To the Editor:
Family farming is probably the most underappreciated and undervalued profession in American history.
Because we have invested so little in farming’s sustainability, farm soils continue to lose health and productivity, requiring greater amounts of artificial fertilizers and agricultural chemicals every year to remain productive.
Increasing losses of nutrients and soil erosion are polluting our surface waters and creating dead zones in nearshore marine fisheries.
Micronutrient content of farmed produce has diminished by almost half in the past 50 years, contributing to the U.S. epidemic of chronic degenerative disease.
Extinction of species, particularly pollinators, is accelerating because of our failure to maintain biodiversity on our farms and natural lands. Carbon, which could be farmed back into soils, instead is accumulating in the atmosphere, driving up the risk of runaway climate change.
And family farmers, the iconic protectors of and investors in our farmland and backbones of our rural communities, are disappearing because of financial pressures from rising tariffs, costs of fuel and chemicals, lack of market control and rising interest rates.
But, the most grievous effect of failing to protect family farms is rarely noted. Farmers are committing suicide at a rate five times that of the national average.
This pattern holds around the world, where farmers have little control over their financial circumstances and every day face the danger of losing their lands and livelihoods.
The best protection we could give family farmers is to pay them for sequestering carbon in their soils, as we would with any other valuable crop.
This would be more than paid for with a progressive tax on carbon that also would serve to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. No single measure would more completely mitigate all of the problems listed above in one fell swoop.
Society’s motto should be tax carbon, pay farmers.
Donovan C. Wilkin