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Farmer and Non-Farmer Responsibility to Each Other, or: That Old Secret Crisis of Surplus

Authors: Garrett Graddy-Lovelace*, American University School of International Service
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Land Use, Rural Geography
Keywords: agricultural policy, political ecology, contract theory, agrarian crisis, surplus, farm justice
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual Track 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


What do farmers and non-farmers owe each other? And what does this framework of mutual responsibility mean for agricultural-environmental governance, particularly in the US? At the nexus of this mutual dependence is a tenuous contract, straining against the treadmill of commodity crop overproduction—and its manifold ecological degradations. The new enclosures and markets created in the wake of glut’s destructive impacts comprise the engine of late agro-capitalist expansionism. Tracing the secret of the crisis of surplus discloses how rural U.S. farmers and policy-makers come to believe they are feeding the world, a gendered and racialized geopolitical imaginary that hides the ecological, economic, social, nutritional, and ethical crises of commodity crop overproduction—domestically and internationally. Drawing upon USDA archival research, policy and farmer organization analysis, and literatures on agriculture as public good, this paper chronicles the origin of this framework of mutual responsibility, which forms the basis for US agricultural policy, but was compromised from the beginning by the original coloniality of U.S. agriculture—and of the idea of social contracts themselves. This contract eroded over the course of the 20th century, subsumed in neocolonial assertions of scarcity, competition, and charity. It is worth recognizing the core agrarian honesty of this mutual responsibility—and the high risks of dodging it. This essay contends that negotiating an equitable social contract for agriculture necessitates community-partnered research and deliberation on how to update supply management policies—farm ‘parity’—for food, farm, climate, gender, and racial justice--all through expanded agrarian viability.

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