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Corn and Drought
August 9, 2012 7:34 PM   Subscribe

July 2012 was the hottest month ever recorded in the continental United States. 70% of Iowa - the nation's largest corn producer - is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rates 50% of the nation's corn crop as poor or very poor. Today U.S. corn prices reached an all-time high. The impact will be global. Wired looks at "Why King Corn Wasn't Ready For The Drought".
posted by Egg Shen (149 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The UNL Drought Monitor is really handy- click your region to zoom to that level, click your state to zoom there- and lately really horrifying. Fully a quarter of Indiana is suffering from the worst level of drought that they record- hopefully the storms of last night and tonight will help with that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:42 PM on August 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


This NASA animation of the shift in summer temperatures from 1950-2011 is striking.
posted by anthill at 7:45 PM on August 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


Michael Pollan (of The Omnivore's Dilemma, among other books) tweeted about a great op-ed piece in the NYTimes on this very subject yesterday by William Moseley.
posted by jquinby at 7:46 PM on August 9, 2012


Explain to me again why we are turning half our corn crop into fuel when there's a world-wide food shortage?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:46 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Explain to me again why we are turning half our corn crop into fuel when there's a world-wide food shortage?

A car's gotta eat.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:47 PM on August 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't suppose HFCS will get so expensive that we start using other things instead. Or just sweeten everything less.
posted by Foosnark at 7:48 PM on August 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


Wired looks at "Why King Corn Wasn't Ready For The Drought".

This piece is really inadequate. It's not all that complicated. It's just like New Orleans' levees: it's not that no one knew what was coming. They just didn't know exactly when. And, betting that it would be a while longer, everybody was reluctant to get off the money-producing merry-go-round before it ground to a halt.
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on August 9, 2012 [22 favorites]


Aw, shucks!
posted by ShutterBun at 7:51 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


hat last link can be summarised pretty readily - drought resistance is hard, much much harder than pest resistance. The social implications of this are interesting. Obviously greater diversity in crops is going to be a big part of the future for your corn belt.

Australia has had a several year La Nina event, possibly spurred by climate change, and our hard wheat exports will probably hit new records. So swings and roundabouts in terms of global net food supply.
posted by wilful at 7:51 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Explain to me again why we are turning half our corn crop into fuel when there's a world-wide food shortage?

Until we perfect the "corn transporter matrix", fuel is still a very important part of getting food to hungry people.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:52 PM on August 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Flying to Chicago and seeing all those desperate-looking center pivot irrigated crops lost in vast tracts of patchy, dusty-brown fields was unnerving to say the least.
posted by RollingGreens at 7:53 PM on August 9, 2012


fuel is still a very important part of getting food to hungry people.

That sounds nice but that's not where this fuel is going.
posted by Miko at 7:55 PM on August 9, 2012 [17 favorites]


The July cover story of Harper's ("Broken Heartland") is another excellent essay that I wanted to use for an FPP that never came together. Fun facts:
posted by psoas at 7:55 PM on August 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


Just plant corn, beans, and squash all together. Why? The beans help the cornstalk grow stronger while the broad squash leaves provide shade to retain moisture.

I sure hope the cars don't starve.
posted by vozworth at 7:56 PM on August 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Let's look on the bright side. If we all die of starvation, there will not be another season of Jersey Shore.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:56 PM on August 9, 2012 [17 favorites]



Hey, remember a few years ago when it snowed in February and Fox news as all "Global Warming is fake!!!!"

Hehehehe
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:56 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Might as well be illinois!
posted by RollingGreens at 7:57 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Aw, shucks!

I know this is, like, an existential threat and everything, but that doesn't mean I don't look at all these photos of withered corn and think "Ah NOOO, the corn!"
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 7:59 PM on August 9, 2012


Corn -> Grocery store is the shortest chain with which we need to be concerned, after the effects of the drought are finally hitting the end user.

The bigger problem is that the majority of the corn in Iowa is being processed into HFCS, Ethanol, and into various other products.

I spoke with an engineer friend of mine who works at Cargill over this weekend while we were at a party. My wife was starting the grill with some Kingsford charcoal and he mentioned that Cargill was responsible for 50% of the chemical content of each briquette -- all derived from corn. I joked that it was Iowa, and that half the stuff in the backyard was probably made out of corn-derived chemicals. He looked at me like I was crazy. "Half? That's probably low."
posted by thanotopsis at 8:04 PM on August 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


There's only one solution, let's subsidize a new and different economic sector/product until it becomes a huge chunk of the world economy and then collapses.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:09 PM on August 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


let's subsidize a new and different economic sector/product

Yes, let's subsidize the SPIDER CROP! IT WILL NEVER COLLAPSE!
posted by Huck500 at 8:12 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


More significant than ethanol production is the corn used to make HFCS for all those tasty snacks.
posted by humanfont at 8:13 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey! Anyone want to build a baseball stadium?
posted by phaedon at 8:15 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


One silver lining to the Midwest drought is that the nutrient load into the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River has been much lower than normal, resulting in the smallest Gulf of Mexico dead zone in decades.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 8:19 PM on August 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


Report: Global Warming May Be Irreversible By 2006
posted by Algebra at 8:21 PM on August 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


The bigger problem is that the majority of the corn in Iowa is being processed into HFCS, Ethanol, and into various other products livestock.
posted by 7segment at 8:35 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The bigger problem is that the majority of the corn in Iowa is being processed into HFCS, Ethanol, and into various other products livestock.

Good timing in retrospect for that pink slime thing to hit BPI in the pocketbook, I guess. Less processing capability now, but hey, less to process.

---

Anyways, Iowa resident here - last year, when the Missouri was flooding everything in sight around here, a lot of people made jokes about how "just you wait, next year we'll have a drought". So, uh. Ta da!

Me, I'm just waiting for Steve King to pull another stunt like last year's hip waders + by-the-numbers Obama shaming clip during the flood, but this time he's just parched to the edge of death in a barren field croaking about the talking point du jour through cracked lips. Though I suppose he's already delivered his fair share this year since he made that pretty dang delightful Colbert bit possible the other night.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:39 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey! Anyone want to build a baseball stadium?

Funny thing, there was a drought when they filmed Field of Dreams too:
Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not cooperating: the 14-week shooting schedule coincided with a heat wave and a serious drought. In a 1989 Los Angeles Daily News article, he explained, "It was very physically uncomfortable - 105 degrees and very humid . . . and we had an extremely difficult schedule based on the projected growth of the corn." Robinson managed to shuffle the shooting order for the scenes around, giving the crops as much time as possible to grow, but time was running out. "I said, 'The first scene in the movie, when Kevin hears the voice, it's got to be up to his shoulders.' Two weeks before we hit the corn (scenes) it was ankle high"... In the end, he spent thousands irrigating the land and ran two weeks over schedule - but the corn finally grew

posted by entropicamericana at 8:42 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


My husband read about this corn crop issue and said "Oh shit, our food prices are going to go up".

I said "Sweetie, I do the grocery shopping. We don't eat corn in this house".

(Of course, anything we eat that is brought to us by corn-based fuel will be affected, but I try to shop locally enough that hopefully that will not be an issue, and I don't buy grain-fed meat if I can at all help it. We will be tangentially affected by the corn problem, no doubt, and certainly foods we do eat will be affected by the droughts, but as much as is reasonably possible, we DO NOT EAT CORN IN THIS HOUSE).
posted by padraigin at 8:46 PM on August 9, 2012


Only 12 % of the US corn crop is consumed as food by humans (either in actual corn-things like chips or made into things like corn syrup). So we're probably not at the level where the drought is going to affect our direct consumption of corn. But, lots of that corn is used to feed animals which we then eat. And a stupid amount is turned into ethanol (due to an insane mandate). So, yes, fuel and meat are likely to get a bit more expensive. More likely, since we're pretty rich, and grains are a world-wide market, the driought will affect the world market, we'll buy more corn abroad and people outside the US will pay more as well.

vozworth: whoever figures out how to companion crop corn, beans and squash together in such a way that the lot are mechanically harvestable will be a hero (well, as long as they prove that yields are pretty similar and the lot is more resiliant to stress). The main reason we grow monocrops is sadly that it's just cheaper (in labor, equipment and energy) to harvest.
posted by R343L at 8:51 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I said "Sweetie, I do the grocery shopping. We don't eat corn in this house".

90% of the food in the supermarket has corn in it. I don't know how you're pulling it off, but good on you!
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:53 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The bigger problem is that the majority of the corn in Iowa is being processed into HFCS, Ethanol, and into various other products.

Another problem is that most of the corn is being fed to livestock to produce the world's cheapest meat. That's where the record high price of corn will be passed onto the consumer: milk, eggs, cheese, and meat. Of course, these commodities are remarkably low in the USA thanks to mass corn production (just ask any Canadian), unlike other nations where feedlot production is not so predominant a form of agriculture.

But let's not kid ourselves, the USA corn monocrop is in no way sustainable, nor are these levels of meat production and consumption.
posted by mek at 9:01 PM on August 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


90% of the food in the supermarket has corn in it. I don't know how you're pulling it off, but good on you!

It's easy because I eat paleo, even though the rest of my family doesn't--but I do the shopping and the cooking. I am fortunate to have the time to cook our meals from raw ingredients and to not have to rely on anything packaged, and doubly fortunate to be able to afford animal products that aren't grain-fed. I recognize the privilege involved in my situation.
posted by padraigin at 9:08 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Explain to me again why we are turning half our corn crop into fuel when there's a world-wide food shortage?

Because there's a reasonable argument that ethanol is more sustainable than oil, and "green energy" comes in slightly higher than "foreigners starving again" on the U.S. Give-A-Fuck-O-Meter.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:12 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is why I stick to a potato-based diet. Potatoes never fail!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:15 PM on August 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


It's easy because I eat paleo,

But....if you buy your meat at a regular supermarket you are eating corn. What do you think those animals were fed? Diddo for Milk? Yogurt made from that milk? Cheese? Corn. Corn. Corn. It is hard to avoid.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:19 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Izzatso?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:19 PM on August 9, 2012


Sure and wouldn't I have been pulling your leg their, boyo.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:22 PM on August 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


there, rather. EDIT WINDOW.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:23 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I assume all the folks in those states which want smaller government and don't believe in global warming will turn down federal disaster relief? Right?
posted by Justinian at 9:27 PM on August 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


No, Justinian, they probably won't.

Is collective support only for those who agree with you?
posted by notyou at 9:31 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


there, rather. EDIT WINDOW.

Pfft, nice cover attempt but we all know all you would have done if you had an edit window is try and cover up your shocking ignorance of the Great Potatoe Famine by changing your original comment.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:37 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


*Potato
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:37 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is collective support only for those who agree with you?

Supporting people doesn't mean that you don't also get to call them a bunch of hypocrites.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:45 PM on August 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


As long as there is still enough corn for the important stuff.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:51 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I assume all the folks in those states which want smaller government and don't believe in global warming will turn down federal disaster relief? Right?

Hmmm. Let's TEST that hypothesis!

Explain to me again why we are turning half our corn crop into fuel when there's a world-wide food shortage?

As a Midwesterner, let me explain -- again -- that ethanol is best understood as a crop subsidy.
posted by dhartung at 9:53 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hottest ever recorded...meaning roughly 130 or so years. Hm. Not very impressive.
posted by davidmsc at 9:56 PM on August 9, 2012


Hottest ever recorded...meaning roughly 130 or so years. Hm. Not very impressive.

So you're not willing to be concerned for another thousand years or so? Interesting strategy.
posted by scody at 9:58 PM on August 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


davidmsc: "Hottest ever recorded...meaning roughly 130 or so years. Hm. Not very impressive."

The sarcasm, it burns.
posted by wierdo at 9:58 PM on August 9, 2012


Supporting people doesn't mean that you don't also get to call them a bunch of hypocrites.

Exactly. We should send them all the relevant support without delay. And tell them they're a bunch of idiots who need to get on board with reality before they kill us all.
posted by Justinian at 10:00 PM on August 9, 2012


Buckling Roads and Fish Kills: Extreme Heat, the New Normal (video)
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:02 PM on August 9, 2012


Hottest ever recorded...meaning roughly 130 or so years. Hm. Not very impressive.

What an ignorant and self centered comment. I guess it's nice to not be an elderly person without air conditioning; have a house in the path of a wildfire or derecho; be a firefighter, farmer, or rancher; or otherwise be affected by all of the problems that many days of excessive heat cause. People are suffering, losing money, getting sick, and sometimes dying because of high temperatures. Infrastructure like roads and train tracks has been damaged, prices for many goods will go up. I guess that counts as unimpressive when you live in an elitist bubble.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:18 PM on August 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


Awesome.

Let's remember this when, say, Governor Walker is scolding WIC recipients for their profligacy.
posted by notyou at 10:19 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hottest ever recorded...meaning roughly 130 or so years. Hm. Not very impressive.
posted by davidmsc at 23:56 on 8/9


I want to respond intelligently to your remarks but at this point I do not think any climate change deniers are capable of intellectually honest debate. There are an enormous number of people who are better educated than I am, who are also better communicators than I. If you are willing to discount the massively overwhelming number of scientists who have presented convincing arguments demonstrating the existence of anthropogenic climate change, and instead choose to cling to pseudo-science and quackery that masquerades as... hell, I can't even think of what to call it. It's bullshit. It's bullshit, and you know it, and I know it, but you suffer from the American Disease: "my ignorance is as food as your expertise, and I'll be damned if I'll admit I was wrong just because of the facts."

I'm a scientist. You know what I'm great at? Admitting when I'm wrong. I have cultivated this skill. It pays great dividends. Because nature doesn't give a good goddamn how desperately I cling to an argument. How hard I believe something has nothing to do with whether or not it's real. Insisting that something is not real when it is proven to be real does not profit me in my career.

Dude, climate change is real. You want to deny its effects? Ok, but you have to give me something else -- it's clear you don't accept science as a paradigm for understanding the world around us. So I want some consistency from you. Deny the p-n junction and the transistor. Go be skeptical about the electron.
posted by samofidelis at 10:21 PM on August 9, 2012 [56 favorites]


...as good as, even.
posted by samofidelis at 10:23 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


We can 'expect more weird weather' (NOAA) or even 'extreme weather events' (CSMonitor). Droughts, wildfires(BigPicture) and extreme storms(MotherJones) are 'climate change in action' (MotherJones, video). All of this is affecting crop yields. (MotherJones)

A sustained drought has hurt '55 % of the United States'(LA Times) , which, being in the US, has been politicized. We can look forward to the loss of 7 million jobs by 2050(Ars Technica) due to a drought that has affected half of the counties in the US(Esquire).

The recent wildfires(CSMonitor) probably are related to climate change - or, the drought that created the conditions for them to happen is. It doesn't help that people like to live in fire-prone areas, which leads to the fighting of every fire. The rise of 'longer bigger, fiercer blazes'(CSMonitor) could permanently alter the 'face of the West'(WIRED) and is 'linked to climate change'(MotherJones). Google provides a handy map (ArsTechnica).

Finally, as environmental conditions change, so do the diseases that thrive there(MotherJones).
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:37 PM on August 9, 2012 [7 favorites]



Hottest ever recorded...meaning roughly 130 or so years. Hm. Not very impressive.

Of course, the alternative is? Hottest never recorded? Invent a time machine and send thermometers back in time? Pretend this isn’t significant?
posted by wilful at 10:46 PM on August 9, 2012


Um, irrigation? Aqueducts? Hello?
posted by Ardiril at 10:58 PM on August 9, 2012


Hottest ever recorded... for now. But we can do better than that, can't we America? YES WE CAN!! burn the planet to a crisp
posted by mek at 10:58 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, irrigation? Aqueducts? Hello?

Well, the aqueducts go without saying, don't they?
posted by ShutterBun at 11:04 PM on August 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


for Ardiril:

Farmers Deplete Fossil Water In World's Breadbaskets. The Ogallala Aquifer provides water to the middle of the United States, but it is tapped at a higher rate than replenishment, threatened by pollution, and conservation is stymied by an establishment that hesitates to put real controls on it. In one case, Texas faces a massive shortage, and the current drought has caused a huge drop in Aquifer levels.

But yeah, irrigation and aqueducts, sure.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:10 PM on August 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


The record setting temperatures say something very important about global warming.

Namely, that using the temperature outside is a pretty stupid maneuver for anyone trying score rhetorical points on any side of the topic.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:11 PM on August 9, 2012


Ardiril: "Um, irrigation? Aqueducts? Hello?"

Fat lot of good it does you when 62% of the contiguous US is in drought, with an additional 16% abnormally dry. And most of that drought area is in long term drought. It's not just been a few weeks without significant rain.
posted by wierdo at 11:12 PM on August 9, 2012


"If you are willing to discount the massively overwhelming number of scientists"

Ignoring the equally "massively overwhelming number of scientists" who don't believe the as-is 'global warming' meme.

Thus, aqueducts. Long term planning? Be prepared? It's not like this is new technology and droughts are a recent threat.
posted by Ardiril at 11:16 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Namely, that using the temperature outside is a pretty stupid maneuver for anyone trying score rhetorical points on any side of the topic.

Actually, it's a perfectly valid mechanism if you use solid statistical analysis. As this paper(pdf) by James Hansen and others demonstrates, observed high temperatures deviate by 3 standard deviations from the norm; an effect which is virtually impossible without climate change.
posted by mek at 11:22 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have no idea what you are trying to say, Ardiril.
posted by Justinian at 11:23 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


equally "massively overwhelming number of scientists" who don't believe the as-is 'global warming' meme.

Study Affirms Consensus on Climate Change.

The Scientific Consensus On Climate Change

In The Field Of Climate Science, The Consensus Is Unequivocal

'Equally'?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:23 PM on August 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


Hottest ever recorded...meaning roughly 130 or so years. Hm. Not very impressive.
I want to respond intelligently to your remarks but at this point I do not think any climate change deniers are capable of intellectually honest debate.


So just for my own curiosity, did a comment get deleted or is there some sort of backstory to why this somewhat ambiguous remark is getting such a vitriolic response?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:27 PM on August 9, 2012


Koch-funded climate change skeptic reverses course.
posted by mazola at 11:30 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Actually, it's a perfectly valid mechanism if you use solid statistical analysis.

I do not believe your statement is at odds with the fact that it makes a terrible rhetorical device. In fact I'm prepared to argue that any virtually any statement requiring the use of solid statistical analysis will make a terrible rhetorical device. :-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:32 PM on August 9, 2012


Er, "any virtually any" ----> "virtually any"
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:34 PM on August 9, 2012


Yes, obviously truthiness matters more than truth.
posted by mek at 11:42 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know why people demonize corn so much.

Corn tortillas? Fried fish? Hot water or buttermilk cornbread?

Fritters!? Grits!

Corn flakes!

Everything should be eaten in moderation, of course, but there's nothing wrong with the consumption of corn. We've been eating it for almost as long as we've been farming. Humanity may not have been as successful as it is without staple crops like corn.

It's not poison guys, come on.
posted by Malice at 11:47 PM on August 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


I have nothing against corn.
posted by mazola at 11:48 PM on August 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


Well, 130 years doesn't seem like such a long time, all things considered. I've been hearing stuff about macro-cycles and so on, so the observation is seems legitimate to me.

Perhaps some of the vituperation ought to be saved for the guy who's biting off rattlesnake heads and telling his children that the Bible tells him (every night) that all scientists are going to hell and anyone who listens to them will be dipped up to his lips in boiling shit until the loving jesus comes back to step on his head and put him out of his misery.

Here are some longer views about global temperature variations, and google, of course, will show you the temperature in a frog's butt on Iwo Jima in the year 1246 BC, if you know how to tickle it properly.

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/ei/ei_cover.html

Corn = gas. Yeah, right. That's working out well.
posted by mule98J at 11:53 PM on August 9, 2012


The 12 hottest years on record are the last eleven years and 1998, and if you sort this chart by the non-date column you can see a pretty obvious trend that should lead even the staunchest denier to shut the fuck up.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:56 PM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


'Equally'?

Oh come on, there's a whole bunch of physicists, engineers, geologists and biologists ready to tell you there's nothing to climate change.
posted by happyroach at 12:01 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's been spectacularly hot here in Korea, too. But it's also been unusually dry, about which I have mixed feelings. I hate the summer rainy season with a passion, and I am inordinately happy whenever skies are blue, but the lack of rain means food is going to get really fucking expensive before the summer's over. It's all about me, damn it!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:03 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh come on, there's a whole bunch of physicists, engineers, geologists and biologists ready to tell you there's nothing to climate change.

Don't forget the engineers and IT guys!
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:03 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Corn is a very water intensive crop. I have two volunteer corn-hills in my garden. The area I am in does not have serious drought. I can water the corn all it likes.

I feel very mixed about huge farms vs small- holders farming sustainably.
The mechanization of farming has fed massive numbers of people, and freed huge numbers from drudgery.
At the same time, as a society in some ways we are less free than in the era when most Americans had small farms.
We are headed for some real changes. Most of those changes are going to be painful.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:11 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I even linked to the 'basic' explanation instead of the 'intermediate' one.

To clarify, are you saying that 'a whole bunch of' is 50%?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:15 AM on August 10, 2012


Corn! Eating it?--we invented it. Nature gave us a puny little grassy thing, which we turned into monster cobs that you can eat raw. Jeez, it will no longer propogate itself.

Anyhow.

Anyway.

Corn is good for you. With beans. Look it up.

It took those paleo-plants and paleo-critters three or four hundred millions of years to give us enough gas and oil to last a couple hundred years of heedless partying, and somehow we're going to supplant all that by growing corn in the midwest?--while maintaining the necessary healthy growth of our auto, & other, industries? Can I possibly conflate global warming into, say, a meteor strike in Cincinatti, or something? Or was it the drought?

Wait. Ooops. Sorry about that. One of those scientists upthread said something... I just sort of went blank for a minute.
posted by mule98J at 12:20 AM on August 10, 2012


So I want some consistency from you. Deny the p-n junction and the transistor. Go be skeptical about the electron.

That was beautiful. As a fellow scientist, I salute you, sir.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:32 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everything should be eaten in moderation, of course, but there's nothing wrong with the consumption of corn. We've been eating it for almost as long as we've been farming. Humanity may not have been as successful as it is without staple crops like corn.
Guessing that most of us here and descended bodily or culturally from Old World, then no, we haven't been eating "corn" for that long. Five hundred years and little more. Maize is native to America, so has nothing to do with the vast span of farming that most of the world has experienced. There is one field of maize near where I live, and all the other corn is wheat or barley, variations of which we really have been eating since farming began. But those crops aren't anything like maize, either in their farming needs or nutrition as food.
posted by Jehan at 3:20 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Couple months back, a local animal shelter won a contest and as the prize, received three tons of cat litter. The cat litter was made out of corn.
posted by tommyD at 3:27 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh come on, there's a whole bunch of physicists, engineers, geologists and biologists ready to tell you there's nothing to climate change.
Is this sarcasm? I mean, There are lots of structural engineers who will tell you that the world trade center couldn't have been knocked down by flying jets into it. Who gives a shit what random crackpots who claim to be members of various professions think?
posted by delmoi at 3:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm taking ticket orders for the coming Godzilla-Mothra battle over climate policy: Con-Agra and the rest of Big Agro (Aggro?) on one side, Big Oil on the other. Sunday! Sunday! SEE the armies of the world destroyed! SEE the BIRTH of the world's most terrifying monster! SEE the war of the GIANTS!

I can dream, can't I? Ah hell, who am I kidding.They'll move the corn crops to countries where there's less drought, until they can't grow it any more.

Also, if corn were treated like other, unsubsidized crops, and we weren't surrounded by tons of processed food, I suspect most people wouldn't feel quite so strongly about it. It SHOULD be a food like any other, but right now, it isn't. I grew up around corn fields, so they remind me of home.
posted by Currer Belfry at 3:57 AM on August 10, 2012


Everything should be eaten in moderation, of course, but there's nothing wrong with the consumption of corn.

It's that "in moderation" thing that is tripping your theory up. Because your corn diet may not be as "moderated" as you think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:12 AM on August 10, 2012


The exclusive focus on corn is unwarranted. Various crops have been badly affected.

Jeremy Grantham's latest quarterly letter is worth reading.
posted by sfenders at 4:21 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


it's clear you don't accept science as a paradigm for understanding the world around us. So I want some consistency from you. Deny the p-n junction and the transistor. Go be skeptical about the electron.

The whole topic has become so politicized that any skeptical argument can serve only to strengthen the deranged fringe and as such it should be a matter of basic prudence to not make these kinds of arguments even if there are reasonable doubts about the validity of some result or the lack of nuance in some bit forecasting. With that in mind I think it is important to recognize that the things you mention are qualitatively different from the kinds of things that climate science observes and models and to treat both as if they were the same IMHO sets up unworkable expectations of what science can or cannot do. It doesn't and IMHO shouldn't matter whether the science is "conclusive" or not as far as determining policy response.
posted by deo rei at 4:31 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The exclusive focus on corn is unwarranted.

Our attention has been directed to corn because corn is a foundation crop at the center of a large number of industries with domestic shareholders.
posted by Miko at 5:35 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grantham article makes some clear points.

9. Strong countermeasures to prevent a food crisis would be effective in curtailing the current crisis and preventing the development of a much greater crisis, but these measures will likely not be taken. This is because the price signals for the rich countries are too weak – they can afford the higher price – and there is inertia in all parts of the system. Also, the problems of malnutrition in distant countries are not generally felt as high-order priorities in the richer countries.

This sudden agonizing really stresses me out because I've spent the last decade in the food movement - much of that being confidently smirked at by people who asserted that driving down food prices by replacing higher-quality food ingredients and inputs with lower-quality, cheaper-to-produce ones and developing new GMOs and pushing maximum yield out of every acre with intensive, advanced fertilizers would always keep us one step ahead of the world food supply, and always ensure Americans cheap food - the holy grail of the entire thought system. THere have been hundreds of canaries in this coal mine for a long time, screaming their heads off, and only now that this system is going to need a bailout and/or massive reinvestment do we hear the same predictions made by environmentalists - once called unrealistically dire Chicken-Littling - mouthed by the biggest monoculture industrial farmers and the global multinationals who depend on them for raw product.
posted by Miko at 5:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


mazola: "I have nothing against corn."

Eponysterical.
posted by dendrochronologizer at 6:24 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thus, aqueducts. Long term planning? Be prepared? It's not like this is new technology and droughts are a recent threat.

If you've got a whole lot of people who are determined to not believe in climate change, why would they agree to the construction of aqueducts?

And, aqueducts from where, to where, for how long, and who's going to pay for it? Who's going to maintain it? Who's going to decide who gets what amount of water and when? It's not like water wars are an unknown or long-ago thing, and that's without hand-wavey "aqueducts!" as a proposed solution.
posted by rtha at 6:25 AM on August 10, 2012


There is no such thing as global warming. This is a giant hoax by the powers that be.

*looks around*

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS GLOBAL WARMING I TELL YOU

*melts into puddle*

GLUB NO SUCH THING GLUB



/sigh at least that made me feel better for a moment
posted by infini at 6:28 AM on August 10, 2012


Just plant corn, beans, and squash all together. Why? The beans help the cornstalk grow stronger while the broad squash leaves provide shade to retain moisture.

I'd bet modifying current planters to do this wouldn't be that hard. The real trick will be creating a combine or similar piece of equipment to harvest it. Do that and you'll quickly find yourself among the richest people in the world.

No farmer would turn down a lower input farming method, the trick is to keep the economies of scale that single crop fields provide.
posted by VTX at 6:31 AM on August 10, 2012


No farmer would turn down a lower input farming method

Sure they would, if they can't get loans and lines of credit by farming with that method. And that system serves the interests of everyone other than farmers/consumers.

he trick is to keep the economies of scale that single crop fields provide.

Or settle for less yield per acre, or the same, but more sustainable due to water and soil conservation or lower input.
posted by Miko at 6:44 AM on August 10, 2012


I assume the aquaducts are to be from the great lakes, but... uh... topography? The pumping costs alone would be astounding.

Or settle for less yield per acre, or the same, but more sustainable due to water and soil conservation or lower input.

Crop prices would need to rise, if the low-yield path is going to make sense. I know, people have been saying that for a long time, but there is an enormous system built on the low commodity prices, and changing that is going to have some huge ripples.
posted by Forktine at 6:51 AM on August 10, 2012



Crop prices would need to rise, if the low-yield path is going to make sense.


They're rising anyway, and in a sudden and painful way.

there is an enormous system built on the low commodity prices, and changing that is going to have some huge ripples.

We're experiencing the ripples of this system already and it's just the beginning. There's been a wholesale short-time slaughter of beef already, because ranchers can't feed the animals, meaning a bunch of cheap beef hits the market and after it's gone, prices are about to skyrocket. Meat prices are already starting to make the humanely raised meats in our local farmer's market look a lot less steep.
posted by Miko at 6:56 AM on August 10, 2012


Science Friday on drought

On Point on drought
posted by Miko at 6:57 AM on August 10, 2012


Mitt Romney, four years ago:
Let Detroit Go Bankrupt
" If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed."


Mitt Romney, two days ago:
We’re cognizant of the fact, across the country, of the impact of the drought and are concerned about what this is doing in the agriculture community and in various industries and employers that rely on agriculture and are looking for ways to help the farmers and those that are going to be most effected by the drought.”

Really, where are the calls from the GOP for no farming bailouts and no socialized food?! Let the American auto industry farmer fail!

You think they'd be threatening never to buy US-grown food ever again, and would've started importing all their food from Japan by now.
posted by markkraft at 7:05 AM on August 10, 2012


U.S. to resume beef imports from Japan after two-year ban
posted by infini at 7:08 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our attention has been directed to corn because corn is a foundation crop at the center of a large number of industries with domestic shareholders.

I'd like to think it being the first word in the post title contributed a little.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:08 AM on August 10, 2012


Perhaps some of the vituperation ought to be saved for the guy who's biting off rattlesnake heads and telling his children that the Bible tells him (every night) that all scientists are going to hell and anyone who listens to them will be dipped up to his lips in boiling shit until the loving jesus comes back to step on his head and put him out of his misery.

Yeah, but there are three of those guys, and they don't vote because Leviticus says that all ballot boxes are to be made from cordwood bound with the horn from a snowy white ram slaughtered in a box canyon under the third waxing moon ps no gayzzz. What's a lot more dangerous are the scads of fools who repeat ad nauseum these bs talking points, doing so not because they have a legitimate scientific argument but rather because how dare you imply they should pay a pittance more in taxes just because it would make the world a better place. Got no time for that shit. That's the backstory.
posted by samofidelis at 7:31 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know why people demonize corn so much. . . Everything should be eaten in moderation, of course, but there's nothing wrong with the consumption of corn.

The thing is, the kind of corn that's being grown on megafarms in Iowa is not the corn that you eat at the supermarket. It's not fit for human consumption even if we wanted to eat it. It's only good for turning it into other things like ethanol, HFCS or animal feed. It's not food so much as an input into the industrial supply chain. So talking about using that food to feed to poor rather than cars is a moot point. The country is so entrenched in the corn that even if we wanted to use that land to grow edible fruits and vegetables or as pasture for livestock it would take a fundamental change in the economy to make the transition. So it's not corn that's being demonized so much as the messed-up agricultural policy that puts all of our figurative eggs into growing only a few different crops.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:32 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Um, irrigation? Aqueducts? Hello?

Aqueducts from where and irrigation with what?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 AM on August 10, 2012


I assume the aquaducts are to be from the great lakes

Ya, there are a bunch of people in Michigan with guns who are really, really opposed to that idea.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:49 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


So it's not corn that's being demonized so much as the messed-up agricultural policy that puts all of our figurative eggs into growing only a few different crops.

Strange to think that the key to changing that policy would be altering the electoral primary schedule.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:56 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thus, aqueducts. Long term planning? Be prepared? It's not like this is new technology and droughts are a recent threat.

From where are they going to get the water to fill these aqueducts? The Plains are uphill from most water sources, and they are already using the ones they are downhill from.
posted by gjc at 7:58 AM on August 10, 2012


No farmer would turn down a lower input farming method

Sure they would, if they can't get loans and lines of credit by farming with that method. And that system serves the interests of everyone other than farmers/consumers


Once it's shown to be an effective technique, this problem goes away. There are probably larger factory farm operations that could afford to experiment with it as long as it only requires cheap modifications to existing equipment rather than a whole new machine.

Or settle for less yield per acre, or the same, but more sustainable due to water and soil conservation or lower input.

It might yield less in terms of corn per acre but the other crops make up for it. It "should" end up with more dollars per acre. At least, I think that is part of what Vozworth is asserting. If those three crops all help the others grow better with fewer inputs, higher net output should be the result.
posted by VTX at 8:03 AM on August 10, 2012


The country is so entrenched in the corn that even if we wanted to use that land to grow edible fruits and vegetables or as pasture for livestock it would take a fundamental change in the economy to make the transition. So it's not corn that's being demonized so much as the messed-up agricultural policy that puts all of our figurative eggs into growing only a few different crops.

I don't think you can really grow fruits and vegetables on prairie land like you can grains. I could be wrong about that, but I thought those needed more coastal or valley types of land and climate.

(We are also similarly entrenched in soybeans.)
posted by gjc at 8:13 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing is, the kind of corn that's being grown on megafarms in Iowa is not the corn that you eat at the supermarket. It's not fit for human consumption even if we wanted to eat it.

Err... what? You definitely can eat field corn. if you eat it fresh, it is not going to taste as good as sweet corn grown for that purpose, but it is certainly safe for consumption. Field corn is consumed by humans all the time in the form of things like corn meal, corn starch, tortillas etc.
posted by nolnacs at 8:31 AM on August 10, 2012


I assume the aquaducts are to be from the great lakes,

BIG assumption. There's a great FPP to be made about the political fighting regarding Great Lakes water rights. Inter and intra-state competition, judicial rulings, suits and counter-suits, bluster and threats from various state officials - it is quite interesting stuff.

previously

'For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.' - H.L. Menken
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2012


I assume the aquaducts are to be from the great lakes,

First, you'd have to get more water TO the great lakes. A somewhat difficult project. It's probably easier to develop cost-effective fusion power and use it for desalination.
posted by sfenders at 9:05 AM on August 10, 2012


Aqueducts from where and irrigation with what?

We use Brawndo, obviously.
posted by Bort at 9:24 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Because your corn diet may not be as "moderated" as you think.

Oh yeah, because I just shovel corn down my throat left and right. GIMME MOAR CORN PLZKTHX.

Cut the crap. I'm capable of reading labels and home-make everything whenever I can. I eat corn probably twice a month. But thanks for assuming!

The thing is, the kind of corn that's being grown on megafarms in Iowa is not the corn that you eat at the supermarket. It's not fit for human consumption even if we wanted to eat it. It's only good for turning it into other things like ethanol, HFCS or animal feed. It's not food so much as an input into the industrial supply chain. So talking about using that food to feed to poor rather than cars is a moot point. The country is so entrenched in the corn that even if we wanted to use that land to grow edible fruits and vegetables or as pasture for livestock it would take a fundamental change in the economy to make the transition. So it's not corn that's being demonized so much as the messed-up agricultural policy that puts all of our figurative eggs into growing only a few different crops.

Actually my comment was more directed toward someone upthread who said corn is not eaten in their house. Not that I'm trying to ostracize them for that, but it got me thinking about corn and wheat demonization. I do believe consuming too much wheat is bad, and too much corn is bad. But you can't really eat too much fish either (mercury poisoning), and too much red meat is said to raise cholesterol. So that's what I bring up moderation. Eating too much of one thing can be bad.

HFCS, well, I think we as a society could do without it, but I'm pretty sure that's everyone's opinion. (By everyone, I mean 'most people'.)

Guessing that most of us here and descended bodily or culturally from Old World, then no, we haven't been eating "corn" for that long. Five hundred years and little more. Maize is native to America, so has nothing to do with the vast span of farming that most of the world has experienced. There is one field of maize near where I live, and all the other corn is wheat or barley, variations of which we really have been eating since farming began. But those crops aren't anything like maize, either in their farming needs or nutrition as food.

Um. Five hundred years? Check your facts.
posted by Malice at 9:30 AM on August 10, 2012


Cut the crap. I'm capable of reading labels and home-make everything whenever I can.

A lot of people aren't/can't/don't. So where you said Everything should be eaten in moderation, of course, - well, easier said than done for a lot of people in the U.S. whose consumption is not moderate because corn is in a lot of things you (general you) might not think of, not mention people across the planet for whom corn is a staple.
posted by rtha at 9:41 AM on August 10, 2012


Cut the crap. I'm capable of reading labels and home-make everything whenever I can. I eat corn probably twice a month. But thanks for assuming!

I don't live in your house and thus I don't know that. So dial back the righteous indignation just a scoche.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


From where are they going to get the water to fill these aqueducts?

Um, stillsuits? Hello?
posted by The Bellman at 9:47 AM on August 10, 2012


Um. Five hundred years? Check your facts.

The quoted post meant that those descended from the "Old World" (Europe, Asia, Africa) have only been eating corn for 500 years, because before that it was only found in the "New World". Of course corn in general is far older.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:19 AM on August 10, 2012


Just plant corn, beans, and squash all together. Why? The beans help the cornstalk grow stronger while the broad squash leaves provide shade to retain moisture.

It might yield less in terms of corn per acre but the other crops make up for it. It "should" end up with more dollars per acre. At least, I think that is part of what Vozworth is asserting. If those three crops all help the others grow better with fewer inputs, higher net output should be the result.


Just to be clear, Three Sisters planting is not viable for industrial applications for a variety of reasons;existing strategies of machine harvesting wouldn't work, for starters, due to the multilayered distribution and variable harvest times of the crops. A bigger problem is that the hybrid corn that is grown industrially cannot support the weight of beans; it is already engineered to be completely dependent on fertilizer input for growth, as without it the stalk cannot even hold up the weight of the ears of corn. Only heritage varieties are any good for that kind of guild planting, and their yields are much lower.

One reason monocropping is so attractive is because fields are easily tended to by machine, due to the extremely regular distribution of plant, which allows one person to work up to 150 acres of land. Lower input planting strategies are not viable under current market conditions, as they will require an enormous shift in the labour force back towards farming. I mean, they work for boutique produce, but there is no way they can be made to produce the quantity of feed corn, wheat, canola, soybeans, etc that we are used to anywhere remotely as efficiently.
posted by mek at 11:23 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


That's not to say agroecological farming is impossible, far from it. It's also true that yield-per-acre of polycultures are higher with less inputs, up to 50% higher than commercial farming practices. But they are much, much more labour intensive. (Green jobs!)
posted by mek at 11:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lower input planting strategies are not viable under current market conditions, as they will require an enormous shift in the labour force back towards farming.

Considering the rapidly disappearing jobs of any kind (beyond "servant to the elites," which is rather limiting in scope), I have a hard time seeing that as a bad thing.

As far as the "I eat no corn" assertions, that may be true in your case, but it's a lot harder to avoid completely than most people think. Even if you're not eating it, odds are excellent you're eating or drinking out of it, sitting on it, wearing it, opening packages made from it, sweeping or painting with it or writing on it, putting it on your baby's bottom (not just powder, but diapers as well), taking medication made from/with it, or otherwise encountering it in your daily life. Breakdowns of corn's major uses from Reuters, Ingredients derived from corn from Live Corn Free, some non-food items to avoid if you are allergic, and this straightforward pdf poster from the National Corn Growers Association all make it pretty plain that avoiding corn takes a hell of a lot more effort than most people are able to put into it.
posted by notashroom at 12:04 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


A bigger problem is that the hybrid corn that is grown industrially cannot support the weight of beans.

This is not that big a problem. The corn is designed to have a stalk that is just strong enough to support the plant so that it makes better silage for cows or something (from potentially poorly remembered conversations with my FIL who used to sell seed corn). Even if it isn't, corn can be developed to have stronger stalks that would support the beans or the beans could be developed to better support the corn. Creating a cheap way to modify existing machinery to be able to harvest stuff grown this way is going to be the biggest problem, I think.
posted by VTX at 12:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


samofidelis: "I want to respond intelligently to your remarks but at this point I do not think any climate change deniers are capable of intellectually honest debate. If you are willing to discount the massively overwhelming number of scientists who have presented convincing arguments demonstrating the existence of anthropogenic climate change, and instead choose to cling to pseudo-science and quackery that masquerades as... hell, I can't even think of what to call it. It's bullshit. It's bullshit, and you know it, and I know it, but you suffer from the American Disease... I'm a scientist. You know what I'm great at? Admitting when I'm wrong. I have cultivated this skill. Dude, climate change is real. You want to deny its effects? Ok, but you have to give me something else -- it's clear you don't accept science as a paradigm for understanding the world around us. So I want some consistency from you. Deny the p-n junction and the transistor. Go be skeptical about the electron."

Yo, samo: Nuts to you. And to everyone who dog-piled on me -WTF??? Where in my comment did I say that I am a "climate change denier?" And what in my comment indicated that I either believe or don't believe in anthropogenic origins of any climate change? Where is the evidence that I "cling to pseudo-science and quackery?"

My point was that cries of "hottest month EVAR!!!!" is hyperbolic - accurate, modern weather records only go back 130+ or so years - and even semi-accurate records only go back at best several centuries - and in the billions-and-billions-of-years span of Earth's existence, those decades and even several centuries don't even register as a blip.

I just hate when folks trot out imprecise language to bolster their own claims - "Oh, hottest month in history? Gosh, we're destroying the planet!!!!!"

Hey samo - what's that? You're great at admitting that you're wrong? Prove it.
posted by davidmsc at 12:25 PM on August 10, 2012


Ya, there are a bunch of people in Michigan with guns who are really, really opposed to that idea.

Ooh, scary, people with guns. Yeah, I don't think that's ever stopped a major infrastructure initiative. Not that I think that's a good idea.

I fully agree that monculture industrial farming will not work with existing harvesting technologies. We do need to shift labor back into food production, and prices will rise. But prices are going to rise anyway, because input prices (especially petrochemicals) will rise and are already rising, and environmental conditions are getting more hostile.

I don't think you can really grow fruits and vegetables on prairie land like you can grains. I could be wrong about that, but I thought those needed more coastal or valley types of land and climate.

Certain kinds of land and soil and climate play to certain strengths. but if you're pushing for sustainable yield rather than short-term maximum yield, yes of course you can grow other things on the plains. People did it for generations before industrial monoculture came along.

Also, it makes sense not to try to combat climates to grow things that don't want to grow there, because that requires highest inputs (ie, spinach and lettuce in the desert, a current abomination). In New England, we have loads and loads of arable land lying fallow. We have lots of rocky, high ground which is perfect pastureland, and we left behind a pasturage meat economy when cheaper meats started coming in from the West as the meat industry consolidated more and more. We gutted our dairy industry too, in the name of price controls. Lots of people are working to bring these industries back, in a place where they can thrive without relying on bizarre and totally unnatural practices like feeding cows corn. Meanwhile, we do not generate masses of grain in New England - it's a challenging grain climate. But there are people who have gone back to historical sources to identify varieties of hard winter wheat and rye grain that do go really well here, and bringing those long-estranged crops back into cultivation.

There's no one simple solution to this issue, but there is a combined abundance of solutions. If we keep saying "but no one solution will replace the kind of scenario we have with industrial megafarming," that will remain correct - no one solution will. But we also don't have a solution to continue industrial megafarming, so that's sort of moot. We have to transition away from it. The GMO report was entirely right in faulting not imagination or solutions, but the initiative to change. Change makes it difficult for the currently highly invested moneyed interests to maintain industry control, and of course they oppose that. They'd still rather look for ways to drive down the price of oil to move water and food around -- drill, baby, drill, tap ANWAR and go to war if you have to - than embrace the solutions that would require them to operate at less profit margin in a much more farmer-empowered environment.
posted by Miko at 1:03 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Our attention has been directed to corn because corn is a foundation crop at the center of a large number of industries with domestic shareholders.

I'd like to think it being the first word in the post title contributed a little.


By "our" I mean not just people in MetaFilter, but the American public consuming mass media. We read about corn because big rich companies are most concerned about corn and thus they want us to read about corn, and to be scared about what we read, enough to support their political initiatives.

Some other crops are having an extremely miserable year, too (dairy, beef, hay). And some, like the Northwest apple crop, and many grape crops, peaches, and also beans, are having a great year. It is a good idea to take a broader view.

Our problem is not drought exactly, which could be endured far better with wiser approaches, but a lack of resilient policies and an overly corn- and soy-dependent food economy.
posted by Miko at 1:15 PM on August 10, 2012


In New England, we have loads and loads of arable land lying fallow.

The first time I flew over the northeast in a small airplane, my mind was blown. Miles and miles and miles of trees (the most treecover since European settlement, I think) where there were once farms.

But a lot of the west is similar -- out in what are now big national forests you can find the remnants of old farmsteads and ranches. In ye olde days, even with a much smaller population, people had to use the land far more intensively than we do now. Farming is so much more productive that we can afford to let vast tracts of land revert to a more natural state. Moving towards lower yields agriculture with more labor is also going to mean putting back into production a lot of land that is currently in conservation easements or designated as state or federal parklands, and accepting the ecological cost of that.
posted by Forktine at 1:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


oving towards lower yields agriculture with more labor is also going to mean putting back into production a lot of land that is currently in conservation easements or designated as state or federal parklands

Oh, I think that's a really overblown fear. A big leap to say that we'd need to do that. I don't think that's a supportable assertion; there are a LOT of things we can do to increase food production state by state before that becomes necessary. When I talk about arable land in New England I'm excluding entirely conservation land. So for one thing, a few of our states now give conservation easements to organic farms, holding down the tax value and preventing subdivision in order to keep these active farms. There is much fallow land that is associated with homes in older towns and in rural areas that has simply gone out of production. Now that mill/industrial sites have been out of commission in some cases for decades, there are many acres that can be remediated and put into agricultural production (because those jobs have gone bye-bye long ago and don't look to be coming back). Constraining development is a much readier way to preserve and renew access to farmland than is cutting into parkland - which, for the most part, we simply can't legally do anyway. The New England Farm and Food Security group is currently identifying the potentially available farmland and making recommendations for developing it agriculturally, a process which will involve state and local governments and newly formed Agricultural Commissions, which are popping up in more and more regional communities. Most definitely the problem is not "how do we get back into conservation land" but "how can we prevent the mass sell-off of millions of arable acres into residential/commercial development and how can we get fallow farmland back into production." We are producing a tiny fraction of what we consume in this region, usually put at about 8% across the six states, and yet we actually have the capacity right now to produce 20% (like Maine does), and with policy change could dramatically increase that. Maine has the goal of reaching self-sustaining levels of food production in the 21st century and is well on its way; it ssubgoal is producing 80% of their own state's food needs by 2020.
posted by Miko at 1:35 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, I think that's a really overblown fear.

Sadly, no it's not. In response to the current drought, CRP land has been already reopened for haying and grazing, for example. A lot of the land that has come out of production is in temporary protection programs like that, and will go out of those programs as soon as prices rise enough. Land that came out of production a long time back is often now owned by the state or the feds in one category or another, and reopening that for grazing or even crops would be a fairly straightforward process. Very little is designated "wilderness" (and little of that is pristine wilderness; much was logged, grazed, etc back in the day, and could easily be again), and instead has multiuse designations that already allow extractive uses under current rules.

There are about 18 million acres in permanent conservation easements nationally, which sounds like a lot but is about the same as the national forest acreage in Oregon alone; it's also a total hodgepodge of what is or is not prohibited in each easement and who administers them. If crop prices went high enough, at a minimum you would start seeing acreage swaps, allowing prime farmland to come out of protection in exchange for unfarmable land.

The biggest restrictions on this in the west currently would probably come from ESA limitations, but again if there was any sense of national emergency ESA would go the way of the dodo in moments. I don't know the regulatory issues in the east as well, but I'm willing to bet real money that if there was a serious drought or farming emergency that all those hills that were once hardscrabble farms and are now state forest land would revert to agricultural use in a hurry.
posted by Forktine at 3:12 PM on August 10, 2012


Hey samo - what's that? You're great at admitting that you're wrong? Prove it.
posted by davidmsc at 14:25 on August 10 [+] [!]


No. And here's why: it's astonishingly impressive, since it is an irrefutable trend that year-on-year, the planet is getting hotter. If we had one quirky month? Sure. But you know that this is not the case.

'Statistical anomalies are to be expected occasionally!' has been too often repeated in the recent discussion of climate change to believe that those who trot it out are doing so honestly. It smacks of talking points. Because of course, we should expect anomalies -- Try to fake a coin flip 100 times, and write down the heads and tails pattern you think would occur. Now, flip 100 coins; write down the result. You're not going to feel confident writing 6 heads in a row in your faked data; your instinct will be to fudge it so that there is never more than, say, three heads in a row. But there's a significant chance that you'll get a run 6 or 7 long. Of course we should expect anomalies, and if most of the recent temperature data had clustered around the historical mean, one hot month would be a fluke.

But that is not what we have here -- there is a clear trend in the recent data. If you dislike the directly recorded data, I would suggest you consult the historical record -- unfortunately, climate change deniers have refused to even consider the possibility that the hockey stick curve might be real. So.

Yeah, it is impressive. And it is deeply troubling. Find something else to scoff at.
posted by samofidelis at 3:41 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


In response to the current drought, CRP land has been already reopened for haying and grazing, for example.

I really don't know the Western context and I'm sure this is the case, but to me this is an example of letting the industrial interests lead the way and having them set the public agenda - exactly what I'm arguing against.
posted by Miko at 4:36 PM on August 10, 2012


I thought of a better way to say that. There's a difference between what is politically allowed to happen under pressure from big agriculture, and what is necessary to produce food. It's definitely not necessary to use public land to produce food - at least not until we've exhausted all other options, which we are a long long way from doing.
posted by Miko at 5:28 PM on August 10, 2012


Today, 36 states are projecting water shortages next year. For regulators, it's hard to limit use. Especially in Texas, where groundwater is part of your private property.
posted by rtha at 5:56 PM on August 10, 2012


Policy.
posted by Miko at 7:08 PM on August 10, 2012


If I had three wishes.

1. To know all the knowledge of mankind ever.
2. To live until I choose to die.
3. Corn ceases to exist on Earth. As of now.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 7:40 PM on August 10, 2012


Congress hangs farmers out to dry - A bad omen for future climate shock: Congress can't even pass a bill to help parched farmers
posted by homunculus at 11:19 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Crop data gives drought-stricken farmers a leg up on getting by with less: New technology spells out solutions for conserving resources as severe weather forces US farmers into survival mode
posted by homunculus at 11:22 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


U.S. Drought Exposes “Hydro-Illogical” Water Management
posted by infini at 2:59 AM on August 11, 2012


Oil companies desperately seek water amid Kansas drought: Oil companies in southern Kansas desperate for water for fracking are resorting to extreme measures like digging their own ponds and water wells.
posted by homunculus at 10:51 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not just in the US:

Climate Change and the Fate of a Million Kids
If you had to pick ground zero for climate change, you might pick the Sahel, the grasslands between the Sahara in the north and African tropical rainforests in the south. The region is immensely fertile—when it isn't being slammed by recurrent droughts and floods. Many human lives are suspended in a fragile balance with the volatile climate of this region.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2012


US Drought and Climate Change
“In any single event, it’s hard to really know if you’re just seeing a natural variation or climate change,” cautioned climatologist Chris Funk of the University of California, Santa Barbara. With that caveat, Funk said when asked if human activity exacerbated the drought, “Tentatively, the answer is yes. To some extent, it is.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:56 PM on August 14, 2012


Sprawl and America's Awful Drought
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:05 PM on August 14, 2012


The Marcellus Effect: Climate Change hits Drillers (and others) with Water Woes

Many well users find their faucets are running dry
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:28 AM on August 15, 2012


Extreme Weather
But natural cycles can’t by themselves explain the recent streak of record-breaking disasters. Something else is happening too: The Earth is steadily getting warmer, with significantly more moisture in the atmosphere. Decades of observations from the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, as well as from thousands of other weather stations, satellites, ships, buoys, deep-ocean probes, and balloons, show that a long-term buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is trapping heat and warming up the land, oceans, and atmosphere. Although some places, notably the Arctic, are warming faster than others, the average surface temperature worldwide has risen nearly one degree Fahrenheit in the past four decades. In 2010 it reached 58.12°F, tying the record set in 2005.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:10 AM on August 16, 2012


US biofuel production should be suspended, UN says

The United Nations (UN) food agency has called on the United States to suspend its production of biofuel ethanol.

Under US law, 40% of the corn harvest must be used to make biofuel, a quota which the UN says could contribute to a food crisis around the world.

A drought and heatwave across the US has destroyed much of the country's corn crop, driving up prices.

The US argues that producing much of its own fuel, rather than importing it, is good for the country.

posted by infini at 11:10 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


This Year's Drought Is So Severe, You Can See Its Toll on the Mississippi River From Space
posted by homunculus at 9:53 AM on August 22, 2012


Mayan Tree Chopping May Have Worsened Droughts, and Contributed to The Civilization’s Demise
posted by homunculus at 5:30 PM on August 22, 2012


Drought now visible from space: Wired compares NASA satellite photos of Tunica, MS, from last year's flood to this year's drought. And informs us:
"Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers say that the low water levels — and attending barge traffic jams, closed ports, and closed river sections — will continue until October. The direct costs are staggering: NASA explains that a loss of just one inch of draft can require a ship to run with 17 tons less cargo. A major drought in 1988, one that set the record for water level at minus 10.7 feet, brought an estimated $1 billion in losses to the barge industry that year."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:03 PM on August 22, 2012


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