We’re witnessing some challenging times in world politics, and it’s likely that agriculture is going to get brought into the fray sooner than later.
While the eyes of most of the world have been focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US strategists have been looking at how China is flexing its muscles, particularly with regards to Taiwan.
Some of it seems like posturing. China has said it won’t supply weapons to Russia, which weakens Russia’s opportunity to “win” the war it started, as if winning was an option. And it makes China seem like it isn’t siding with Russia.
But China is certainly not on Americans’ side, either. Although the chirping between the two superpowers over technology in particular doesn’t necessarily mean we’re headed for a showdown, I don’t sense any appetite for compromise and conciliation.
And neither does a growing faction of US legislators, even those you wouldn’t normally consider hawks. Most lately, there’s a push to make the upcoming US Farm Bill – which may come in at $1 trillion – more focused than ever on domestic food security and critical supply chains.
This began as a post-COVID White House priority. Americans understandably became nervous when they thought their food supplies were threatened, despite the abundance of food they produce.
But how does that food get to their table? Labour is needed to process it. Inputs like fertilizer are needed to grow it. Land is needed beneath it, and that’s getting increasingly eaten up by foreign or absentee ownership. And the livestock we count on need feed supplements (specifically, amino acids) to be productive. But US authorities say some supplements produced in China are being purposely held back from American producers.
President Biden has allocated tons of money into improving domestic production and capacity on many fronts. But if China dials up the aggression, the US feels it will likewise have to dial up its response.
That’s where the Farm Bill comes in. Former US secretary of agriculture Mike Espy penned an opinion piece in Agri-Pulse this week calling for a bipartisan approach to address the China situation.
“Undeniably, China sees agriculture and our food supply chain as leverage to use against us,” he wrote.
He’s urging President Biden to consider adding the secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services as members of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews the sale of critical infrastructure to foreign entities.
“This may help the current and future administrations to consider the security of our nation’s food and agriculture systems as a factor when determining to act to block foreign investment,” he says, “especially from China. Protecting American farmers is paramount for both Democrats and Republicans.”
He didn’t specifically say how he wants both sides of the house to work together, but the implication is that whatever they do, they should make sure the Farm Bill is as well endowed as possible with money for agriculture, not just nutrition programs. These programs are vital to many Americans, but what if the food supply that feeds these programs is unreliable because of inadequate investment?
It’s yet another stressor on Farm Bill money that makes you wonder, even as its coffers balloon, how all interests will be even close to being met.