Since agriculture is so important, why are we leaving its future up to a few powerful companies?

We can create a sustainable agriculture system if we set the rules to benefit all of us equitably and to protect the planet. After all, technology will not change the fact that we are part of nature.

By: Patti Naylor, FFD Board Member and U.S. farmer participant in the Civil Society and Indigenous People’s Mechanism at the United Nations Committee on World Food Security.

Originally published in Des Moines Register, 2/12/2023

Many technologies have proved beneficial to farmers, relieving them of some of the most physically demanding work, improving safety on the farm, and providing new insights for farm management.

As agricultural technology is advancing, with sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, genetic sequencing, machine learning, and communications networks to collect, process, aggregate, and analyze data, the benefits to the farmer — and to the environment — must be questioned. Big Data, the massive accumulation of digital information on land, seeds, plant genetics, livestock, workers, production systems, and consumer behavior, is an emerging source of power and profit for both tech companies and agribusiness.

Patti Naylor

Elliot Grant, the CEO of Mineral, a new ag tech company of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, in a Des Moines Register guest column published Jan. 15, attempts to convince us that the many challenges that face farmers today can be solved if they just had adequate “tools.”

Grant asks, “if agriculture is so important, why isn’t it getting the best tech?” The real question should be, “since agriculture is so important, why are we leaving its future up to a few powerful companies?”

Alphabet/Google is positioning itself to join the data mining game as companies jostle to see who will control the most data — and the related infrastructure — coming from every corner of our food system. Mineral claims it already has data on 10% of the world’s farmland. Seed, chemical, and equipment companies are in the tech game as well, a big influence in Bayer’s $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto. As reported last fall, “Bayer’s ‘Field View’ digital platform, extracts 87.5 billion datapoints from 180 million acres of farmland in 23 countries and funnels it into the cloud and AI servers of Microsoft and Amazon to generate new business strategies.” With little to no oversight to this digitalization of agriculture, government leaders, commodity groups, and agribusiness executives are enabling this power grab.

In 2020, the CEO of an Iowa farmer-member cooperative told farmers that data would soon be more valuable than the crops they produced. With the price of crops determined through a global market without reflecting the costs to produce the crops, this may not be a huge leap.

This commodification of data is profitable through carbon markets, incentive programs, and precision climate-smart agriculture, all based on narrowly defined and corporate-friendly practices that have been called out as greenwashing. Farmers are lured into giving up their data – their knowledge – for little real return. Some of these data-collecting schemes are even taxpayer-funded and heavily promoted by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

In turn, the financialization of data-rich farmland attracts investors, often through shares in Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REITs. With closely-held technology, thousands of acres of farmland can be managed by artificial intelligence. Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft with its Azure FarmBeats service, reportedly owned the most private farmland of anyone in the United States in 2021. It is becoming more and more difficult for today’s family farmer to compete with this appetite for farmland investment.

While agribusiness and tech companies claim benefits to farmers and to the environment, the technology being developed and employed will lock-in the farm practices, land use, crops, and equipment that support the extractive, chemical-intensive corn-soybean-CAFO-ethanol model, further entrenching this system. Additionally, the collection, processing, and storage of data takes huge amounts of energy.

As many people in Iowa are beginning to understand, this system of agriculture is not sustainable. Evidence shows it causes widespread air and water pollution, harms ecosystem health and human health, moves more and more farmers off the land, and destroys rural communities and small businesses. Any biodiversity that is left is only a novelty, at risk of completely disappearing.

Agribusiness repeats the claim that decisions about agriculture need to be science-based. However, they are really talking about technology that serves their economic interests. Science and technology are not the same. Science, which includes ecology and sociology that we ignore at our own peril, is not an endpoint as new research adds to scientific knowledge. We must guard against the corrupted application of science.

The machine-smashing Luddites of the early 19th century would recognize these concerns. Historians tell us that these skilled workers were not against technology. Their protests were against “the new logic of industrial capitalism, where the productivity gains from new technology enriched only the machines’ owners and weren’t shared with the workers.”

We don’t need to smash machines, but we do need clearly defined rules and limits. We can assess which technologies are beneficial, develop open-access technologies for public use, emphasize the value of human knowledge, and define policies to ensure the digital collection tools and the infrastructure work for the common good. We can create a sustainable agriculture system if we set the rules to benefit all of us equitably and to protect the planet. After all, technology will not change the fact that we are part of nature.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Since agriculture is so important, why are we leaving its future up to a few powerful companies?

Carbon Markets Aren’t What They Appear

We need to distinguish good, real solutions to the climate crisis from those that would continue to wreak havoc on the environment.

By: Anthony Pahnke, FFD vice president and associate professor of international relations at San Francisco State University, CA

Originally Published in the Progressive Magazine, 12/15/2022

Carbon Trading and Offsetting are False Solutions That Can Actually Make the Climate Crisis Worse

Flimflam,” “bait and switch,” or “switcheroo”—these were some things my grandfather said to warn of proposals that seemed too good to be true.

On our farm, he saw his fair share of these kinds of offers, whether from salesmen pitching the latest, yet untested variety of seeds, to equipment dealers trying to convince us that buying another, larger tractor would help increase yields and solve our financial problems.

I fear there’s something similar happening with legislative proposals such as the “Growing Climate Solutions Act,” which make carbon markets central to confronting climate change.

With the midterms behind us, and the farm bill discussions with our new Congress coming up early next year, we need to distinguish good, real solutions to the climate crisis from those that would continue to wreak havoc on the environment and serve mainly to line the pockets of wealthy investors and corporations.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act is an example of the latter.

Tailored for agriculture, the bill is slated to appear in 2023 farm bill discussions after stalling in the House.

The bill pushes farmers to turn certain government-certified practices into tradable assets, or credits, to sell on already-existing carbon markets. Generating over $851 billion in 2021, some markets are regional, such as the European Union’s Emissions Trading System, or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in North America, while others in China and the United Kingdom are national. Eligible practices may include reforesting, using cover crops, creating on-farm energy, or improving fuel efficiency.

The problem with carbon markets is offsetting.

Specifically, carbon markets allow corporations to purchase credits to balance, or offset, environmentally destructive practices that the businesses also do.

For instance, a farmer could plant alfalfa as a cover crop, earning credits to sell to improve their income. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies with the mandate to be “carbon neutral” could purchase those credits, continuing to pollute as they produce oil, gas and other fuels.

To make matters worse, speculators make carbon markets volatile, generating price drops that could endanger the additional income that farmers bank on receiving.

Pledges to be “carbon neutral” or achieve “net-zero” emissions may sound nice, but they are slogans designed to make us turn a blind eye toward corporate polluters that are destroying our planet. Instead, we need climate solutions for the next farm bill that truly benefit farmers, as well as the Earth.

The Climate Stewardship Act, proposed by Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, is worth considering in this regard. Booker’s legislation increases enrollment of environmentally sensitive land to 40 million acres by 2030. This increase will pay farmers to take land out of production, supporting incomes while not propping up volatile carbon markets.

The proposal also increases financing for small-scale farmers to engage in practices recognized by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service as being effective at reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, while also scaling up the Local Agriculture Market Program. Expanding this program would reduce our food system’s overall carbon footprint—production, processing and transportation contribute about a third of global GHG emissions—by promoting direct sales and local farmers markets.

Climate markets may seem a “win-win” for cash-strapped, environmentally conscious farmers. The reality, however, is that they make farmers’ incomes volatile, and corporations rake it in while continuing to destroy the planet. As my grandfather would say, the plans for these markets are the latest “flimflam” that we should avoid. Let’s take his advice to heart in our upcoming farm bill discussions.

Posted in Climate Justice | Comments Off on Carbon Markets Aren’t What They Appear

YouTube Recording Available for the 2022 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony!

Joel Greeno (left – FFD president), Heather Gayton (2022 JK Prize Winner). Jahi Chappell (center – keynote speaker), Naima Dhore (2022 JK Prize Winner), and John Peck (right – FFD exec. director)

Thinks to the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice (WNPJ), you can listen to the full event here on YouTube:

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on YouTube Recording Available for the 2022 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony!

Save the Date! 2022 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony & FFD Annual Meeting

Sat.Dec. 10thUW-Madison’s Gordon Commons

(770 W. Dayton St. in downtown Madison, WI)

In memory of legendary organic pioneer and food sovereignty advocate, John Kinsman, Family Farm Defenders is proud to celebrate beginning farmers each year with a prize in his name!

John Kinsman with Food Sovereignty Prize

12:00 Noon – 2:00 pm FFD Annual Meeting, with a year in review, action updates, and board elections – open to the general public!

2:30 pm Screening of the acclaimed documentary, the Ants and the Grasshopper, directed by Raj Patel, followed by a discussion with Jim Goodman and Jahi Chappell

5:00 pm Welcome Reception & Award Banquet – featuring native bioregional foods! Suggested donation – $30 per person (children under 12 are free). To RSVP and purchase advance tickets send a check to: FFD, P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI 53701 or make an online donation at:

5:30 pm Welcome by FFD President, Joel Greeno, followed by a Memorial Tribute to David Rhodes, longtime FFD member and acclaimed Midwest writer (who recently passed away at 75 on Nov. 10th, 2022) and then Ruth Conniff on her new book Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers

Keynote Speaker – Jahi Chapell

6:00 pm Keynote Talk – “Food Sovereignty as Showing Up” – with Jahi Chappell, director of the Michigan State University(MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems and W.K. Kellogg Foundation Endowed Chair in Food and Society.

7:00 pm John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Awards!

Congratulations to this year’s winners:

Naima Dhore of Naima’s Farm in Alexandria, MN

Naima Dhore

Naima Dhore began her farming journey growing food for her own family from small pots in her apartment window. She now operates Naima’s Farm near Alexandria, MN which focuses on organic food production for the broader Somali/East African community. As an immigrant she also knows the struggles that face many black, indigenous, and other farmers of color, and in 2020 she helped found the Somali American Farmer Association (SAFA). Naima credits her food sovereignty success “to her ability to connect and maintain relationships with various people in her community—always being certain to remain humble in sharing resources to see everyone thrive and not just some.”

Heather Gayton of ZanBria Artisan Farms in Friendship, WI!

Heather Gayton

Heather Gayton launched ZanBria Artisan Farms near Friendship, WI as a simple roadside stand, bartering and selling produce, but was eventually able to acquire a 20 acre farmstead specializing in native, heirloom, and herbal crops. As a cancer survivor, Heather believes strongly in “food as medicine.” She is also a leader in the Farmers of the Roche-Cri Watershed Group and a grower for the Grand Marsh food pantry. Heather’s farm dream is to “create a space that people can come to for learning about indigenous wisdom, food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture and environmental sustainability.”

Family Farm Defenders also welcomes sponsors for this year’s 2022 John Kinsman Prize! Those making a contribution of $100 or more will receive two (2) complimentary tickets to the award banquet and receive mention in publicity. All donations to FFD are tax deductible. More info? #608-260-0900 or email: [email protected]

For lodging nearby, consider Hampton Inn #608-255-0360 and mention FFD!

If you wish to join the John Kinsman Prize virtually, there is a Zoom event available:

John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony
Dec 10, 2022 5:30 – 8:30 PM Central Time

Join Zoom Meeting

Or dial in:

1-312-626-6799 US
Meeting ID: 857 5375 3451
Passcode: 419558

Thanks for your support of food sovereignty and please spread the word!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Save the Date! 2022 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony & FFD Annual Meeting

Farm bill offers opportunity to challenge corporate control of the food system

By: Anthony Pahnke, vice president of Family Farm Defenders, and Associate Professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University, CA.

Originally published by The Hill, 10/13/22

The Packers and Stockyard (P&S) Act was passed just over a century ago, and needs to be updated as part of the 2022 Farm Bill debate. Anti-Trust = Parity Pricing!

To his credit, Biden has been trying.

That is, the current administration has tried to make agriculture more competitive, from issuing an executive order last year calling on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to clarify and strengthen regulations on the nature of improper market conduct, to investing hundreds of millions in new meat processing ventures.

Following through with the executive order, the USDA — through its authority granted by the Packers and Stockyard Act (P&S Act) — has issued rules, or guidelines, to increase transparency in how poultry growers contract with their buyers. Another proposed rule that is open for public comment until Dec. 2 would increase protections for whistleblowers and reform contract farming in livestock.

Still, consolidation has continued apace.

For instance, Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) tried three times to convict poultry executives of price fixing, and three times they have failed. Meanwhile, mergers among poultry processors keep happening. The DOJ allowed one recent case to proceed on the condition that the firms pay $84.8 million for violating worker rights and agree to comply with antitrust laws.

While better than nothing, the agreement between the companies and the DOJ does nothing to stop concentration, where the top four firms went from controlling 35 percent to 54 percent of the industry from 1986 to 2018.

If that were not enough, there’s ongoing vertical integration in beef between retailers and processors, and horizontal mergers taking place among already large players in the sugar industry.

Overall, Biden’s “whole-of government” approach when it comes to strengthening competition in agriculture seems to lack one critical element: enforcement.

More to the point, officials struggle to effectively use the legislative tools at their disposal to stop corporate consolidation. Such tools not only include the P&S Act for poultry and beef, but also other progressive-era legislation such as the Sherman Antitrust, Clayton and Federal Trade Commission Acts.

To the detriment of farmers, few entities in control of an industry can drive down the prices paid to producers for the sake of improving margins. As much has been seen in various lawsuits that have been settled out of court, whether in dairy or beef.

Not only a problem for farmers, consumers and workers also have a lot at stake in this matter.

Specifically, concentrated markets provide opportunities for firms to collude and depress worker wages, as well as inflate prices at the grocery store.

Still, not all hope is lost.

Specifically, the ongoing debates concerning the 2023 Farm Bill present an opportunity to strengthen antitrust policies.

Now, as politicians campaign for reelection, is the perfect time to raise the matter of corporate concentration. In Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, for instance, politicians have been hearing over the past week or so from rural communities about the issues of concern.

Typical farm bill items that draw the attention of legislators and the public include subsidies and conservation, as well as nutrition. In fact, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) occupies around 75% of the legislation’s total allocation.

Still, strengthening antitrust laws can also be included.

In fact, in 2008, it was.

Specifically, the 2008 Farm Bill amended the P&S Act by requiring processors to provide more information on capital requirements, while also increasing the power of growers to cancel contracts. The bill called on the USDA to craft guidelines on how to implement these changes. After years of delay, mainly at the behest of meat industry advocates, the Obama administration issued a set of watered-down rules that the Trump administration later nixed altogether.

This time around could be different, especially for the interest that the Biden administration has shown in following through with dealing with corporate power in agriculture.

For instance, the next farm bill could include sections from Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act. Among the bill’s many ideas are amending the Clayton Act to update the standards for mergers, while dedicating more resources to the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for enforcement.

Moreover, the farm bill, as a piece of legislation that must pass through both houses of Congress, provides a real opportunity to build legitimacy around the need to challenge corporate consolidation. The DOJ and FTC, with their nominated officials are critical to enforce antitrust law. Passing laws to empower them would strengthen their position.

For these reasons, the farm bill is an opportunity for farmers, workers and consumers to seriously build power and challenge the corporate stranglehold that exists on our food and farm system. Now is a particularly propitious time to forward this change, not only given the upcoming midterm elections, but because the current government appears interested in improving our agricultural system for the better. By including antitrust reform into the 2023 Farm Bill, perhaps they will succeed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Farm bill offers opportunity to challenge corporate control of the food system