Gourmet magazine online this month has published a very informative article about Federal agriculture policies and how they affect a few farmers in South Dakota: Betting the Farm by Sam Hurst.
By implication, the author suggests how these policies affect consumers as well as farmers, but the emphasis is on agriculture. In Walworth County, South Dakota, most of the farms grow vast tracts of industrial, genetically modified grain. According to the author, "farming in South Dakota could not endure without industrial methods. The landscape of Walworth County, shaped by 75 years of federal policy, is a vast, flat expanse of high-tech agriculture, where grain is not so much food as a standardized unit of production, and where growers keep afloat by participating in the farm program."
One farm family differs from the rest. The Stiegelmeier family farm is 4,000 acres. Three generations of Stiegelmeiers live there now; their ancestors on this land go back 120 years. "In this bastion of industrial agriculture, where people are quick to tell you that heavy machinery, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified seeds, and the federal safety net make farming possible, Matthew [Stiegelmeier]’s family has gone back to an old-fashioned, diversified, organic family farm. While Congress, President Bush, and lobbyists are trapped in a vitriolic debate about capping subsidy payments to the nation’s richest farmers, the Stiegelmeiers are asking a totally different question: How do we use the land?"
This family grows no corn. Their crops are "organic spring and winter wheat, flax, rye, barley, and buckwheat" as well as "a herd of registered British White beef cattle" and "a small herd of sheep." They use "age-old ways to fight weeds and fertilize the soil. They certified their pastures as organic and grew alfalfa" for animal feed. They do not receive the vast subsidies that go to the industrial farms all around them.
The article poses the question: does the future of American farming like with family organic farms and dedicated farm families like this one? or with subsidized big agriculture. A very interesting article.