The Downfall of American Agriculture

Agriculture is one of the most critical and traditionally stable sectors of the American economy.
From the September 2004 Trumpet Print Edition

An amazing sight remains embedded in my memory from flights I’ve taken over the United States. On these flights, typically I could be seen perched on the edge of my window seat, my eyes squinting to prevent the sun’s rays from thwarting my view. My face pressed against the small, double-glassed window would cause it to fog. What I was looking at below was not a fleeting sight—it stretched on for hours. I remember thinking, Does it ever end?

In my home country of Australia, this sight has never been seen. You cannot see it in Africa or Europe. If you saw it in the Middle East, it would be a mirage. Nothing like it can be witnessed in Russia or Asia.

If you have ever flown the skies over America you have probably seen it. Viewed from 20,000 feet, it looked like the land below was tucked in with a massive, checked quilt. For miles in every direction, crops of all kinds were planted in great, square fields—thriving in the rich, brown soil. Many of the dams and creeks were brimming with cool, clear water. In some fields, countless bales of hay lay waiting to be picked up and stored for the winter. Massive fields of crops grew everywhere—some a luscious green, others a rich yellow. Herds of beef and other animals grazed on the green grass. Where there were no fields with animals or crops, leafy trees and forests usually adorned the ground.

Scattered among these hundreds of thousands of acres of crops, grazing land and forests were quaint little farmhouses and barns—connected by a maze of thin gravel roads. Every 40 to 50 miles, the monotony of the farmland would end and a small town would appear. Most of the time these towns were dissected by railways lines on which lengthy freight trains transport produce between towns and cities—like blood vessels transporting oxygen to the body’s organs.

The sheer richness of the land was an amazing sight. This was not what struck me, however—I could see rich land like this in Australia.

What really impacted me was the utter enormity of the blessed land below. It seemed like it would never end. Other than some comparatively small sections of desert, the land from one side of the nation to the other was decked with forests, lakes, grasslands and crops. This was agricultural wealth on a scale far surpassing that of any other nation!

The United States leads the world in agricultural production. Agricultural exports are forecast to reach a record $61.5 billion in 2004 (U.S. Department of Agriculture press release, May 26). Every day, thousands of tons of fruits, vegetables and meats grown in America are loaded on container ships en route to the hungry bellies of people living in the four corners of the globe.

America blazes the path in agricultural research and development. Working in tandem, American scientists and farmers have developed some of the most advanced insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers and farming practices.

America’s domination of global agriculture is seen as one of the few stable sectors of the U.S. economy. “About two thirds of the land in the 48 contiguous states is tied up in agriculture. Farming and related businesses account for about 12 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and about 17 percent of American jobs according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture [usda]” (Wall Street Journal, June 18). The U.S. economy is dependent upon its traditionally strong agricultural sector.

Due to this tradition of stability, the last thing many Americans would expect is for their country’s agricultural supremacy to begin to wane. As a result of this naivety, too many analysts are failing to see America’s coming agricultural downfall.

The seeds of this downfall have been sown. In fact, this foretold demise of America’s God-given, booming agricultural industry is currently underway. America’s agricultural dominion is being threatened. Problems such as increasing competition, rising production costs, unpredictable weather, catastrophic natural disasters, declining soil quality and rising global anti-American sentiment are steadily destroying this critically important sector.

And as strange as it might seem, the above problems are not the root cause of America’s agricultural demise.

International Rivals

Notice this analysis from the Wall Street Journal: “America’s run as a wheat powerhouse, and the dominant player in global agriculture, is under attack from a crop of newly emboldened, low-cost international rivals who are striking at one of the main pillars of American economic might: food exports” (ibid.; emphasis mine throughout). Ponder that statement. This is not talking about a simple dip in America’s wheat production. Rather, it has everything to do with the downfall of the world’s agricultural powerhouse. The end result, for Americans especially, will be devastating!

Because of the removal of trade barriers, open access to technology, development of stronger, more resilient crops and cheap labor, many of the less agriculturally advanced nations are now producing increasingly larger volumes of fruits and vegetables.

While the U.S. still leads this global “farms race,” other nations are on its heels, poised, ready to snatch the pole position. Wine from Chile, tomatoes from Mexico, soybeans from Brazil, flowers from Europe, apples from China. These are just a few sectors where U.S. farmers are being threatened. In some cases, free-trade markets are making it cheaper for American food chains to import some fruits and vegetables from Latin America as opposed to buying the same produce from American farmers.

Let’s review the wheat industry as an example of America’s declining agricultural influence.

In the 1980s, the U.S. controlled over half the wheat on the world market. Amber waves of grain rolled across virtually the entire central U.S. Wheat farmers earned enough money from the land to live comfortably. American wheat was central to the global food chain.

Today, America supplies little more than one fifth of the world’s wheat exports. Waves of grain have become patches growing in the soil between the shining seas. And in many cases, government subsidies are what hold farmers back from bankruptcy.

China is now the world’s leading wheat producer, with more than 90 other nations also producing wheat. Adding insult to injury, many of these nations are producing wheat less expensively than U.S. farmers and with seeds and technology designed and produced in America.

Russia, in one of the greatest agricultural comebacks in history, has re-established itself as a major producer of grain. During the 20th century, famine, political instability and economic hardship devastated Russia’s once-booming wheat industry. In the late 1980s, 18 percent of Russia’s wheat was imported from America. Nowadays, “wheat is once again pouring out of Russia in volumes rarely seen since the days of the czars” (ibid.). Ironically, the resurrection of Russia’s wheat industry has largely been fueled by America’s preparedness to remove trade barriers and American farming technology. The usda reports that over the next year, Russia, together with neighboring Ukraine and Kazakhstan, will supply 11 percent of global wheat exports. “Using mostly American equipment, a farm in Ukraine set the record last year for the most acres of grain planted in a day (1,413)” (ibid.).

There has been a stark turnaround in global wheat production, and the U.S. is worse off for it. While wheat production in Russia, China and India is skyrocketing, the total acreage devoted to wheat in America has fallen to its lowest in 30 years. Some economists are even predicting that within 20 years America will no longer be a net exporter of wheat.

Perhaps you are wondering why a decline in America’s wheat production is a bad thing. Is there anything wrong with importing wheat, or any other fruits or vegetables for that matter? Before we answer these questions, let’s review further proof of America’s agricultural demise.

Rising Costs

American agriculture is being attacked from every direction. While staunch competition from other nations is an external pressure facing American farmers, internal problems such as rising farming costs, restrictive legislation, unpredictable and catastrophic weather and declining soil quality are further compounding the concerns of America’s farmers. In America, farming is becoming an increasingly stressful business.

In many cases, American farmers are faced with far more political, legal and economic restrictions than farmers in most other nations. These restrictions are driving the cost of American farming higher and higher. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, identified this concern for U.S. farmers several years ago: “The concern over wage rates and other labor costs like workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance and housing requirements would be immaterial if our global competitors also had to comply with a similar set of labor standards,” he said. “The top five U.S. importers of fruit—Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala—have no corresponding set of labor requirements or costs” (Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Sept. 29, 2000).

The result of higher production costs is an increase in the price of the produce itself. Many Americans have probably noticed this at their grocery store. But while it is possible for American grocers to pass the increased cost on to the public, the consumers of American agricultural products abroad oftentimes cannot afford the higher price. In this predicament, the importing nation has two main options. It can either shop around for a cheaper supplier of produce, or it can put pressure on American farmers to reduce the price of their produce. Since this last option is not economically viable for the farmer, the American government will oftentimes step in and make up the difference to the farmer. Many American crops are sold to less-developed nations at a price cheaper than what it cost for the farmer to produce the product. This monetary assistance from the government is called an agricultural subsidy, and in the case of many American farmers, this is what is keeping them in the farming business.

In 2002, the U.S. government paid American farmers over $15 billion in agricultural subsidies, and more than $18 billion in 2003. Recent economic studies indicate that the average American farmer subsidy is $16,000 per year. At the end of the day, it is the American taxpayer who is paying these subsidies.

Why then does America even bother selling agricultural commodities to other nations at such a low price, forcing the government to intervene? It is simply because agriculture, which is one of the largest sectors of the American economy, relies primarily on the export market. Farmers must produce more than the amount needed just for U.S. consumers in order to justify their investment—otherwise they would go out of business. U.S. farmers must export their food for the American agriculture industry to remain alive. If American agribusiness were to die, it would drastically impact the U.S. economy as a whole.

But that process is already underway. “In perhaps the sharpest sign that American agriculture is stagnating, the combined acreage dedicated to the nation’s major crops slipped this spring despite the broadest rally of farm commodity prices in decades” (Wall Street Journal, op. cit.). Something is drastically wrong here!

American farmers receive more money now for their crops than they have in decades, yet this is not encouraging more crop production. Despite the higher income being received for their produce, farmers still can’t cover their rising costs. For the most part, agriculture is simply not a profitable business to be in anymore. This sector of the American economy will soon face a crisis!

Environmental Factors

Americans who have watched television lately know that the nation has suffered through a number of severe weather crises. There is no end in sight to the drought that has dried up western states over the past five years. This past spring and summer, almost the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S. experienced cooler and wetter conditions. Floods have slammed southern states such as Texas and even southern Oklahoma. Unusually fierce thunderstorms have hit central and Midwest states. Weird weather has impacted almost the entire nation—from one coast to the other.

Uncharacteristic weather causes serious problems for American farmers. The results of flooding and droughts to crops and farmland are fairly obvious. Without water, plants don’t grow. With too much water, plants don’t grow. But what might not be so obvious is the impact that untimely weather can have on agriculture. For instance, heavy rain on a recently sowed field can wash seeds away. Unseasonably cool and wet weather in summer can hinder the growth of crops. Early frosts can destroy newly budding fruit. Shorter and warmer winter weather can disturb insect growth patterns, even allowing them to remain alive, increasing the potential for higher insect numbers in the growing season.

Although serious weather problems like the West’s drought are severely impacting the nation’s agriculture, unpredictable weather patterns are also making it more difficult for farmers to consistently produce crops. Because of wobbly market prices and weather patterns, farmers constantly face the stressful decision of what crop to plant and when to plant it. Where U.S. farmers were once able to rely on fairly consistent weather patterns in their efforts to farm, the plague of unpredictable weather is just another factor working against them.

Also of serious concern is the declining soil quality of much of America’s farmland. The entire population of the world (over 6 billion people) relies on the top 7-10 inches of soil covering the Earth. The grass our animals eat, the vegetables we eat, the fruit we eat—all of it is grown in those top few inches of soil. The soil you walk on is absolutely critical to your health and well-being. It should be alarming to learn that this critical topsoil is steadily being destroyed and washed away. In 2001, 1.8 billion tons of topsoil was eroded from America’s cropland. The erosion process is made easier by farming practices such as intensive plowing, monoculture and overgrazing of livestock.

After World War ii, the use of chemicals in farming dramatically increased. Since then, fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides have made farming easier, enabling farmers to more easily control weeds and insects, as well as produce more. But what price have we paid for this efficiency? Healthy soil has a fragile balance between minerals, organic matter and biological matter. Conceived by German chemist Justus von Liebig in the mid-1800s, chemical fertilizers were originally designed to supplement and maintain a healthy soil. During the mid-20th century, America’s population boomed. Americans got richer, and society changed. To meet the rising demands of the people, farmers were forced to expedite the growth of crops, and chemical fertilizers became popular. Since that time, consistent use of chemicals, combined with other factors such as soil erosion, has harmed the natural balance of the soil, and overall soil quality in the U.S. has declined.

In most cases in America, it would be impossible to grow produce in mass quantity now without giving the crop a dose of chemical fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide. The use of chemicals has become a critical practice in American agriculture. An invention that was designed to supplement the soil has literally destroyed it—and had a detrimental impact on the quality of the produce grown and thus on consumers’ health.

Why Is Agriculture Important?

By this point you might be thinking, Why is this so important? What would be wrong with simply importing our produce from other nations? Well, ask yourself this question: What if you were to consistently rely on an acquaintance, not even a friend, to purchase your food for you? If you were to do this, one argument, one disagreement or one bad day for your acquaintance and your food supply would be in jeopardy. It would be ludicrous of you to rely on someone you cannot trust to supply your food. This same principle applies to U.S. agriculture.

America simply cannot afford to rely on other nations to feed it. No nation on Earth will put another nation before itself. Relying on agricultural imports from other nations puts America at the mercy of the rest of world. And with anti-American sentiment increasing globally, relying on a consistent supply of food from other nations would be a high risk.

This trend was recognized in an article in the Christian Science Monitor. “In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, America’s troubled world standing is beginning to color its business relationships abroad. … In what many view as an era of bold political unilateralism by the United States, negotiators working cross-border deals for U.S. firms in Latin America, Europe and Asia now find themselves facing a precipitous shift in their homeland’s image abroad” (June 28). Slowly but steadily, America is being marginalized. Although the U.S. presently holds top position in global agriculture, other nations are providing competition, and soon you will see this marginalization of U.S. interests impact the agricultural sector.

The Wall Street Journal made the same point: “This ‘farms race’ has implications beyond agriculture. America’s influence on issues such as international trade owes much to its domination of food. … The shift is shaking a foundation of America’s economic might” (op. cit.). The critical importance of the agricultural industry to America’s economy is another reason why the nation cannot afford to rely on other nations for food. As stated earlier, 12 percent of the U.S. gdp is from agriculture. U.S. agriculture and related businesses provide more than 17 percent of American jobs. Destruction of America’s agriculture could easily lead to the destruction of the American economy.

A downfall in American agriculture has the potential to thrust the nation at the mercy of other countries for food—at the same time as it precipitates a nationwide economic crisis. The consequences of such a downfall would impact the life of every American, not just farmers.

The Real Cause

The previously mentioned reasons for America’s agricultural downfall are easy to understand. There is tangible evidence proving their veracity. But do you understand the cause of these problems? America has more farmland than any other nation on Earth, yet its farmers face stiff competition from the farmers of smaller, less advanced nations. What is behind America’s unpredictable weather patterns? What is behind the global anti-American trend that will impact American agriculture? The answer to these questions is at the heart and core of the impending downfall of American agriculture.

In his 1863 address advocating a national fast day, Abraham Lincoln summed up why America has such vast wealth, and also why America could lose this wealth. Lincoln stated, “It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God … and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. … We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation ever has grown; but we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”

President Lincoln knew that America’s agricultural wealth was a gift from God. You too can learn about God’s great gift of wealth to America by requesting your free copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy. In this book, Herbert W. Armstrong clearly and definitively shows that the peoples of America and Britain are descendants of the biblical patriarch Joseph, great-grandson to Abraham.

In this book, Mr. Armstrong comments on President Lincoln’s words: “Abraham Lincoln knew these great material blessings had not been earned, but had been given to our people by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel.

“And we should face the facts today and know that we were given all this vast unprecedented material wealth because God promised it, unconditionally, to Abraham. And He promised it to Abraham because Abraham obeyed God, kept God’s laws and commandments.”

America’s unprecedented agricultural wealth is a result of our patriarch Abraham’s obedience, while our present decline and future downfall is a result of our disobedience and rejection of God and His laws. The root cause behind America’s agricultural problems is the nation’s failure to recognize that its wealth was given to it by God, which has led to its peoples vainly rejecting the laws of God. For this reason, God has cursed this nation.

The curse of international competition was prophesied in Deuteronomy 28:33: “The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed alway.”

Unpredictable weather patterns were prophesied in verse 24: “The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.”

Poor soil quality resulting in fewer crops was prophesied in verse 18: “Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.”

Insects that would destroy our crops were prophesied in verse 39: “Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them.”

Even the global anti-American sentiment soon to impact our agricultural trade was prophesied in verse 25: “The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.”

Practically every reason behind the failure of American agriculture today was prophesied over 3,000 years ago—and the fruits prove these prophecies accurate. Surely this is proof that the Bible is God’s Word.

But throughout the Bible, scriptures also paint a picture of the world beyond today’s agricultural problems. Termed the World Tomorrow by Mr. Armstrong, this will be a time of agricultural wealth not experienced by mankind today (write for your free copy of The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like).

Tomorrow’s Agriculture

What I saw flying in the skies over America was truly an amazing sight—although it is disappearing fast. But what you will see if flying through the skies in the World Tomorrow will be far grander. At that time, the entire world will have agricultural wealth that far surpasses the remnant blessings that America has today. Here’s a picture of what you might see on a flight in the coming World Tomorrow.

As you look down from your window seat, it appears as if the entire globe is tucked in with a multicolored quilt. The oceans are a rich dark blue. Every shade of green covers the land. A variety of rich, bright flowers and crops bloom on the dark brown soil. Immediately you notice the absence of massive, concrete cities covered with a thin haze of pollution. Smaller cities and towns dot the countryside. From coast to coast, every nation’s land is speckled with houses and barns. Plowshares and pruninghooks lean up against barn walls. What seems like millions of people are out working on the land. Some are harvesting grapes, others are planting crops. None of them are using any sort of chemical. The perfectly balanced soil grows healthy crops and pasture.

Meandering through every nation are blue rivers that provide water for vegetation, animals and humans. Thousands of small tributaries flow into the rivers.

The land is like nothing you have ever witnessed. Cattle graze on lush grass growing on land you once knew to be the great Sahara Desert of Africa. Just a few hundred miles north in the Middle East, the vegetation changes and great forests are the norm. Stately trees pepper the once parched and dry land. Streams of water flow through the countryside. There are no dust storms. No erosion.

Over all the land, the topsoil is tens of feet deep. It is rich and nutritious. Herds of cattle, sheep, buffalo and bison graze the pastures.

In tomorrow’s world, delegates from nations trade with each other. It’s evident that the spirit of cooperation has replaced the spirit of competition. All the nations have something to offer. Each country is content with its own land.

As a result of this global agricultural wealth, there are no starving people. No one goes hungry. There is no disease or malnutrition. Men that you knew to be soldiers are now farmers. Everywhere you look there is happiness and excitement, abundance and wealth.

God’s plan for mankind is playing out precisely as He intended. This new world of agricultural bliss is rapidly approaching!