Updated: Jun 3, 2019
We left San Francisco Thursday morning on our way to Iowa for the summer. (I don't yet know what I am doing in the fall!! But more on that later...)
We are driving down Highway 24 on the Nevada / Utah border, headed to the town of Torrey, Utah for the night. We drove through a series of deep, dark storms yesterday, winding through valleys between snow capped mountain peaks, the white snow almost down to road level, even now at the end of May.
The weather has been crazy, not only in California, where the rains have not stopped as they usually do by May, but in the Midwest too. It has rained and rained, 6 inches in 7 days, my brother-in-law reported, fell on the farm last week. And still the sky brings more.
This has translated into farmers not being able to plant crops. Too much rain = mud, which means one can’t drive a tractor through fields to put crops in the ground.
So in addition to corn and soybean farmers dealing with the lowest crop prices in a decade, a trade war with China, flooding early this spring, flooding last fall and a surplus of corn and soybeans in the US, now they also need to add to their list of woes potentially not having any crops to sell next fall.
Trump is offering a $19 billion dollar “relief” package for farmers to help with the pain of the trade wars, in addition to the $12 billion he asked for to help with crops destroyed in earlier this spring.
In other words, as American tax-payers, we are now into a farm bailout for the year in the $30 billion range, and it is not yet June. Ahead of us is a potentially huge fire season in the West (brush grows with a lot of rain), continuing too much or too little water across the country, hurricane season and of course, more political unrest in the form of endless trade disputes (now with Mexico too).
To really make matters worse, most of us now realize this is no longer a temporary situation. Crazy weather, whether you attribute it to human made global heating or not, is here to stay. The world’s intensifying climate, wealth disparities, and political turmoil, coupled with shrinking resources - has made unpredictable markets the new norm.
Now more than ever, no one should have all their eggs in one basket, especially farmers. But that is exactly what they are still doing - investing more and more into a single (or with corn and soybeans, two) basket, in the hope that things will swing upward again and all will be well.
But I see this instability as an opportunity. An opportunity for farmers to get real help in getting out of a no-win, commodity-growing situation and to diversify their production. An opportunity for a savvy, change-making politician to speak squarely to American farmers about their dependency on government assistance. An opportunity to propose that, instead of bailing them out year after year, farmers could get paid to diversify what they grow, to sequester carbon for a profit and to improve the water retention of their soil to withstand more crazy weather of drought and flood.
We drive out to Iowa across the too-late spring green of the Utah desert, watching the dark tendrils of rain fan out across the horizon, bringing more precipitation to the earth. We are excited to see our plan to diversify the farm play out over the coming years, hopeful of what we can accomplish on our own land in the short time we will have to nurture it.