U.S. History

Four Books That Reach for the Heart, Mind, and Immortality

Writers write, according to some poet, to make themselves immortal. True or not, it was true for that writer because that’s an unforgettable, maybe even immortal, line.

Most times, however, writers write out of compulsion; they see a story that needs to be told and they grab some paper and verbs to tell it. Below are […]

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Ethanol’s Future is Running Out of Gas

The key ingredients for a looming crack-up in ethanol–the fast rise of electric vehicles, lukewarm politics, and more evidence of catastrophic climate change–are in place and few in U.S. ag policy circles are prepared to face that reality.

In fact, none of those woes are new; they’ve been building for years.

For example, the Trump Administration’s almost carte […]

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China Remains Our Biggest Export Market and Biggest Troublemaker

Talk about mixed messaging.

Two homemade campaign signs from last fall’s presidential election remain on the edge of a sprawling, well-kept dairy farm I recently passed. One, large and white against a green backdrop of tasseled corn, touts Donald Trump; the other, smaller and more wordy, declares that if Biden wins, all Americans soon will be “working for […]

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Like a SNAP

This year of striking contrasts continues to build: a late winter of pandemic horror, a spring of vaccine relief, a summer of social sunshine, now a Covid reprise this fall.

For agriculture, August delivered its own contrasts. For example, the often market-rattling August Crop Report carried the unlikely news of near-record 2021 corn and soybean crops […]

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The ‘True Cost of Food’

Like any chain, today’s ubiquitous “supply chains” are only as strong as their weakest links. Americans again learned this elemental lesson a year ago when the rapidly exploding Covid-19 pandemic swept the nation’s streets, sidewalks, and pantries clean of cars, people, and groceries.

Less evident are today’s still-broken links in the global food supply chain.

For example, […]

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Threading Needles with Camels

Twenty-five years ago, when almost every American farm and ranch organization was denying the existence of climate change, William E. Rees and a colleague developed a method to measure how much “nature” was required to support a people or an economy. They called that measurement an “ecological footprint.”

That science–ecological economics, Rees’s career specialty at the […]

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The Actual Costs of the ‘Industrial Mind’

In an essay in his new book, Hogs Are Up, Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute near Salina, KS, revisits a speech he gave in Coon Rapids, IA, in August 2009 to mark the 50th anniversary of Nikita Khrushchev’s famous visit to the Roswell Garst farm.

During that cornfield summit, suggests Jackson, Garst and Khrushchev chatted about […]

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This Time, The Scoreboard Tells the Whole Story

In farming, the late Farm Journal economist John Marten liked to say, we keep score with acres.

Right or wrong, acres–and the wealth they represent–have always been a measure of personal and professional success. The converse is true, too; the lack or loss of acres usually implies failure of sorts.

That critical measure is at the center […]

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Worker Wages are Not the Cause of Higher Food Prices

After my first year at the Big U, I returned to the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth for a summer of work. The first task, however, was to ask my father to double my hourly pay from 50-cents an hour, the amount I’d been paid through high school, to $1 per hour.

“Well,” Dad […]

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China’s Buying Binge Continues… Until It Doesn’t

China is even hungrier, richer, and—to the delight of almost every American farmer—more impatient in today’s global food market than anyone thought possible even a decade ago.

      In fact, according to the data crunchers at Agricultural Economic Insights (aei), China now imports “about 100 million acres worth of crop production, or roughly 25% of total […]

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