If you want a climate-smart dance, you have to pay the band


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled a $3 billion fund last week to fund 70 “climate-smart” projects that reward farmers and businesses.

ADM, Tyson, Cargill, Edge Dairy, Iowa Select, Iowa Soybean Association, National Corn Growers, Iowa State and Purdue, Renewable Energy Group and others are leading or collaborating on projects ranging from $5 million to $100 million.

They involve paying farmers to plant cover crops, finding markets for “climate-smart” products, creating markets for carbon, creating markets for natural gas from manure digesters, carbon pipelines and Moreover.

The Biden administration tripled its investment in Climate Smart AG (CSA) with its announcement on Wednesday of pilot projects funded by the Commodity Credit Corporation.

That’s a big deal – $3 billion is enough to get your attention through executive action.

Remember that the Trump administration pumped at least $60 billion through the CCC to buy up soybean growers so we can fight a trade war with China. By comparison, the Biden climate ante is small potatoes.

That’s enough sugar to get businesses on board. The projects recognize that we can’t do anything in America without business. Regulation is prohibited – this has been a well-established political and legal gospel since Ronald Reagan. So we’ll be sending millions to ADM for its contract producers to engage with CSA – however CSA is defined. Bayer-controlled research universities have a hand in the wheels of these projects, ExxonMobil is a partner, and no doubt ethanol/pork/pipeline prince Bruce Rastetter stands to earn a buck or two somewhere. Stine Seed is involved. It’s a who’s who of agribusiness.

That’s what it takes to grease the wheels.

A farmer operates within his supply chain. You grow corn for the chemical companies and pork for the meat complex. The government insures you and induces you, and all your discussions with the banker depend on it. You cannot change without permission.

When Cargill thinks cover crops are okay, the farmer can think that way. It reassures the farm loan officer when climate-smart partner Farm Journal says it’s the way to go.

When ADM produces corn ethanol, it finds another angle. Maybe biomass to boost hydrogen production?

Traders will have theirs. This is how America works.

Tom Vilsack and Joe Biden are fellow travelers. They don’t want to disturb the apple cart, just steer it.

Of course, it’s pork for the consolidators who got us to where we are, spilling dirt and choking on nitrate and losing farmers like so many cockroaches. Bill Gates will make a splash as America’s biggest farmland owner.

You can bet there will be a Solyndra in the mix – a bad bet that will be made colossal by the spin machine. That’s why they call them pilot projects. There will be an environmental catastrophe because of a manure project. And each partner will have to get what they believe to be their share. If there are 70 projects, there are at least half as many investigative stories to tell about who gets what and how.

A lot of good – exciting, even – stuff is in there. Special help for underprivileged farmers (we’ll see how much actually falls on black people in Georgia working in a chicken coop). There’s something called biochar – the waste material from heating biomass almost to the point of combustion to produce hydrogen – that holds tremendous potential for boosting soil health and crop productivity while burying carbon. It’s a beginning

If paying farmers for environmental services is seen as a good thing by the food and chemical lords, it has a chance of actually being written into the next Farm Bill, even with House Republican scrutiny. Pilot programs that actually work can be incorporated into legislation when all the corporate money is lined up behind them. Vilsack reduces capital players on the front end.

At first glance, it makes you deeply uncomfortable that the fox is running the chicken coop. It is much less likely to eat the eggs if the fox otherwise remains well fed. It must be the logic. We all know it has been that way for the last half century anyway – that money calls the shots, when corporations are defined by the Supreme Court as people in a Republic of and for the people. There will also be regional food pilots, which will flourish in a surge of hope for sustainable production diversity and fade from lack of oxygen in a system controlled by the few. If you want to dance, you have to pay the band. The price is $10 million here and $5 million there. You pray that this adds up to a change of direction while we can still grow corn.

Art Cullen is the publisher and editor of the Storm Lake Times Pilot. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 2017 and is the author of the book “Storm Lake: Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Journal.” Cullen can be reached at [email protected].


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