To the Editor:
Those of us who enjoy eating regularly should be disturbed by the news that half of all Illinois farmers lost money last year and it could be even worse this year. Average farm income was $21,000, not even a $15 minimum wage. Farm bankruptcies and suicides are on the rise.
Still, the fertilizer, seed, and agrichemical salespeople did well. The fuel dealers got paid. The absentee landowners got their rents and the equipment dealers got their payments. Even the bankers got their interest. The farmers got what was left, too often nothing. If we want to keep eating, farmers need our support.
But farmers don’t want handouts. They want a fair price for their products. Realistically, only a small fraction of them are in a position to command that. They’re the few percent who farm regeneratively/organically who will feed the world in 30 years, when affordable petrochemicals are no longer available and conventional farming no longer possible.
Not only are regenerative/organic farmers producing a more nutritious product than conventional, they are providing a wealth of critical ecosystem services including wildlife habitat, tree products, grass-fed livestock, flood prevention, drought resilience, nutrient retention, erosion prevention, enhanced evapotranspiration, ground water recharge, and, most importantly, carbon sequestration to reduce climate change.
We can and should buy regenerative/organic products from local farms, at farmers markets, and in food co-ops. But, the best way to pay for ecosystem services is to pay farmers by the ton for sequestering carbon. All farmers need to begin annual monitoring and recording of their soil organic matter.
The more carbon in their soils, the better job they are doing. For that, they should be paid. In a rational world, sequestering and monitoring soil carbon should be every farmer’s first managerial responsibility, whether conventional or regenerative.
Donovan C. Wilkin
Associate Director, McHenry/Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District