Today, due to rapidly increasing food prices and shortage of supplies, humanity is facing the worst hunger crisis the world has seen in decades. These are unprecedented times, warns the U.N. To compound matters, a recession appears to be just around the corner. Why, then, are farmers being prevented from doing their jobs? Without farmers, the world would collapse. Farming is arguably the world’s most important profession. Right now, though, it’s under attack.
On June 28, according to Bloomberg, hundreds of furious Dutch farmers gathered “to protest the government’s nitrogen reduction targets.” However, as the investigative journalist Kit Knightly recently highlighted, the idea that Dutch farmers were protesting emission targets was a “massive lie by omission.” He’s right. The Netherlands is home to thousands of dairy farmers and over 1.5 million dairy cows and calves. Moreover, the Netherlands is the EU’s largest exporter of meat. The reduction of emissions, as Mr. Knightly so rightly pointed out, actually means “reducing the number of pigs, chickens and cows by about thirty percent.”
The author believes that we are now witnessing a “deliberate shrinking of the farming sector.” It’s difficult to disagree. After the United States, the Netherlands is the world’s leading agricultural producer, exporting vegetables, meat and dairy products to millions of people. The livelihood of thousands of Dutch farmers hangs in the balance. Considering the world is in the midst of a food crisis, one that is projected to increase in severity over the next 12 months, now is not the time to stop farmers from doing their jobs. But try telling that to the Dutch government. And while you’re at it, try conveying the same message to the Biden administration.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., farmers, we’re told, are the backbone of America; however, the current administration clearly thinks otherwise. Last year, the administration added agricultural land to the Conservation Reserve Program. Under the controversial program, farmers are now encouraged to leave land fallow. On closer inspection, the program is part of a broader, government-wide push to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Interestingly, the Biden administration’s goal is very similar to the Dutch government’s goal.
In California, home to 124,000 farmers, people are being paid not to grow crops. A peculiar move, considering the Golden State is responsible for a quarter of the nation’s crops (and two-thirds of the nation’s fruit and nuts). As Modern Farmer’s Shea Swanson noted, this year, because of the new scheme, “35,000 acres of rice fields in the northern Central Valley” will remain unused.
Across the pond, in the U.K., the government remains entirely committed to helping farmers leave the industry. In a rather interesting statement, released earlier this year, the U.K. government assured any farmers wishing to leave the industry that they would be rewarded with one time, lump-sum payment. “In return for their payment,” read the statement, “farmers will surrender their entitlements and be expected to either rent or sell their land or surrender their tenancy,” in order to create “real opportunities for new farmers’” (more on the word ‘new’ in a minute). Again, when one acknowledges the fact that we are in the midst of a food crisis, and that the U.K. is a key player in the global food sector, now seems like a very odd time to introduce such a program. The U.K. exports thousands of tons of lamb, beef and chicken each year. Exports of beef from the U.K. to Japan, for example, are worth £1.78 million (more than $2 million).
Which begs the question: As governments tear down the traditional agricultural sector, what will they replace it with? This brings us back to the word ‘new.’ Traditional farming is being replaced by organic farming, a defining feature of the green revolution.
However, it’s important to remember that many revolutions aren’t successful. To many commentators, organic farming sounds fantastic. On closer inspection, though, this “holistic” approach to farming appears to be lacking in substance. As Dr. Henry Miller, a well-respected public policy researcher, previously noted, organic farming might work well for small communities, but at a macro level, “its farms produce far less food per unit of land and water than conventional ones.” Organic farming, he warned, yields “typically 20%-50% less than conventional agriculture.”
Moreover, as an extensive meta-analysis (published in the Journal of Environmental Management) highlighted when compared with conventional farming methods, “ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per product unit were higher from organic systems.”
In short, organic farming results in lower crop yields and higher land use. A winning formula for who exactly? Certainly not mankind. Oh, and there’s one more thing. Organic farming is bad for the environment. In fact, it appears to be considerably worse for the environment than traditional farming, producing far more greenhouse gas emissions. Although we hear so much about a population crisis and the abrupt decline in global fertility rates, the fact of the matter is this: The current world population stands at about 7.6 billion. By 2030, it will rise to 8.6 billion, according to a recent U.N. report. By 2050, 9.8 billion people, and by 2100, 11.2 billion. If traditional farming is being relegated to the dustbin of history, and organic farming is simply unsustainable, how are we to feed the people of tomorrow when we are struggling to feed the people of today?
• John Mac Ghlionn is a psychosocial research and essayist.