The Journal Express
---- — To the Editor:
I read, with interest, Ms. Shivvers’ comments in her opinion piece “Another View-Breaking Bad in Iowa” in the Feb. 14, 2014, edition of the Knoxville Journal-Express. It is the first time I have heard today’s agriculture compared to the drug trade.
The reference came from an incident reported by an instructor at the University of Northern Iowa in a discussion he facilitated. The summary of the group’s feelings were that “commodity agriculture” and “the network of global corporations that make it work” were paralleling the drug trade business in its effect on the citizens of our country.
To make this donation understandable, we must realize that all agriculture is about commodities. In this sense of the word, a commodity is an unprocessed, or partially processed, good such as grain, fruit vegetable, or a precious metal (Random House Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). The key is that it includes not only corn and soybeans, but things such as wheat, rice, potatoes, onions, peas, beans, grapes, apples, cotton, lumber, iron ore and so forth. It is what we eat, wear, live in, drive and otherwise use in our daily lives.
I am not sure about the context of global corporations as used here. Global corporations are involved in our everyday lives in many ways. We depend on them for clothes (think Nike), cars (GM), fuel (Exxon-Mobil), drugs (Mercke) and food (Tyson and Del Monte, just to name two). We shop at a global corporation (Walmart) for many of these things. My point is that much of what we eat or use is touched by a global corporation. In agriculture, we also depend upon global corporations for seed, fertilizers, chemicals, fuel and farm machinery.
But if the context of global corporations is that they are controlling the land resources and producing the raw goods, as well as processing them, this is not the reality today. Let me use Marion County as an example for what I am trying to say. The 2007 Census of Agriculture indicates we have about 950 farms in our county. Some of them may be organized in a corporate business structure, but an examination of this ownership will show that they are family corporations and the families work the land. No global corporations are registered as farmers in Marion County. I suspect that is largely true throughout our country.
There are other comments that bring up points which could be debated, and perhaps, refuted. At the very least, other points of view are also plausible. I won’t address them here.
I will agree with Ms. Shivvers on her last comment. The opportunity to “buy local” gives a choice to those of us lucky enough to be close to a Farmers’ Market or CSA to buy fresh, to buy local. But for many, many people in our country and around the world, this isn’t available. We are fortunate to have “commodity agriculture” working for them and for us.
John E. Jensen