Corn reserves are at their lowest point in 15 years, as prices skyrocketed nearly 70 percent in almost one year. Escalating world wheat prices have caused unrest in the Middle East. Soy, dairy and meat prices are likewise reaching record levels. In other words, a growing world population, increased affluence abroad and demands for higher-priced meats and vegetables, and diversion of prime cropland for biofuel from Europe to Brazil -- in perfect-storm fashion -- have made food a lucrative business.
We need a drastic reset of agricultural policy. The use of prime ag land to grow corn varieties for ethanol biofuel makes no sense. Why divert farmland for fuels when the world's poor are short of food, and there are millions of un-farmable areas in Alaska and the arid West, as well as off the American coast, that are either not being tapped for more efficient gas and oil or are only partially exploited?
When North Americans do not fully utilize their own fossil-fuel resources, two very bad things usually follow: one, someone else in Africa, Asia or Russia is far more likely to harm the environment to provide us oil; two, precious farmland will be diverted to growing less-efficient biofuels instead of food -- and billions worldwide pay the price.
No supporter has ever been able to explain why the advent of massive subsidies over the last half-century coincided with the decline, not the renaissance, of "family farmers." Nor has anyone offered reasons why cotton, wheat, soy, sugar and corn are directly subsidized, but not, for example, nuts, peaches or carrots.
Finally, the United States is supposed to be the world's premier free-market economy, based on the principles that competition is good, and that entrepreneurs freely reacting to markets create more wealth when unfettered by government red tape. Why, then, would the conservative agribusiness community want government intrusion that warps world food markets, ends up hurting the global poor, and contributes to an unsustainable national debt?
In the next few years, conservatives are going to have to cut entitlements and social spending. To retain their credibility, they must apply the same standards of fiscal responsibility to agribusiness that they will have to apply to other areas.