This entry is part of IATP's Story of Drought, examining the impacts, causes and perception of drought in the U.S. and around the world.
Lamar, Colo. – In a good year, the wheat on the Hixsons’ farm should stand waist high by mid-summer. This year, though, much of the crop isn’t even tall enough for the combine to harvest.
Jillane Hixson hasn’t seen regular rainfall since 2002. She and her two brothers, Ron and Eric, farm 3,000 acres of wheat here in southeast Colorado, the same land that their father farmed before them. After 12 years of drought, "The ground is just like brown flour," Hixson says. When the wind picks up, what was once soil coats her car, her windows, and even her counter tops.
"Every morning when you get up, the first thing you do is vacuum down the kitchen table and wipe down the coffee pot just to be able to make a cup of coffee," Hixson says. "You can't escape it."
With regular rain, the Hixsons harvest around 40 bushels of wheat an acre. This June, much of their land yielded merely four bushels an acre, or one-tenth that. The Hixsons’ crop insurance covers just enough for them to buy seed and fertilizer and try again, but it doesn’t pay anything near what a full harvest does.
"The insurance just barely lets you stay in business and actually keep borrowing more money," Hixson says. "You start this vicious cycle of borrowing and borrowing and borrowing in hopes that the weather cycle will change and the crops will come in."
All throughout eastern Colorado and western Kansas, farmers and ranchers are waiting for rain. “We’re in the midst of a prolonged drought,” says Duke Phillips, a Colorado rancher who manages cattle on about 200,000 acres. “Everybody is operating at deficiencies and praying for more.”
A new report released today from IATP takes an in-depth look at how tar sands have developed from an unconventional, inefficient energy source to the spotlight of the corporate agenda as conventional oil supplies dwindle. Tar Sands: How Trade Rules Surrender Sovereignty and Extend Corporate Rights follows the development of energy policy from NAFTA up to current free trade negotiations to illustrate that while energy sources evolve, one trend remains constant: The protection of corporate profits at the expense of human rights, sovereignty and the environment. With new free trade agreements in negotiation, the time for action is here: The public needs a seat at the negotiating table.
The Washington Post’s disclosure last month of yet another leaked EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiating document on Energy and Raw Materials (ERM) brings to light the overwhelming emphasis placed on dismantling the United States’ ability to govern its own energy resources. Pressure to repeal the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), due to new-found U.S. energy reserves through hydraulic fracturing, stands as most controversial to environmentalist and anti-globalist.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised the food industry what a manufacturer should do if it puts nanomaterials in food: Please call us. The human health effects of ingesting nanomaterials are not well understood, but a few food manufacturers claim to include nanomaterials in their products. The FDA’s advice could have been worse: Don’t call us. But it could have been a lot better by requiring pre-market and post-market safety assessments and testing of any “food substance” containing nanomaterials.
Nanotechnology, the synthesis, visualization, configuration and manipulation of atomic to molecular size particles, has been practicable since the Nobel-prize winning invention in 1981 of a kind of microscope that made nano-visualization and manipulation possible. (See the superb “Timeline: Nanotechnology” published in April by the University of Ottawa.) The application of nanotechnology to industrial processes, such as coating semi-conductors and other electronic parts with infinitesimally thin layers of metal oxides, has enabled the production of computer server farms and cell-phones, to name just two of the most famous applications.
Today, Missouri goes to the polls to decide—among other things—if they want to amend the state’s constitution to include what is being referred to as the “right to farm.” This debate has been a fiercely pitched and costly battle to enshrine a right that many farmers rightly assume they already have.
The National Agricultural Law Center notes on their website that “All fifty states have enacted right-to-farm laws that seek to protect qualifying farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations exist, and who later use nuisance actions to attempt to stop those ongoing operations.” In short, farmers and ranchers everywhere, including Missouri, are protected from those who complain about their daily operations on the basis of comfort.
So why such an adamant fight for something redundant? The simple truth is that the proposed Amendment 1—which would ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices without infringement—has nothing to do with the protection of Missouri citizens at all. Despite the seemingly local origins of a measure to protect local farmers from “unreasonable regulations” and outside groups, the effort is nothing more than a national corporate wolf in a local sheep’s clothing. While the fate of Missouri will be known later today, it is important to understand the national context of fights like these.
Late July is a quiet time for much of the Northern hemisphere: even the United States takes a week or two off work at some point to enjoy the summer. It is a busy time, however, for international trade negotiators—this year more than most. The General Council of the WTO (its primary decision-making body) concluded its last meeting before the summer recess yesterday without signing the trade facilitation agreement (TFA). Director-General Azevêdo was not pleased.
WTO members committed to the TFA at the Bali ministerial last year, promising to adopt it before the end of this month. No one knows what comes now: those who most wanted the agreement passed say the multilateral trading system itself is in jeopardy. U.S. trade officials have been busy making dire pronouncements on social media and at press conferences about the loss of credibility of the multilateral trading system, while a joint statement signed by 26 countries, including Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Nigeria and Viet Nam, warned that if the WTO members failed to adopt the TFA, the whole “Bali Package” (three issues on which governments agreed to make commitments at the WTO Ministerial in December 2013) would unravel. India replied, with some support from other countries, that they needed to see progress on all issues, especially on agriculture talks, before any single agreement can become law.
In 1986, corn was selling at $1.80 a bushel. Today, in the summer of 2014, corn is selling for under $4.00 a bushel. If we adjust for inflation, the $1.80 corn of 1986 would be worth $3.90 a bushel today.
In 1986, the response from farmers to the $1.80 bushel of corn was as close to a populist uprising that this country has ever experienced. A prairie fire of protest spread across the country. Tractorcades, penny auctions, lenders forced to renegotiate farm loans and a whole lot of hell raising in farm country.
In 2014, $3.00 corn has failed to provoke much of a reaction. Why? What has changed?
There were 6 million farmers in the U.S. in 1986. Today there are around 2.2 million farmers, with the bulk of our commodity crop production coming from some 150,000 of them. Between 1970 and 1990, nearly 7 million farmers were forced off the land because of low prices, high interest rates and crushing farm debt. This was the culmination of the “Get big or get out” policies of the Nixon/Reagan era.
The wholesale elimination of millions of family farms sparked the rural rebellion of the late 70s and 80s. Farm families witnessed the end to a way of life that many had inherited from their parents and grandparents. Organizations like the American Agriculture Movement, Farmers Legal Action Group, Farm Aid, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy came into being in response to this crisis. Looking back, farmers and their allies put up a good fight, but in the end, the powerful forces of agribusiness, banks and the pusillanimous politicians of both parties set our nation on a course where farmers were replaced by machines, petroleum, chemicals and monoculture cropping. For those who survived, farm incomes improved and farms got much bigger.
Food democracy must start from the bottom-up, at the level of villages, regions, cities, and municipalities. – UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter in March 2014
Olivier De Schutter recently finished his widely acclaimed term as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. During his 6-year tenure, he called for a "radically and democratically-redesigned" food system. In his closing address, he highlighted the significant changes he has witnessed: the small-scale food producers having a more visible voice in decision-making; the growing number of local initiatives that create a ‘transition from below’ for a more sustainable food system; and ‘agroecology’ becoming a part of mainstream discussions about solutions to current modes of food production and consumption. De Schutter stated, “Much work remains to be done, of course. But there are promising signs that things are moving in the right direction.”
Innovation is the key to solving so many of the problems facing us: widespread malnutrition, environmental damage, and a warming and increasingly unpredictable climate. Our need for innovation is an uncontroversial statement; something we’ve heard a million times over, from politicians, agronomists, environmentalists, and agricultural corporations alike.
They keep using this word, but we do not think innovation means what they think it means. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
This past weekend, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported that Germany would reject the Canadian-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as it contains investment provisions that allow foreign investors to sue governments over policies that undermine corporate profits. That reportgot the attention of those tracking the U.S.-EU trade negotiations. The Mail article was based on German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s coverage of the issue.
Saturday’s announcement created a flurry of calls to the German Economic Ministry. Was the most powerful EU country going to block the negotiations in their endgame? If so, it would be an unprecedented event in Europe with massive implications on how corporate investment rights are handled in free trade treaties around the globe, including with the United States. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that [translated] “while Germany in principle would be willing to initial the treaty [CETA] in September, the chapter on investment protection is seen to be ‘problematic’ and currently not acceptable.”
Trade policy negotiations, such as those for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), are conducted largely as if they were private business deals. Despite many public interest issues that are subject to “least trade-restrictive” criteria in the TTIP and other so-called Free Trade Agreements, access to draft negotiating texts is restricted to negotiators and their security-cleared advisors, overwhelmingly corporate lobbyists. About 85 percent of 566 advisors to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) come from various industry sectors.
Trade negotiations texts are exempted from public disclosure otherwise required under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act by presidential Executive Order 13526, which can be rescinded by President Barack Obama. U.S. NGOs, including IATP, have repeatedly urged the USTR to end trade policy transparency exemptions. IATP was among 250 non-governmental organizations to sign a May 19 letter to the EC’s director of trade demanding the EC release for public comment draft negotiating texts and related documents.
An interesting window of opportunity for legislators dialogue between the USA and the European Union opened last week in Strasbourg, during the plenary session of the European Parliament, when Sharon Anglin Treat, from the House of Representatives of the US State of Maine, met Members of Parliament (MEPs) from various Committees and political groups in order to exchange views on the impact of on-going negotiations on a free trade agreement between the United States and Europe (TTIP) with regard to food, agriculture, environment and related issues.
Rep. Treat co-chairs the Citizen Trade Policy Commission, which advises the Maine Legislature and Governor on trade policy, and also is a member of the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee (IGPAC) in the office of US Trade Representative Froman.