Last summer, a major supplier of nursery plants, Bonnie’s, sent tomato plants infected with late blight to nurseries across the southern and eastern United States. We only had two Bonnie plants, but with our unusually wet summer, those two plants infected all of our other plants, seriously reducing our tomato yield and encouraging me to start all of our plants from seeds this year. The Bonnie’s blight didn’t just hurt our little homestead’s tomato harvest; it ruined the tomato season for eastern growers everywhere. Like with recent food scares (for example, the peanut- related salmonella outbreak in 2009 and the more recent HVP recall), the Bonnie’s disaster demonstrated the problem of a few companies’ domination of anything that has to do with our food supply.
Over the past year or so, there has been a rising tide of discontent with another root supplier of our chain of food and clothing, Monsanto. Monsanto now controls, directly or indirectly via patented technology, more than 90 percent of the soybean crop and about two thirds of the corn and cotton crop in the US. Monsanto dodged questions about anti-trust violations in the past, but this year the Justice Department expanded its investigation of Monsanto for a rapid increase in prices that farmers pay for seeds. As the New York Times explained, “Including the sharp increases last year, Agriculture Department figures show that corn seed prices have risen 135 percent since 2001. Soybean prices went up 108 percent over that period. By contrast, the Consumer Price Index rose only 20 percent in that period.” In other words, farmers are imperiled by an increase in seed prices of 5 to almost 7 times higher than the rate of inflation over an eight-year period. American agri-business already requires tremendous price supports from the federal government to make a profit or even just break even. It now appears that a significant portion of the subsidies are going into the pockets of Monsanto.
Whether it is a single nursery grower like Bonnie’s that spread blight to the entire eastern half of the US, or a supplier like Monsanto that controls an obscenely large percentage of the seed in this country, concentration of our food and clothing in a few companies is bad for the future of the US. You can do your part to combat agricultural concentration by buying your plants and seeds from smaller suppliers and by purchasing your food from farmers that do not use genetically modified feed, into which most of Monsanto’s seeds grow.
Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.