybeans. They don’t care so much if the federal government has to cut the farmer a lean paycheck. They are simply concerned with maintaining their margins, and will instill as much fear as is needed. Likewise the oil companies. They hate ethanol because they cannot control its production from seed to distillation. The oil companies have been trying to undo ethanol since the 1970s. This is their chance to get rid of any federal support under the guise of a “temporary waiver” of renewable fuel standards.

My wife has some cousins in northern Iowa who worked like, well, pork producers back in the day. A couple are bachelors, the others are married brothers. They had a big farrow-to-finish operation and produced hogs of the highest quality But they got squeezed out of hog production by the corporate integrators who could care less about Algona, Iowa, its schools and community life. They’re surviving on row crops now. You don’t know them but you do. They’re your neighbors, guys just like them.

Ask them how they feel about Smithfield having to pay more for corn and they will not exactly cry you a Des Moines River. They see it as reckoning time.

The big money would like to put the risk back on the farmer and taxpayer. The farmer will scratch just as hard to grow $2 corn if he’s going broke as he will $8 corn. He just won’t buy a new pickup or even a beef rib-eye steak. The big money often forgets that the guy at the bottom is a customer, too.

It’s especially heart-rending when the biggest grain merchants express their concern for the starving masses in Africa — as if they were prepared to give away that feedstuff if it were only cheaper. The only thing the grain trade responds to is demand, not need. The people were starving before, when corn was $2 a bushel. They will starve just the same at higher grain prices. Callous, but so true.

Knock corn back to two bucks and watch the Iowa economy crash. Land values will drop by two-thirds, at least. Farm lenders will be in scalding hot water like they were in the 1980s. New vehicle sales will dry up. Farms will consolidate even more. Ultimately, that’s what capital wants: cheaper labor and rents. And it is capital, not starving babies, driving the scare over food costs.

The naïve with big bullhorns at the New York Times, Washington Post, etc., get sucked in by the deceit. They perpetuate it until that’s all you hear.

To beat the quote tired: “They’ve been stealing corn so long they got used to it.” Jack Kibbie, full-lime cattleman and retired part-lime legislator, from Emmetsburg, Iowa.

Eight-dollar corn is a fantastic event for Iowa. We feel it every day in Storm Lake. Long may it run. If only we could hit $10. If Smithfield gets nervous then they should just get a job in town. That’s what the farmer was supposed to do when they kicked him out of the hog business.

Art Cullen is editor of The Times in Storm Lake, Iowa. email: times@stormlake.com

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2012



Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2012 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652