For years, I have wondered why so much of the agricultural land I drive through on the side of the highway is devoted to corn and soybeans, as opposed to crops geared toward feeding humans. This morning, by chance, I stumbled upon several online articles that address some of the the reasons. And I discovered conflicting information, presented as factual data, that illustrates the difficulty in finding reliable interpretations of information. It is not necessarily the information that may not be completely reliable; it’s the way it is presented and the context within which it is assessed. I will not go into much more on that topic; lying with statistics has become an artform littered with mathematical proof.
Back to my curiosity; why do I see so much land devoted to corn and soybeans? Well, according to some ostensibly reliable data from 2017 and 2018, the demand for corn and soy is enormous. And decisions about crops and crop rotation are highly influenced by food and farm policies. An article from 2017, referring back to another one from 2013, credits Scientific American with the following quotation:
Today’s corn crop is mainly used for biofuels (roughly 40 percent of U.S. corn is used for ethanol) and as animal feed (roughly 36 percent of U.S. corn, plus distillers grains left over from ethanol production, is fed to cattle, pigs and chickens). Much of the rest is exported. Only a tiny fraction of the national corn crop is directly used for food for Americans, much of that for high-fructose corn syrup.
I could argue that farmers should switch from grains to vegetables, thereby providing a larger, more stable supply of vegetables than the major supplier states (e.g., California, Arizona, and Florida) can provide by themselves. But, unless demand for vegetables is not being met under the current system of supply and distribution, such an switch could upset profitability for current suppliers. And a reduction in supplies of corn and soy could disrupt the current supply change for those commodities.
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.
~ Anne Lamott ~
Personal experience in buying fruits and vegetables from Mexico and Guatemala and Canada and on and on suggests, though, the current supply chain in this country is not adequate. Or, perhaps, the current supply chain may be unable to compete on the basis of costs with international suppliers. The possibilities are endless. And, my ignorance of agricultural policies, general economics, and a host of other factors contributes to my inability to come up with “answers.”
Yet I continue to have questions. For example, why are Americans in love with their unproductive lawns? Why do we not devote our efforts in “yard work” to “gardening,” instead? Why do we not grow more of our own vegetables? Well, again, if we did, the farmers in California and Arizona and Florida might discover the supply of their crops far outstrips the demand.
The complexities of the food supply are fare more involved than most of us understand, I think. But if our food supplies were to experience major disruptions, I suspect our understanding would expand exponentially. And the number of vegetable gardens would grow like kudzu. This is one of those topics that continues to press on my mind, urging me to explore it in more depth and, perhaps, prompting me to seek solutions. Later, perhaps. When it may be too late.
Universal education is not only a moral imperative but an economic necessity, to pave the way toward making many more nations self-sufficient and self-sustaining.
~ Desmond Tutu ~
Some days, I feel completely inept. I have no skills, no capabilities, no knowledge about which I can be especially proud. I would like to think I am recovering from a lifetime of misleading myself, but I am afraid I’m giving myself reason to be skeptical of both my motives and my moods.