A farm in Iowa

22 Nov

This post should have been written a month ago, but here it is!  Better late, than never. And in a way, the timing is rather appropriate, given its Thanksgiving and who better to thank for our food than our farmers?

On October 19th, as a part of World Food Prize events, we visited a  farm in Iowa. This farm was made famous by Chinese President elect Xi Jinping, who visited it just a few months ago. So, yes, we were in good company. This 4000 acre farm, which grows corn and soyabean, is run by a father and son duo and they employ just one staff.  They inherited a  400 acres farm in the mid 1970, from their grandfather, who grew wheat and corn and employed 10 or more field hands. Since then, they have not only increased their farm size by 10 times,  but reduced labor employment by 10 times, and at the same time, more than doubled their corn yields. What replaced labour are giant machines– machines, that have to be seen to be believed. We saw a huge combine-harvester. This giant of a machine, for instance, takes just a minute to harvest one acre of crop, so harvesting 4000 acres takes just 4000 minutes –or a little more than 8 working days (assuming 8 hours working day). This father and son duo cultivate GMO corn and soybean and export almost entirely to China. They are a part of Iowa Soybean Association, an Association which regularly holds trade negotiations with China and rest of the world. They use latest technologies and get the Universities to do research  for them. This  was a drought year in Iowa. But, we were told that, thanks to no-tillage and GMOs that they adopted some 10-15 years back, their production was not affected by bad rainfall. What scares them more than poor rainfall, is the prospect of international price crash and hence it is very common for them to trade on the futures market. Much like their combine-harvester, the father and son duo were farmers, technicians, scientists, trade negotiators and entrepreneurs — all rolled into one. Very impressive.

Now, this made me think about our farmers back home. With stamp sized land holdings and  every kind of resource constraints that one can think of (water, labour, credit, technology, knowledge and so on) and facing policies that are seldom farmer friendly, our farmers still manage to grow more and more food every year. This year, they produced a record 250 million metric tonnes. I keep wondering how they do it, and then can’t help but think how little appreciation they get for a job so well done. We, urban folks rise up in arms every time there is an increase in food price, little realizing that such low food prices makes it harder and harder for a farmer to make ends meet. And yes, we also conveniently forget our own pay hikes every time we cry hoarse about food price rise. I don’t know what the future holds for our agriculture, but in the meanwhile, let me salute our farmers one more time. They are no Iowa farmers for sure, but they are doing an incredible job feeding us in spite of huge odds.

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