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VOL: CCCXVIII NO: 15 Serving the North Quabbin Region Since 1934
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Monday, October 20, 2014

home : opinion : editorial October 20, 2014

10/9/2012 1:36:00 PM
Crop shortage should provoke policy changes

Autumn. The air cools, the leaves turn color and Midwest farmers deliver another corn crop to waiting bins.

Just one problem: Not enough corn.

Not enough standing in fields to be harvested. Not enough stashed in bins from previous harvests. Not nearly enough.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported recently that America's grain stockpiles stand at the lowest level in eight years. The shortage comes as farmers plant fence row to fence row in the interest of maximizing their crops.

This summer's terrible drought will cut deeply into future supplies -- but that's not why the bins stand as empty as they do today. The 2012 harvest, though ahead of schedule, is just getting under way in the northern tier of the Corn Belt.

The bins are depleted because demand for corn from previous harvests has run stronger than anticipated. High prices have not greatly deterred the world's appetite for American grain. The amount of corn on hand in the U.S. has dwindled from more than 6 billion bushels as of March 1 to less than 1 billion as of Sept. 1.

The consequences of this shortage are starting to show up in the marketplace. Wealthier countries such as the United States will experience rising prices for meat and dairy products as a result of higher animal-feed costs. In poorer nations, food will become scarce and increasingly unaffordable for the most vulnerable parts of the population. Hunger will be on the rise. Civil unrest could follow, as it has during food shortages in the past.

The only good part of this scenario is that it should provoke U.S. lawmakers to get serious and reform federal farm policies. Gridlock and inaction on Capitol Hill unwittingly provide the opportunity for a wholesale rethinking of business as usual on the farm.

This summer, Congress failed to approve a proposed five-year renewal of the farm bill, the legislation that governs agriculture policy as well as the food stamp program for the poor.

Here's hoping that the recent report and others like it highlighting the need for food will change the debate in Washington.

We're confident that U.S. farmers would do better, not worse, if they were freed from the red tape and nanny-state handouts that have characterized decade after decade of farm bills. A hungry world awaits. Members of Congress, let the grain shortfall of 2012 provoke a policy overhaul.

(c)2012 Chicago Tribune

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