Rewarding Degradation

We should not be rewarding people who degrade the land.  We should be encouraging people who improve the land.
Geologist David Montgomery

This comment was in the context of a discussion about topsoil erosion.  Few are aware of how significant this problem is.  As Montgomery puts it, “The problem of soil erosion is probably the biggest problem facing humanity that we don’t talk about.”

It takes millions of years to make topsoil, and without it most life on the earth couldn’t survive. It takes very little time, however,  to plow the soil so that a heavy rain can wash it into the nearest creek or river.

I just want to follow up on that first quote.  Our federal agricultural policies include heavily subsidized crop insurance for commodity farmers.  75% of the cost of the insurance is paid by the federal government (i.e us taxpayers), which guarantees a lucrative profit margin for the “insurers.”  Because the producer will benefit from federally subsidized prices if the crop comes in, and federally subsidized insurance payments if it does not, there is a perverse incentive to put marginal land into row crops.  If a hillside field gets washed away, then the producer collects the insurance money.  And with corn prices at record highs (in large part thanks to the government) there are incentives to plow every possible acre.

I’ll resist the urge to go on an extended rant about this.  Suffice it to say that shifting the producer’s risk to the public is promoting the destruction of a resource that is, for all intents and purposes, irreplaceable.

Using public funds to insure the crops of those who degrade the land to grow them is almost literally insane.