Farmer Mary Agnes Rawlings and her husband have been trying to break out of the industrial agriculture “trap” since returning to her husband’s family farm around two decades ago. One hundred ten acres of the 154-acre central Illinois farm are now organic row crops, with the help, in part, of USDA grants. On August 10, 2020, the Trump administration announced it would be reducing the amount the government reimburses farmers as part of the program to 50 percent, or $500 per project, due to “limited funding.”
“It hurts,” Rawlings said, “when farmers are already struggling with $3 dollars a bushel corn,” she says, noting that at those prices, farmers are losing fifty cents per bushel of corn they produce.
The alternative to organic, Rawlings points out, is using GMO seeds, but foods grown with them have been linked to a decline in kidney and liver function in animal studies. Putting themselves at risk takes a psychological toll, she says. Rawlings suspects her father, who worked on the family farm until he died of colon cancer, may have gotten sick because of chemicals the USDA continues to allow, like glyphosate, the synthetic herbicide under trademark by Monsanto. In spite of studies providing evidence that associates glyphosate with increased cancer risk, in January 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency announced there were “no risks of concern to human health” related to the chemical.
“There’s so many issues I don’t even know where to turn,” Rawlings told Truthout. But amid all her concerns, climate tops her list of agricultural issues, she says.