Abolish the Ministry of Agriculture

This basic logic of serving landowners and producers has not changed significantly, even as the country and its agriculture have. In the 1860s, Lincoln had good reason to call the USDA “the people’s department” since 50% of the population lived or worked on farms, and in a country of 31 million people there were 1 , 5 million farms. In the 1930s, this idea was still valid when the population reached nearly 130 million with 6.8 million farms. Today, however, in a country of 330 million people, there are only about 2 million farms, and of these, the largest 5 percent account for almost 60 percent. cent of all production. Workers and farm operators, meanwhile, make up only about 1.7% of the U.S. workforce, even as agricultural production is higher than ever.

Agriculture is now a high volume, highly capitalized industry where a tiny fraction of farms produce the vast majority of the commodities. One of the main reasons is USDA policies. By trying, as MIT professor Deborah Fitzgerald puts it, to turn “every farm into a factory,” the USDA has pushed power tools, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and debt-financed, intensive agriculture. capital and inputs. Given these incentives, most farmers, whether to enrich themselves or simply to survive, have turned to business models based on high-yielding monoculture, economies of scale and farm consolidation. This means that fewer and much larger farms only produce a handful of products or factory-raised animals. Today, corn, soybeans and wheat account for half of all crop sales, and over 99% of the meat, including over 9 billion chickens, comes from factory farms where animals are fattened with these. harvests.

It is not a model that either of the major political parties knows how to break: it is integrated into the structure of the department and supported by a powerful lobbying apparatus. Farmers and agribusiness provide USDA with political capital, and USDA ensures stable prices for commodity monocultures with minimal regulation. “Conventional farmers,” writes agricultural critic Daniel Imhoff, “stay afloat by cultivating the system rather than cultivating what might best serve their particular land area in the long run or provide more balanced and healthy diets.” The system serves the sure value, but it has also selected, generation after generation, farmers (and decision makers) who only make sure values.

While the USDA’s rotten policies work far better for large farmers than small ones, the main victims are not the owners of farms, but the 99 percent of the population who don’t. Today more than ever, workers and consumers desperately need a safe, fair and sustainable food system, and to build one we need an agency up to the task.

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