6 replies on “An Open Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief”

  1. read that article a while back – interesting, but i found it to be full of totally impractical suggestions presented with a snarky, grandiose elitist tone. I am no great fan of agribusiness, and they way we subsidize big corn seems nutty, but is no solution. His ideas are far too dirigiste to be practical.

    let farmers (as well as everyone else) pay the full costs of fossil fuels with a reasonable carbon tax, pay real prices for water that take pollution caused by leached fertilizers into account, and then let the market figure out its own solution. I bet you anything the solution won’t look like Pollan’s suggestions.

  2. If you accept his premise that worldwide catastrophe looms if effective measures aren’t taken to improve the food supply, I don’t find the idea of continued government intervention in the food market to be too onerous — especially since the US government has basically controlled food production since the 1930s.

  3. I don’t accept that premise, it would take a lot more convincing for me to buy into it. People have been crying wolf about the food supply for ages. In the 60s we were going to grow food from oil: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_biotechnology#Single-cell_protein_and_gasohol_projects. I think if you look at the cost of food in economic terms (% of GDP, % of manhours, etc.) you will find it is continuously diminishing as a fraction of effort. You would also find that food safety improves continuously (though that is harder to quantify). Maybe i’ve been brainwashed by years of discussions with my dad, the food scientist, but I’m just not buying it.

  4. I’m not really in a good position to judge, but from a gut level it feels more appealing to move to a food system that relies far less on fertilizers and monocultures, and more on crop rotation; less on animal feed lots and more on free grazing; less on foods shipped across the world, more on local farms and gardens. Perhaps it is that elitism talking, but just taking school children on field trips to local farms and letting them help nurture the school’s garden would be a good start (assuming there are local farms to be found and space to set aside for a garden in the first place). Education about the process of getting food from the farm to the table would help people to make more informed choices.

    It also feels like it would be difficult to determine the “true cost” of food taking into account subsidies, tariffs, carbon footprint, and the like, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I’m not convinced that “big farming” will change for the right reasons, or in the right way, in response to such an inducement. It just seems like a market-based approach would be difficult to implement given the vast history of government control over farming.

  5. Correctly assessing the “true cost” of anything is the great challenge of the 21st Century, I think. We face many potential constraints that will effect everyone, but how to price, say, the effects of pollution and resource consumption of all the various sorts (in a way that we can all agree upon) looks enormously difficult.

    Locally produced food is a great luxury to have. Tomatoes or raspberries or thai basil from the backyard are awesome. Picking peaches, yum. As (and if) the world gets richer, I suspect there will be a growing market for local foods.

    I guess I have inherited a free-market bias (from reading The Economist, no doubt). Figure out how to correctly price all those resource and pollution constraints, and let the market take it from there. Don’t micromanage with regulations.

    Easier said than done, natch.

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