This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Corn on the Hot Seat

The current drought throughout the middle of the US has focused a lot of attention on the corn crop, which is wilting in the heat, creating a high likelihood of higher food prices and increased food insecurity. William Mosely, a Professor of Geography at Macalaster College in Minnesota has a very good Op-Ed piece in today's NY Times in which he lays out the case for (a) why we have so much corn instead of other crops; and (b) why that needs to change. 
The No. 1 culprit behind our overreliance on corn is the federal farm subsidy program. While subsidies are not categorically bad, they become a problem if they leave farmers with little choice but to focus on a few crops. The proposed farm bill now before Congress would make some progress by ending direct payments to farmers for certain commodities (most notably corn) in favor of expanded crop insurance. Even with that critical change, a floor price (below which farmers receive payments from the government) and a more robust crop insurance program for certain commodities will still mean that farmers narrowly concentrate on corn and soybeans in the Midwest.
While this system clearly favors those interests that benefit from an oversupply of cheap corn (fertilizer and pesticide providers, feedlots and food and ethanol producers), it is not good for taxpayers, our food system or the environment.

And we need to change this system because over-reliance on any single crop is a bad idea for an economy, in which diversity is a sensible risk-averse strategy, and it's a bad idea for consumers, for whom a varied diet is more nutritious and healthy.

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