New Food Economy: What happens if we eliminate crop insurance altogether?

Imagine for a moment, a possible future, some years ahead: Across the plains, acres that were once plowed up and planted to corn or wheat go back to native grass. Marginal, flood-prone land is left to return to wetlands, improving water quality downstream. Farmers diversify their operations in order to effectively manage risk in a changing climate. Monocropping is a thing of the past.

Or this scenario, not so long from now: Growers adopt practices like no-till and cover cropping, which helps lower their inputs—the money spent on fertilizer, pesticides, seed, and anything else they need to get a crop in the ground. They turn a profit with ease. They may even switch to cheaper, non-GMO seeds and see profit margins swell.

In this future tableau, cattle are turned out to pasture on land that was once intensively farmed. Land managers plant low-cost grasses and other silage, and graze livestock on a portion of the land while the remaining acres are allowed to rest and regenerate. There’s always something growing in the soil, anchoring nitrogen, helping retain rainwater, and sequestering carbon.

This is what American agriculture could one day look like, according to farmers, environmentalists, and economists. But first we’d have to get rid of federally subsidized crop insurance.

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New Food Economy: Are plant-based milks causing harmful nutritional deficiencies in children?

While researching the debate over labeling plant-based milks “milk” I came across an interesting tidbit: a letter to the FDA from the American Academy of Pediatrics claiming that children were suffering from “harmful nutritional deficiencies” because their parents were giving them plant-based milk thinking it was nutritionally equivalent to cow. So I looked into those claims for The New Food Economy.

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New Food Economy: Scientists say many UTIs are caused by E. coli in food—when will the government believe them?

The women may have lived more than 2,500 miles apart, but somehow they had a unique strain of multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli bacteria in common.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found the E. coli bacteria in 48 urine samples from college students who visited health centers at UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Minnesota with urinary tract infections (UTIs). Between 38 and 51 percent of the Berkeley, Minnesota, and Michigan students with UTIs resistant to the first-line antibiotic trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, often marketed as Bactrim, were infected with the same strain. Read more…

New Food Economy: If crop insurance rewarded conservation practices, would more farmers go no-till?

Crop insurance works too well for farmers who farm without regard for long-term soil health, and not well enough for the few who do. A new task force wants to change that.

This spring, historic flooding across the Great Plains and Upper Midwest engulfed millions of acres of cropland. The fields were so inundated, many farmers couldn’t farm; the pace of corn planting was the slowest in 40 years. With one eye on the sodden ground and the other on the calendar, farmers were faced with a terrible choice: risk planting late in the season, a move that could cost them a yield and income in the fall, or rely on crop insurance, which provides some coverage when extreme weather prevents planting. Read more…

New Food Economy: Stop & Shop now has big, goofy-looking robots patrolling its aisles. What, exactly, is the goal?

I met Marty in the produce section of a Stop & Shop in Bristol, Rhode Island. I was looking for vegetables to grill over hot coals, while Marty roamed the aisles, big, round eyes staring vacantly ahead, searching for spills and other hazards—with electric sensors strategically placed on its tall, rectangular form. Marty, you see, is a supermarket robot. Read more…