Volume 5, Number 4 November 11, 2001
Eating Fossil Fuels on a "Sinking Ship"
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad
There were a number of interesting responses to last weekís article "The Mathematics of a Sinking Ship". In particular one reader wanted to know that if only growing peanuts was profitable, then why didnít the Georgia farmers just grow peanuts?
The reader also asked for information to read up on agriculture. First I would suggest that you read all of the articles under "The Farmer Newsletter" at:
You can also go to a search engine such as Yahoo. I used two different search strings and selected a few articles for you to read about this whole issue of why donít farmers just grow one highly profitable crop:
Search strings: 1. Farming under risk and uncertainty, 2. Farming monoculture profits.
Results: 1.Barriers to adoption: a general overview of the issues http://www.csu.edu.au/research/crsr/ruralsoc/v2n2p10.htm
2. IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN LIKE THIS ... September, 2000
3. Diversity : http://www.bk.psu.edu/academic/sts/SylDiv.htm
In a response to the diversity issue I told our reader that farmers could not easily switch crops due to rotational issues, the cost of equipment, market and environment risks and uncertainties. If you put all of your "eggs in one basket", that basket had better be secure. However, under the cover of the "9/11" tragedies, provisions of a new farm bill were rushed through congress that scrapped the old peanut program which subsidized the price of peanuts to US farmers. Now the price of peanuts may be expected to drop to the non-subsidized market price of about $0.14 per pound instead of $0.30 per pound. Southwest Georgia will soon be up for sale.
When I compared switching farming enterprises to Ford shifting from cars to aircraft production, our reader recanted by saying that Ford would change over to producing aircraft if the stockholders demanded it. However, how long would it take Ford to retool? If we would recall, Ford, GM and Chrysler had their market shares karate chopped due to the oil crisis in the 70ís. Japan was already producing fuel efficient cars and it took American car makers almost a decade to make the transition. Chrysler almost didnít make it and would not have except for a huge bail-out by the American tax payers.
In terms of solutions: 1. Any solution to the farmerís dilemma will either require huge government subsidies or 2. An extreme shift in consumer behavior. However, due to the governments desire to rebuild lower Manhattan, save the airlines industry and pursue a war in Afghanistan, it is doubtful that she will increase her subsidies to save farmers.
America has had only 100 years to experiment with 90% or more of her population living in cities and dependent on fossil fuels for fertilizer, chemicals and transportation. What you are really eating is "fossil fuels". Agriculture is no longer a net supplier of energy, it is energy dependent. What happens when the oil and natural gas run out? Food is produced precariously far away from the consuming areas. Monoculture requires heavy doses of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, all made from fossil fuels.
Americans eat meat, not because of its nutritional benefits, but because of the meat industryís marketing skills. Eighty percent of the farmland is devoted to growing meat, i.e. range land or feed crops. Meat production requires less labor per dollar and allows those with extensive capital resources to dominate the market. Meat is also inefficient in terms of energy transformation. Each step up the food chain from crops reduces the net energy available to the eater by 90%. Have you ever wondered where cows get their protein?
Vegetables on the other hand are quite labor intensive. For instance, Colquitt County Georgia, according to a 2001 WALB TV news story, has from 10,000 to 15,000 illegal aliens working primarily on vegetable farms. For comparison, Terrell County Georgia, where we farm, has a total population of 11,000 people. How many of these 11,000 people are willing to work long hours in the hot sun for minimum wage? Cheap food requires slaves.
After you solve the labor problem, then you are faced with a perishable product that must be delivered to diverse corners of a country 3,000 by 2,000 miles in dimension. Right now Black people are concentrated in the cities and locked into the food buying patterns that prevent Black farmers from taking advantage of that potential market. Please view "Graph 3" from the article "Perfect Crime" at http://muhammadfarms.com/The%20Farmer%20Newsletter.htm to see how the marketing system has changed over the years. Putting it another way, Black folk no longer cook. They eat at fast food restaurants or purchase highly processed precooked food items which are dominated by large retailers and large producers.
The Solution? Start home gardens or set up buying clubs or cooperatives in the cities to purchase directly from the farmers. The markets in the cities must be developed before the farmers can grow and ship. In the beginning these coops must go to their local suppliers at the farmersí markets in their areas or with wholesale distributors of food close to them. Once your volume is such that you can handle 40,000 pounds (tractor trailer load), then you can contact Black farm cooperatives and arrange for the production and distribution of items from them. You can find a list of farm cooperatives at: http://muhammadfarms.com/black_farm_coops.htm.
Please be prepared to pay for your food three months in advance, so that these farmers will not have to go to the bank to borrow money at interest rates that exceed their expected returns on investment. Also, by paying in advance this reduces the market risks of the farmers, so that you wonít change your mind and go back to "massa" once the farmers have sunk their money into the ground. This means that we will have to learn how to trust and work cooperatively with each other. OOPS, did I say something wrong?