The farm bill and environmental sustainability
It appears to us that the farm bill is in some sort of limbo caught between a hastily constructed 12-month extension of some, but not all, of the elements the 2008 legislation and the need of Congress to address fiscal issues including the threat of sequestration if nothing is done. It is not even clear when the farm bill will be addressed or to what extent the process will be open to the public.
While farmers certainly will be able to use the crop insurance program for the 2013 crop year, we are unclear as to whether or not farmers will receive the direct payments included in the extension resolution or whether they will be negotiated away as a part of the budget debate.
In this climate of uncertainty, we want to take a step back and look at some major elements of a sensible agricultural policy. In our reflection, we have identified four major elements: environmental sustainability, human physical sustainability, economic sustainability, and political sustainability. Over this column and the next three, we will be examining these concepts, one at a time, recognizing that there is considerable interplay among the elements.
As we think about environmental sustainability, it seems to us that we need to start with the recognition the world has stood on its own. The environment regulated itself for billions of years before humans made their relatively recent appearance on the face of the earth and it undoubtedly would continue to do so if humans were no longer around.
The earth’s environment is powered primarily by solar and geothermal systems. Occasionally, large meteors strike the earth causing widespread devastation. For reasons that earth scientists are trying to more fully tease out, the earth’s environment is subject to wide natural swings with periods of ice ages as well as periods where the mean temperature was significantly higher than it is today.
At the same time it is undeniable that, as humans, we do have an impact on the environment. All one has to do is board an airplane and look out the window to see this. Major metropolises cover large areas of the country and smaller cities are scattered about connected by ribbons of highway.
Spread across the Great Plains are large agricultural areas with their straight lines and rectangular fields, some with inscribed circles. Flying over the mountain West we are struck when we see rugged mountains with their irregular shape one minute and agricultural valleys with their straight lines and circles the next.