Agriculture

I grew up on a cattle ranch in Southwest Nebraska. The population of rural America is declining almost everywhere. District 19 is no different. There are many reasons, but the price of farm and ranch land has to be one of the biggest.  My parents always said that if my grandparents (on my father's side) had not already been in farming and ranching (and probably more importantly been landowners), that it would have been very difficult to start.  And that was 50 years ago.  Prices and barriers to entry have only gotten larger in the years since for large numbers of people.  Now, if you want to start out and buy your own land, you may be competing with billionaires.  I wonder who is going to win that bidding war?

 

And there are lots of reasons to think we should be trying to increase the number of people in agriculture. This article, "Fifty Million Farmers", written in 2006, was wrong about the timing of 'peak oil', unfairly demonizes genetic modification in my opinion, and has some other takes that I find issue with, but there is a lot of food for thought.  Since it was written, there has been some increase in the number of very small farms which coincides with a drive toward a hollowing out of midsize farms.  And there has been some increase in the number of younger people that have started farming (often at these very small farms).  But this increase is dwarfed by the number of older farmers retiring.  I worked on a couple of small farms before I came to Lubbock, and most of my time in Lubbock has been spent working at the South Plains Food Bank in their Farm and Orchard division.

 

Besides the crazy cost of land and equipment to get started, there is often a need for more labor on these small farms because of the attempt to do things with lower pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers.  Having a one size fits all approach to things like minimum wage doesn't necessarily make sense in this regard.  Some lawmakers introduced a $15/hr minimum wage, but with carve outs for smaller businesses and farms, but it never went anywhere...  I have never seen a reason why you can't keep the minimum wage at $15/hr (or more) for large corporations, while supplementing the employees of smaller businesses and farms so that they also get up to the $15/hour.  It's sad that our current crop of politicians couldn't see that through.  It's insane to me that people that are working so hard trying to farm in a sustainable, local way, have so many obstacles to overcome.  And after all that is taken into consideration, the food often has to be sold at much higher prices just to break even.  Which means fewer people buy it- which means it's harder to be profitable, which means less supply, an so on.

 

One last point to make on labor.  I don't think Andrew Yang was wrong about automation and jobs, although he may have been a little premature about the timing on things like autonomous vehicles.  As I've hinted about in the Energy section, much of human history has been about making life physically easier.  About introducing machinery to take out the grunt work. So the idea of 50 million farmers or whatever may seem contradictory.  My thought is that most of us want to do *some* labor.  We want challenging, purposeful work.  As we automate more away from jobs that can be done by machines, there's still a need to build, discover, plan, learn from nature, challenge yourself physically and mentally, etc... If you've never tried to grow anything for yourself, let alone other people before, let me assure you that it's challenging- especially in West Texas- but also rewarding.  Giving more people that opportunity seems like a no-brainer.

 

And farming, and our knowledge base is going to have to increase in order to adapt to all the things we are doing to our land, oceans and ecosphere.  Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech climate scientist has said that the average summer temperatures in 2050 could be like they were in 2011.  There were 48 days above 100 degrees in Lubbock that year breaking the old record of 29.  55 percent of cotton fields in Texas were abandoned.  What happens if every year, on average, has temperatures like 2011?  How does a region survive?  How does that affect our groundwater availability?  And why do people like Jodey Arrington never talk about climate change and the effects it will have? See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil?