How many tractors are visible moving down the road during the spring planting season? How easy is it to buy fresh groceries at a farmers market or even the local grocery store? Is the price of a cheeseburger or salad at the local restaurant higher or lower than it was yesterday, or even a month ago?
If you have noticed a decline in farming activity combined with higher prices of groceries, then you, my friend, are witnessing the slow and painful death of traditional agriculture. If you enjoy fresh produce, ripe strawberries and corn on the cob in the summer, then agriculture needs our help. Farmers are currently facing climate effects like natural disasters and the consequences of a global pandemic, in addition to the economic challenges that they were already facing.
Because of increased flooding, more severe and frequent droughts and season-ending blizzards that are associated with the ever-increasing and changing climate, there are very few to no new farmers that can afford to enter the occupation. Even the farmers who are already established and have been farming for years are losing money every day and diving further into debt in order to feed their families, let alone anyone else. The agricultural portion of the United States’ economy is dying like an infected wound.
Currently, agricultural farmers and livestock owners are facing an increased challenge of having nowhere to go to process their meat. The sale barns and meat-packing plants are currently shut down because of the fear of spreading COVID-19. According to an April 29 article published in The Guardian, these closures will result in the unnecessary culling of livestock when growers’ barns become too full to maintain this capacity, which is not only a waste of resources but is also a hit to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted while these animals were growing as well as while they decompose.
While the recent societal and national shutdown of all nonessential businesses and services may serve to save lives medically, there are many agricultural businesses and services that are taking another “punch to the gut” as a result of uncontrolled climatic changes. These changes are not necessarily a bad thing, but they are a hurtful thing that forces adaptation and evolution to occur faster than it ever has. As the climate warms, there is an alteration of precipitation patterns, animal migration pest influences as well as planting and growing seasons that cause increased stress on the farmer and the crops that he or she depends on to produce an adequate or profitable yield.
The farmer is out to feed the people. The problem is the food that is grown by the farmer does not reach the people. Many individuals are either not eating enough or cannot afford the necessary food to fend off malnutrition. If there is an obesity problem in the U.S., it is not because people cannot find enough food to eat. It is because they cannot find the nutritious foods that are beneficial to the human body.
There needs to be a change in the way agriculture is regulated in the U.S., because traditional legislation is currently spelling disaster for the small family farm. There needs to be an understanding between the farmers and the legislators about what it takes to plant a field, care for livestock and produce the food that feeds the majority of the United States.
There are ways to reduce the amount of imminent climate changes while providing benefits to the farmers and livestock owners so that they can make a living. Farmers and livestock owners need special consideration when faced with increased rules and regulations because they face a hard life already with the consequences of climate change, economic downturns and the ever-present mortgage that is a struggle to be paid each month.
So, who is willing to give agriculture a break and help feed America the nourishment that it so desperately needs through simple practices like buying from local growers, shopping local farmers markets and lending support to legislation that allows smaller family farms to sell their products at a rate that discourages corporate farming and foreign imports.
Elizabeth van Beek is a graduate student in MU’s Department of Public Health and Epidemiology.