Friday, June 20, 2008



(June 19, Jackson, MS)

The MRW1Group, one of the country’s most respected, prominent, influential and powerful transportation industry consultancies and think tanks issued a scathing statement late tonight highly critical of the recent passage of the 2008 Farm Bill. The CEO, Dr. F. Lee Flack, Ph.D, Esq., CDL, stood before reporters in the well appointed conference room at MRW1 Group’s headquarters here in Jackson. Dr. Flack is nationally renowned for his work advocating on behalf of the trucking industry and the hard working, unappreciated truck drivers of America. He has also been highly acclaimed for his cutting edge research in logistics theory, driver management and transportation economics.

Dr. Flack began his remarks, “This Farm Bill is one of the biggest, most blatant rapes of the United States taxpayers and plunders of the U.S. Treasury in recent memory. To say I am appalled by the passage of this bill would be a gross understatement. Every citizen should be outraged and, if any are interested to see who these billions of dollars are handed out to, ought to take a look at the web site of one of our strategic partners, the Environmental Working Group (EWG). They would be enraged to see how many millionaires have and will continue to receive money from this bill.”

Clearly agitated, the usually mild mannered, articulate Dr. Flack continued, “Why is the federal government giving some of these people your tax dollars? I’ll tell you why. For some of them the payments are so they will NOT produce. That’s right; our government pays some farmers not to farm. For years farmers, mostly in the upper Midwest have taken advantage of what is known as the “set aside program”. Farmers are paid to leave fields barren, to not plant crops supposedly as a conservation measure. Well, I ask you, what other segment of our economy is paid not to produce?”

The MRW1 Group represents an impressive list of trucking companies large and small. Flack added, “We have numerous clients barely surviving on two or three percent profit margins. Diesel fuel has increased in price 400% in the past two years. Folks, America’s need move by trucks. What has the government ever done to help the trucking industry during hard economic times? Nothing, that’s what, nothing. All the federal and state governments have done is find more ways to further squeeze the trucking companies, truck drivers and the independent operators. From increased tolls, staggering road use taxes and crippling regulations, the feds and states have done more to drive companies and owner/operators out of business than anything else. They should be ashamed.”

According to a wide array of industry statistics, over 95% of the goods Americans purchase, be they edible, household goods, automobiles, virtually every consumer good imaginable has, at some point in the distribution chain, been on a truck. Trucking is the literal backbone of our economy an, as such, is taking a beating on every front. Dr. Flack added, “Corporate giants like Simplot, ADM, Cargill, Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow Chemical, these agribusiness goliaths stand to collect millions from this farm bill. Farmers will do just fine as well. In the New York Times earlier this week, an Iowa farmer named Dave Timmermann was interviewed. He forgot to tell the Times that he’s been given close to $300,000 in farm subsidies in the past. This system is in dire need of true reform, total overhaul and, maybe, abolishment.”

Concluding his remarks Dr. Flack pointedly stated, “The MRW1 Group, from this day on, will dedicate all necessary resources to expose the waste, abuse and fraud of the so called Farm Bill. We will adopt as our mission to educate and inform the American taxpayer about the truths of grain farmers, Ethanol, soy bio-diesel and explain to them why the prices they are paying to feed their families have doubled in the last 9 months.”

Dr. Flack took no questions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Tax Money To Continue To Prop Up Agriculture

Part Two of a Series

(June 18, Tripe, IA) Defying our lame duck president and his repeated promise to use his veto pen, the Senate today passed the huge, bloated, pork-laden Farm Bill following a similar vote in the House on Wednesday. The vote counts in both chambers of Congress virtually assures that the president’s veto would be easily over ridden. This is yet another defeat for a useless, irrelevant president and a great victory for corporate agribusiness and farmers. The vast majority of the $307 billion Farm Bill is doled out to farmers in what are known “direct payments”. These are, as described in the New York Times as payments “... disbursed based on land acreage and regardless of current market conditions or even whether the land is still actively farmed”. The president had been seeking to limit such payments and other elements of the Farm Subsidy Program.

While many argue strenuously that all the myriad subsidy programs are required to allow American agriculture to remain competitive in tight global, interconnected markets, those who have long studied the farm Bill say it amounts to nothing more than “Absolute welfare to grain farmers, not all farmers, primarily midwest grain farmers. It is shameful what this sector of American agriculture has become”, noted Dr. Claude Zwingel, an agricultural economist at Bismarck Polytechnical University.

Mr. Bush sought to limit the eligibility for most subsidies to farmers earning under $200,000 per household. The bill, as passed, allows farmers with farm income of up to $750,000 a year to collect subsidies. These same farmers may also have up to $500,000 in “non-farm” income. “Framers earning that kind of money should in no way, shape or form be given federal welfare. It is an outrage. The real farmers who would benefit from some reasonable form of subsidy are actually left out. They are either too small or too ignorant to work the system”, commented Professor Wilson J. Gingerich, who chair the Agricultural College at Central Kansas University.

At a time Americans are paying increasingly higher costs for groceries, the agricultural community, corn and soybean producers in particular, are experiencing boom times. Record high prices for grain on the Chicago Board of Trade and other global commodity markets have already proven to be a windfall for some farmers. While the bill contains increases for some nutrition and conservation programs, the bulk of the money will go to directly to farmers in the “corn belt”; places like Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. These are the very same farmers who have boarded the lucrative renewable energy bandwagon hoping to cash in on the political and commercial support for fuels made from corn and beans.

According to Dr. Stewart Earl Droop, Director of Rural Affairs at Arkansas A&M, farmers growing rice, cotton, produce, and vegetables are basically “excluded from obtaining any benefit from the so called Farm Bill. What they ought to call it is the Corn and Bean Farmers Federal Money Give Away, because, truth be told, that is precisely what it is”.

According to several highly placed sources within the secretive, influential and all powerful Washington, DC K Street lobbyist community, special interest and ag industry groups spend “huge amounts of money” to get the legislation they want. “Folks like the Iowa Soybean Council, The Corn Growers Association, the Agribusiness Association of Iowa and other similar groups throughout the midwest come here and expect to get what they want. These farm issues are political hot buttons in places like Minnesota and Iowa and you can bet, any member of Congress from a farming state supports these issues and is often paid handsomely to do so.”

The Environmental Working Group ( a Washington DC based public interest group that began publishing the names and amounts paid to farm subsidy recipients several years ago, is also engaged in a broad spectrum of scientific research and legal activity related to exposing some of the hidden and more ominous truths pertaining to a all aspects of production agriculture. EWG has consistently revealed the inequities of farm direct pay subsidies, crop insurance, and the host of rebates, pay outs and other forms of largess provided by the multinational pharmaceutical, chemical, and agriculture related industries. They have noted the disturbing trends in agriculture and how such trends have been driven by federal and corporate money. “Basically, what most Americans think of as “The Family Farm’ is inaccurate. Yes, a farm may be owned by a family but they are now huge operations that can be run by a very small amount of people. Seed genetics, chemistry and technology have transformed row crop agriculture into an industry like no other”, commented an EWG field researcher assigned to Iowa. He spoke anonymously because of the many previous death threats he’s received.

With billions of federal dollars pledged to Iowa farmers today by president Bush as he plans to tour the flood zone tomorrow, the real victims of the flooding are the average Iowans, the non farming citizen or small time operator who has already had to contend with record high gas prices and food costs. Max Slaughter, a manure handling equipment assembler from Frytown said, “This is awful, just awful. I have never had it so hard. I work, my wife works and my 5 oldest children work. I can’t hardly afforded to pay $100 a week to commute to my job. Groceries are as high as ever. Something has got to give. I don’t even have health insurance and my youngest child has a wicked case of prickly heat, whooping cough, and fallen arches. I don’t know what to do.”

Farley Marsden reporting from Tripe, Iowa for TBC

Copyright TBC 2008 © All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Flooding And Food Prices Not Related

Special Series Commentary

(June 17, Muscatine, IA) This gritty eastern Iowa city is a departure point for much of the grain produced within a 75 mile radius. Sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River, many large grain elevators load barges that will carry their cargo to points south specifically down to the Port of New Orleans. Likewise, the north bound traffic on this river is also vital to agriculture. Barges laden with tons of fertilizers, dry and liquid, come up, are off loaded here to be stored, distributed and ultimately applied to crop land. Oddly, the majority of agriculture related traffic on the “Mighty Mississippi” today is the result of the global economy. Grain is exported and fertilizers are imported. It appears to be a year round cycle with hundreds of semi trucks entering and exiting this otherwise nondescript city daily.

The recent flooding in Iowa and elsewhere in the upper Midwest is being cited as a prime cause for the increases in food prices to come. Indeed, the interruption of local commerce and production agriculture resulting from the extensive flooding only provides a partial, after the fact, explanation for the skyrocketing costs Americans are paying (and have been paying for months) for groceries. Food, of all sorts, will continue to increase in price but this is the continuation of a disturbing trend that was in full bloom prior to the first corm field being lost to flood waters.

In a sense, the flood, as devastating as it is and will be for thousands of Iowans, is a convenient cover story for agribusiness. The commodity markets have responded, speculators are salivating and farmers will collect their subsidies, crop insurance and other forms of government aid. The truth is that food prices began to increase as the agricultural industry saw a more lucrative, more subsidized, more appealing market for corn and soybeans. Iowa has experienced a boom of sorts as the idea of renewable energy, Ethanol and soy bio-diesel have been embraced as the golden calf. Suddenly, growers were planting hybrid, genetically modified seed corn and beans containing traits that would make these crops more suited for industrial use rather than livestock or human consumption. High starch and fructose corn was out, high alcohol corn was in.

While corn and soybeans have long had a wide variety of industrial uses, the infusion of federal money, grants, FDA low interest loans, private venture capital, as well as local investors, accelerated the rush to jump aboard the Ethanol and soy Bio-diesel bandwagons. This year alone Iowa farmers took over 127,000 acres out of the Conservation Program that used to pay them NOT to farm. These acres were returned to production agriculture, apparently farmers, “The Original Environmentalists” realized there was more money to be made in production than in conservation. The CRP payouts, as they are known, were just another federal handout under the guise of preserving natural resources, wildlife and allowing nature to have her way albeit 10 or 40 acres at a time.

As the federal government was literally paying farmers not to farm, they were also stuffing their mailboxes with subsidy checks. The giant agribusiness concerns were also busy giving out rebates to dealers and farmers alike. The federal crop insurance program was, and remains, a charade. In many cases simply by purchasing crop insurance, whether there is a crop lost or not, results in a payout to the policy holder. Even a farmer producing a bumper crop and selling his yield can still collect crop insurance under the well hidden fine print that only they seem to be aware of.

Now, the outcry that the price for food, of groceries of all sorts is steadily increasing across the country, there is a flood to blame it on? This is beyond disingenuous; it is hypocrisy at its best.

The Iowa farmers will fair well through this crisis. The average Iowa won’t. They haven’t access to the federal coffers as do their neighbors. All Americans will continue to pay ever ballooning prices for food as long as the “system” incentivizes farmers to produce an industrial product rather than a source of food, food stuffs and ingredients.

This commentary is part of the TBC series investigating American agriculture with our team of correspondents and contributors in Iowa.

We wish the citizens most impacted by the floods all the best.

Fritz Bingell, in Iowa, writing for TBC

Copyright TBC 2008 © All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 16, 2008


Iowa Farmers Always Harvest Money; Crop Or No Crop

Part One of a Series

(June 16, Hiawatha, IA) What the vast majority of American’s do not know about the realities of agriculture in the heartland today could fill books. The misconceptions alone would take significant efforts to correct. While their ignorance may be blissful, they may not realize just how large a stake they have in it. Their tax dollars support grain farmers in places like this and throughout the “corn belt”. Farm subsidies constitute one of the largest annual payouts of pure federal government largess, if not outright welfare, and the pork barrel spending written in to the notorious “Farm Bill” is staggering. But folks here don’t want to discuss that or, at least are unwilling to with an outsider. They are more than happy to share their sad tales of hardship, loss and woe with a reporter from The New York Times but, they only reveal that which perpetuates and re-enforces the misconceptions. Actually farming here today is so far removed from farming of just a generation ago that all the stereotypes regarding bucolic harmony, hard work and character are as outdated, antiquated and obsolete as the outhouse.

Farmers are not even farmers anymore: they now call themselves ‘growers’. Technology and money have altered American production agriculture so dramatically in just the past 15 years that only now are the broad ramifications of these profound changes being considered. But, it is too late. There is no going back.

The on-going flooding, skyrocketing costs for groceries and gasoline across the country have revealed the closely guarded truths regarding agriculture today. American farmers long saw themselves as “feeding the world” and, at a point in time; there was indeed some truth in that statement. Americans would be amazed to know that very little of the corn and soybeans grown in Iowa ever wind up on their dinner tables in any form. In just the last 4 years the rush to cash in on corn and soy based Ethanol and bio-diesel have further limited the amount of these crops used to feed anyone.

A long standing joke here is that all a person needs to be a farmer is 300 acres and a mailbox: the minimum acreage to qualify for federal subsidies and a place for the government checks to be delivered. It is funny because, like any good joke, it is based on truth, on facts. It is an odd twist on what everyone here knows but seems ashamed to admit in mixed company.

The Growers Waltz: Dough See Dough

Iowa farmers are engaged in a huge, somewhat incestuous waltz with a limited number of very powerful partners. Everyone involved knows the steps and are quick to pick up on the new ones. From the seed that is planted, to the chemicals used pre and post emergence, Iowa crops as much a product of the petrochemical and pharmacology industries as they are of this dark, loamy soil. Seed corn is all genetically modified, imbued with very specific traits such as the ability to produce more starch or alcohol. There are vast varieties within seed corn genetics than one would imagine; the same will soon be true for soybeans. The fertilizers used here to replenish the micronutrients needed for the modern yields these fields produce are primarily derivatives, by-products of oil refining and natural gas processing. As those prices go, so do the prices for fertilizers. The darkest element to this festive partnering is that most of the same companies that produce fertilizers produce seed, herbicides, pesticides and the like. While as more genetics are put into seed, less and less ‘chemicals’ are needed to combat insects, disease and other threats. Multinational pharmaceutical giant like Bayer are as powerful in agriculture today as is Dow Chemical, DuPont and Monsanto. All the billions of dollars associated with agriculture wind up passing over and over again through the same corporate hands as well as the hands of the growers so well versed in this dance.

Livestock Confinement: Manure is Gold

The largest consumers of Iowa corn and soybeans are livestock. Beef cattle, hogs and to a lesser extent here, chickens and turkeys must be fed massive quantities of nutrient rich feeds to achieve the desirable amount of usable weight the markets call for. No longer do the majority of these animals, which we will eventually eat some or parts of, live outdoors grazing, and being feed hay and other grain based feeds. Now, most production livestock occurs in confinement buildings, usually long, low slung sheds housing hundreds of animals until they move along to another stage of confinement or are butchered. Beneath these structures are deep, cement lined pits to collect the urine and manure produced by the confined livestock. This manure is a rich and valuable commodity as a fertilizer in and of itself. Manure handling equipment has become a huge, lucrative business out here.

These confinement operations have not been without controversy but, strong, well-heeled lobbyists have assured this method of raising livestock is here to stay. Some of the more active among the pro-confinement lobbies has been the pharmaceutical industry: confined animals are prone to respiratory infection and other health problems. Much of the feed consumed by livestock today is packed with antibiotics and is a direct cause for some of the antibiotic resistant pathogens prone to infect humans.

And so the waltz goes on. Round and round, switch your partner, dough sees dough. The monopolies controlling agriculture are all powerful and shrewd. Under various brand names and specialties, the same corporate giants own and operate on every niche’, at every level and it is apparently all legal. Local fertilizer and seed dealers are just middlemen in this charade of money changing and reap substantial rebates and other incentives for selling a certain line of related products.

This is clearly illustrated in the story of Round Up. Round Up was developed by Monsanto in the 1970’s and became one of the most widely used herbicides in history. The seed division of Monsanto developed the “Round Up Ready” genetically modified on their seed corn and seed beans within the last decade. So, the local dealer selling all of Monsanto’s products is well rewarded for that arrangement. This is but one of a vast array of such arrangements and stories; a large part of the closely held secrets known primarily only to those benefiting from them.

If You Offer a Subsidy, They Will Come

Whether or not farm subsidy programs are a necessary evil or not is arguable. Certainly, with the relatedness of this global economy, it appears our competitive advantage would be severely threatened. It appears that after all these years of technologic breakthroughs, advances in crop science, seed genetics, chemistry and related disciplines that the American grower, particularly such as those growing corn and soybeans, simply could not make it without all the governmental, corporate and political helping hands. That may in fact be the case.

But, everything is connected, everything is related and there will be unforeseen consequences to come that can not yet be imagined.

Copyright TBC 2008 © All Rights Reserved

This is the first installment in a series The Brooding Cynyx have been investigating since September 2007. Part One, as printed above, is simply the primer to the series which will report on all aspects of American agriculture as introduced above. We are all too familiar with the controversy that comes with producing such a series; our staffs investigation has been blocked in many ways and we are acutely aware of the power and influence who’d rather we not produce this series. So be it.