It has become reflexive at this point for citified, lily-white, soft-handed, pantywaist foodies like me to criticize the American farmer for his countless shortcomings, but in all fairness the American farmer makes it quite easy. Witness, for example, the man in Chester County, Pennsylvania, who recently accepted a government agriculture grant worth nearly $600,000:
It was the largest ag grant ever awarded to a farmer by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, also known as Pennvest.
But what is truly eye-opening is that the state taxpayer money is going to an Amish farmer.
With increasing state and federal pressure to substantially reduce the runoff of nutrients and soil choking the Chesapeake Bay, millions of dollars are being diplomatically offered to reticent Plain-sect farmers in Lancaster County to get more conservation measures on farms.
It is indeed eye-opening that an Amish farmer, of all people, would accept well over half a million dollars in government money, and for “conservation measures” to boot: we learn that the farmer, Daniel Stoltzfus, plans to use the money to “pipe manure from a cow barn to a new manure-storage facility above the floodplain.”
There is, so far as I know, nothing that justifies such a costly and bizarre undertaking. There is no reason Stoltzfus should need to “pipe” his cow’s manure to a “manure-storage facility.” If Stoltzfus is unable to find a use for his cow manure—if he is unable to spread it on his pasture in the growing season or compost it during the winter—then the only explanation is that he is a poor steward of the land, one who requires a massive taxpayer-funded cash influx to stave off ecological catastrophe. It is not that he is a bad person; merely that for all appearances he is a bad farmer, and should not be in this line of work.
Government Props Up Industrial Farming
This is the only reasonable conclusion we might infer from this report. Good farming, like good parenting, is functionally a preemptive endeavor, in the sense that it deals with its problems largely by not creating them in the first place. Good agriculture has no need of a mediating “manure-storage facility,” it has no need of manure pipes, and it does not require government grants.
On a good farm—be it a dairy or a beef cattle operation—the cows are on pasture, where they are supposed to be. The manure goes into the pasture, where it is supposed to go, and that is it. During the off-season, the manure can be composted in a covered enclosure, but it will still go back into the soil when spring hits. This does not require pipes, or facilities, or indeed anything but pasture and carbon. Indeed, aside from apparently requiring hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, “manure storage facilities” and manure lagoons can be ecologically disastrous in and of themselves: they can break or their contents can leach out of the porous containers, slowly poisoning the groundwater nearby. They are needlessly expensive, totally unnecessary, and potentially dangerous.
If a farmer has manure, he must properly dispose of it. If he is unable to properly dispose of it, he should not be a farmer. The failure of this remarkably simple feedback loop is the failure of the farmer, and ultimately the farm—no matter how many government grants you receive.
But government grants are part and parcel of the logic of bad agriculture, which creates problems then refuses to fix them. A manure problem, like any farm problem, is a sign that the farmer is doing things wrong. Consequently, if the farmer cannot do things right, he should abandon farming and try something else at which he is better.
The Worse You Farm, the More You Earn
Yet bad agriculture allows for no such humility on the part of the farmer. If there is a problem, it’s not because the farmer is inept—it must be because he does not have enough money. So government must take money from taxpayers and give it to the farmer, so he can continue doing what Noah Webster properly called “the first and most necessary employment” without caring whether or not he is doing it properly.
A restaurateur who did his job so poorly would be encouraged to explore an alternate field of employment, and if he failed to do so he would properly lose his shirt. A farmer, on the other hand, can do his job poorly—and he’ll hit paydirt.
A culture that abjures the right way to do things in favor of the easy way will inevitably come to this dead end, in which the government must step in to repair the self-inflicted damage. The sexual revolution—the loosening of sexual mores, the exaltation of sexual licentiousness, and the disregard of any consequences of sexual debauchery—has ended inexorably in subsidized abortions and government-mandated birth control. The dumbing down of our country’s colleges and universities—the loosening of their standards and the dilution of their curricula—now means students may send themselves into massive government-sponsored debt to purchase an increasingly-worthless product.
And the inferior way by which we do agriculture has resulted in this: more than half a million bucks to help an Amish farmer send valuable cow’s manure to a “manure-storage facility” instead of into the ground where it belongs. It is entirely likely this will do nothing to improve Stoltzfus’s farm, his livelihood, or the local or regional environment. In all probability, this will end predictably, as do all similar government efforts, with nothing more to show for it than a big pile of crap.