Tom Philpott of Mother Jones has put together a nice story on environmental destruction as a result of government corn and soy policy: "Goodbye Grasslands, Hello Corn."
So why would farmers plow up such risky land? Simple: Federal policy has made it a high-reward, tiny-risk proposition. Prices for corn and soy doubled in real terms between 2006 and 2011, the authors note, driven up byfederal corn-ethanol mandates and relentless Wall Street speculation. Then there's federally subsidized crop insurance, the authors add. When farmers manage to tease a decent crop out of their marginal land, they're rewarded with high prices for their crop. But if the crop fails, subsidized insurance guarantees a decent return. Essentially, federal farm policy, through the ethanol mandate and the insurance program, is underwriting the expansion of corn and soy agriculture at precisely the time it should be shrinking.
I discussed these types of subsidies in my recent interview with Ilana Mercer. I also answered the question, Why are high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil in everything? Answer: Corn and soybean subsidies from the period 1995 - 2011 totaled $108 billion. Corn and soy make up almost half of all U.S. farmland. Most of this is GM (genetically modified) foods, allowing the agricultural industry to serve its masters who are the beneficiaries of political-business alliances under the Big Biotech umbrella: Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and Tyson. Notes Philpott, in an older article for Mother Jones:
And the economic pie these companies gorge on is massive. Pesticide Action Network's Heather Pilatic has an great post about how integrated pest management in US corn fields collapsed with the introduction of Monsanto's seeds engineered to contain the pesticide Bt and with the rise of Bayer's neonicotinoid-pesticide seed treatments—representing billions in annual sales to those companies. On the corn-processing side, government mandates ensure that a huge portion of the corn crop—currently, 40 percent—gets diverted into the fuel supply in the form of ethanol, a huge boon to ethanol giant Archer Daniels Midland.
As Tom reports, 2 million acres of prime grazing lands were destroyed in a five year period in the western corn belt to make way for more Big Ag-Big Government monoculture. The leading experts making the case against ruinous monoculture have been Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan. For further education on the topic, see Michael Pollan's talk, "Polycultures: A Step in the Right Direction" at the Georgia Organics Conference.