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Where's the rain? 5/6/23
I start with crop insurance and get darker from there.
Do you know about these weather stones?
Traditional tech. You get a rock, which we actually don’t have here in NEMO, (Northeast Missouri for you Philistines) and you set it outside. It is very important to smudge this blessed stone with a bough of tansy and wormwood. Make sure it it is placed out in the open. Before the National Weather Service, which I’d argue is the least superfluous branch of our government, (NOAA being second), a weather stone was used to indicate precise atmospheric and climatic conditions. After blessing the stone with cattle menses, lambsquarters juice, (only wild will do), and ground up bagworms (that’s an inside joke), you, the neolithic animist, will wait while the thunder rolls. If the stone becomes moist and slick to the touch, you are bound for plentiful rains for the spring crops. If the coating on the stone is determined to be cow piss, your fields will be quite fertile.
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I’m in the outhouse with my chromebook writing this, because I cannot stand to be inside. So much to do, and dealing with my underpants-and-sock-strewn home is a low priority. Also, not getting to bills and invoices today.
It’s the beginning of May, and I will assure you we've been busy on the project. Everyone, save for one group of particularly stanky and uninspiring swine, is out on pasture. We have been transplanting, and if I we’re better at farming, I would be transplanting right now. Actually, hold on a minute, will you?
After a month of seeding, spreading, and planting, it’s now the beginning of May, and we haven’t had a useful amount of rain in over three weeks. Anyone who grows things outside can understand the value of a well-timed rain. Same for folks who graze livestock on stuff that grows outside. Simultaneously, I know some of y’all out there are likely suffering from too much rain. I have farmed through drought and flood before. It’s part of the game, I suppose. Many field croppers in our area already got their corn in, and rambling down the road, I can see parched bare soil, sometimes interspersed with meager points of emergent corn. If it doesn’t rain soon, and stay appropriately rainy, these plantings will be in serious jeopardy.
Of course, many of those crops are insured. In fact, you might consider farming a less risky endeavor when your crop is insured. And thus, I’m going to say it, even though I don’t want to: some farms clearly engage in poor practices in order to collect insurance payouts. Most agriculture insurance is backed and supported by the USDA, that bloated, creaking, behemoth of bureaucracy that somehow manages to be in charge of everything from crop insurance, to food assistance. In order to insure a crop, a farm must follow “best practices”. (These best practices seem to include being white, statistically. Especially in receiving USDA backed loans.)
In theory, this is like getting a lower medical insurance rate for being a non-smoker. But are the required practices really “best?” There are some options available for some organic farms producing some organic crops in some states, but most crop insurance is made available to those who till and spray extensively and bring their fields as far into the field edge as mechanically possible. You do not need a degree in agronomy or soil science to know that this is a foolish form of insurance.
Our soil health should largely be our insurance. Good, healthy, live soil is insurance against drought, flood, or whatever else comes our way. It’s a science, so don’t take my word for it.
About a week back, six people were killed, and dozens hurt, when a “freak” dust storm ripped across I-55 in Illinois. It did not suprise me. Here in Missouri, under many of the same dry windy conditions during planting season, watching my own dust stir out in our recently hoed and prepped staple crop plot, (I’m getting it mulched soon, I promise), it seems perfectly realistic for so much pulverized, bare, vulnerable soil to be picked up by “unseasonably” hot dry winds and wreak such havoc. Do you think that soil was insured due to best practices?
Do you think that mass of airborn dust and debris, the once living community of bacteria, fungi, and little critters that served as a nourishing ecosystem feeding the planet, is going to fetch the farmer a nice little payout now that it’s gone off and killed half a dozen people? Because I do.
I make big mistakes in farming too. I’ve looked into crop insurance myself, knowing that sometimes, I too, assume risk in my agricultural activities, but the requirements to receive crop insuranc categorically do not apply to a diversified, alternative, sustainability-based project such as our own. Even if we produce more nutrition per acre than say, ethanol. Sure, the USDA has good people working to build resilience into our food system, (outside of the crop insurance swindle and other bare-faced handouts ), that can make available a relatively microscopic set of one-time supports for alternatives. By and large, the big money does not end up in the hands of the sub-agencies like the NRCS, where true, climate-resilient and carbon-efficient practices that could fix the ecological problems inherent in industrial agriculture could be addressed. Instead, it gets moved around to the operations that actively destroy their best form of crop insurance: carefully stewarded and respected living soils.
We can put the blame at the feet of our farm insurance system, as I do, or say that the heavily conglomerated and corporatized mega-farms are responsible for most of the damage. These things are likely a big part of the conundrum. But ultimately, when it comes down to blaming farmers as individuals, we somehow still manage to shy away from this. It’s as if as a culture, the increasingly rare life spent toiling in brutal competition with the elements is so unimaginable, so heroic, so tainted by a nostalgic ideal about agriculture and rural life that hasn’t held true to reality since World War II, that we cut farmers more slack than they deserve when it comes to pillaging soil and creating widespread ecological ruin.
I do love to learn from the old white men in my community. And I like to spend time with them. And they’re my friends. They are kind and sweet, like you’re supposed to be here in America’s Heartland, and they do know a thing or two. But they are more priveleged than they realize, in spite of all that hard work. Entering agriculture today is a real challenge if you’re not actually doing agritourism or crypto or some goddamned thing. And doing it in the country, where ag land prices are high and the culture is sometimes inhospitable, is extra challenging if you happen to be a minority, like most of us, are in this increasingly queerer, darker, poorer world.
[I’m gonna pause for a minute and take in the complexity of how agriculture will transiton through and between a possible fully automated lithium/silicon future, and the more likely continuance of our past, which is exploting the many to enrich the few, ecological decline, collapse of civilization, but a stable enough economy for people who are about to day anyways.]
You know, if we’re all about to die, then I guess we’re all about to profit, right?
If agriculture is to continue as an American project, and not be left to robots and AI, or more likely, an increasingly exploited class of migrants and varied poor folk trapped in the system, then the last remaining good ole boys down at the Farm Beaurau and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry are going to have to get out the way with their harmful practices and wholesale handouts. And… because I’m that kind of anarchist… the USDA will have to get it’s shit together and figure out if it exists to aid in getting food to humans, like the ideal government would, or reinforcing the bloated, complex, trillion dollar backslapping jerkoff party it’s been running for half a century.
Folks, if we want to eat, we need farmers. Or a consistent supply of human flesh from others.
If we want to continue to gamble on agriculture, as a global project for survival, we’ll need to level the playing field a bit for people who deserve land access and the priveldge of feeding the rest of us. And bad news for all the good ole boys who’ve been sucking on the government teat for half a century: 38-year-old-kids like me are less likely to take a payout for letting good topsoil not only get poisoned and runoff to the gulf of mexico to create a deadzone, but also, apparently, fly away and kill some people cruising down I-55. Farming is a political act, and times and populations are changing. We keep pitchforks on hand for a very good reason.
Bad agricultural policies have killed empires and ended civilizations always. Do you trust Congress to figure it all out in the coming Farm Bill?
I’ll ask my weather stone.
Gone to work,
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