President Joe Biden has kicked off an “Investing in Rural America Events Series,” which he claims will boost economic growth in rural America and bolster farms. However, inspecting under the hood of the new $5 billion in Inflation Reduction Act spending reveals that “climate-smart” agriculture is geek-speak for selling farmers renewable energy technologies and little else. Not much in the proposed funding concerns farming directly; mostly, it is a sales tour for solar panels and other green gimmicks.
A White House Fact Sheet outlines some of the details:
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is announcing nearly $1.7 billion in funding to support the adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices, which have direct climate mitigation benefits, advance a host of other environmental co-benefits, and offer farmers, ranchers, and foresters new revenue streams.”
Selling Gadgets to Farmers
This election-eve spending push to woo rural Americans promises goodies, though it appears chiefly to guarantee expanded revenues for solar panel and generator manufacturers, internet installers, and other sellers of high-tech products to farmers. The “smartest” climate agriculture incorporates soil-restorative practices, particularly rotationally grazed livestock that sequester massive amounts of carbon dioxide without the need to produce more techno-toys for corporate profit. Though a few aspects of the proposed spending may support these best practices, most will churn out more manufacturing pollution in the short term and do little to spark any “new” agricultural revenue streams.
Some of the proposals are simply counter-productive to environmental health. The USDA is dispatching $900 million “to spur the production of independent, American-made fertilizer,” which will fortify sales and investment for yet another chemical corporation while undermining environmental health: Synthetic fertilizers destroy the soil, increasing erosion, water loss, and waterway pollution. The best fertilizer is manure – but no corporation holds the patents or production rights to peddle that product to farmers.
Helping Farmers or Manufacturers?
Other parts of the package do not help farmers increase sales. The USDA announced that $19.5 billion will be directed to conservation programs. These do not boost agricultural production or create “new markets” for farmers, unless the administration is referring to sales of carbon credits to polluting companies (including those manufacturing solar panels for rural display). A paltry $5 million is allocated to “further increase the availability of renewable, homegrown biofuels,” which might enhance farm commodity sales for corn and other crops but adversely impacts soils using GMO methodology and likely pollutes more than it saves, as ethanol production has demonstrated.
Expanding internet access also sells tech products rather than food: The White House Fact Sheet states that $274 million is dedicated to expanding rural high-speed internet, and that in total “the Biden-Harris Administration is investing $90 billion to deliver affordable high-speed internet to everyone in America, including in rural communities that often lack access to high-speed internet.” It is not clear how internet technology improves the ecosystem (or climate), but to the extent it benefits farmers, it seems a devil’s bargain – it is corporate America that ultimately gets most of the revenue generated by this spending. Imagine if instead the government spent $90 billion on regenerative farming or buying organic foods to donate to inner city poor – that would be selling farmers’ goods and opening markets. This rural rebuilding tour is the other way around.
Biden Seeding More Inflation
For decades, elite urbanites have tended to sneer at rural Americans and farmers while extracting wealth from the country for city living. Now, the same cadre that destroyed family farms pretends to give them a late leg up by exploiting them to sell billions of dollars of government-subsidized or -financed non-agricultural products. This is the opposite of “building and keeping wealth in rural America,” as is claimed by the USDA and the Biden administration.
To be fair, there are some much-needed supports in this spending plan. They are just puny in contrast to the big-money spending on manufactured products that have nothing to do with food production, let alone environmental stewardship. Expanding slaughter and processing facilities is a boon for farmers, though passage of the PRIME Act would provide many more revenue streams for rural farmers without spending a federal nickel. This push to help rural Americans is much like John Kenneth Galbraith’s characterization of trickle-down economics as “feeding the sparrows by giving grain to the horses.”
The best thing for rural farmers would be for Biden to stop “helping” them by spending the nation into sustained inflation.