Monday, March 2, 2009

Home Agriculture

A rather nasty Monday morning has developed north of the Florida Keys. The islands are bathed in sunlight after a cold and windy night, and temperatures are hovering around 68 degrees (20C) which is pleasant enough compared to the record snowfalls closing schools Up North. The stock market which is become meaningful only as a barometer of confidence, not a measure of wealth, is slipping down further and further below levels last seen in 1997. Two economic voices I listen to are talking about farming. All of which makes me wonder.
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I read Jim Roger's Investment Biker, a book about travelling the world on a BMW and selecting countries to invest in. I enjoyed the travelogue but ignored the investment advice. I have never found money to be that interesting, perhaps because I have always had enough. Politics struck me as a much more worthy subject when i was younger and hoped that a better world might be forthcoming in my lifetime. I still hold out that hope, but politics has been exposed to me irrevocably as being in thrall to economics, and so I set myself to wondering whither economies.
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The other Jim is James Kunstler, who rejoices in an all-Anglo-Saxon last name and thus appears to find himself obliged to title his weekly column on the economy equally baldly: Clusterfuck Nation. Which, if nothing else makes it awkward to read at work. Kunstler is convinced all is lost and we are bound for a future very different from the immediate past, a place deprived of cheap oil and forced to operate on very small economies of scale. Kunstler's future seems to look like clusters of medieval villages, self sufficient and connected to others by trains. What he calls the "era of Happy Motoring" is coming to a close, and with it's demise the end of suburbia.
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Jim Rogers took himself and his family off to the overpopulated island fortress of Singapore (which produces no food at all for it's people) to sit out the coming clusterfuck and he continues to suggest investing against the stock market, shorting stocks and buying commodities. In a world losing it's economic base Rogers suggests there will be opportunities to invest and he is looking at things of real value. Rogers says the future will see very little capital available to expand production of commodities and they will thus become scarce, mines oil wells and agriculture will all have to get by on what they have, and we will be able to consume only as much as they produce, which he thinks won't be enough.
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Which leads me to wonder what next? The two voices of the apocalypse both see agriculture as the next lynch pin that appears ready to fail. Modern agriculture is Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland, and piles of oil by-products for fertilizer. It is no longer the family farmer growing crops, it's farmers as corporate representatives growing inedible corn fructose like their peasant counter parts across the rest of the world growing cash crops like coffee and cocaine not edible crops as their ancestors used to.
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So what happens when farmers need to borrow money to grow food this spring? Instead of subsidizing banks which has led to no easing of credit perhaps we will see the government printing fresh bundles of money to allow farmers to grow crops, and we have to hope they will be instructed to grow food we eat, if they remember how. I am watching my own vegetable beds sprout and realise how inadequate my back yard efforts are. Feed myself? All I can do is offer myself a shrunken diet of greens if I'm lucky, while I wonder what happens to the rest of our food supply. I hope someone in charge is thinking about the supply too.

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