U.S.A. Agricultural subsidies began in the United States during the Great Depression in order to aid farmers with an oversupply of commodities during hard times. These subsidies continue to be a tradition,—though a costly one,—that continues on today.

As a result of these government-sponsored payments based on the production of certain crops, farmers choose to produce vast quantities in order to reap more benefits from the system. The perverse incentive created by the U.S. government by providing funding that promotes the degradation of land that should not be used for farming is a major issue in America today, and one that is not often realized by the public. The additional irrigation methods or pesticides put into use in order to force these lands to produce on a profitable level is severely shortsighted. The use of fresh water by the world as a whole and by the United States for agricultural purposes is astounding.

Agriculture today gobbles up over 90% of global fresh water used each year, and the United States is the primary consumer. In essence, the United States is exporting its water across international borders, the detriments of which can only be realized in years to come. Idealistically, the North and Central American continents should be able to sustain their water needs—while disproportionally large in comparison to water use around the world—for several hundred years. That would potentially be true if the exportation of water to other countries did not exist. Many nations are water-poor, and they, in essence, outsource their consumption by importing water- intensive commodities, such as grain or electronics, that are produced elsewhere. This flow of ‘virtual water’ is a large part of global economics today.

Overproduction incentivized through agricultural subsidies and unnecessary irrigation of marginal lands could lead to policies for reclaiming water: essentially zero wastewater from towns and cities around the U.S. is recycled or reused. Without the policies and infrastructure to reuse water, it is sure that the United States will not be enjoying its huge water supply for long. It is necessary to look toward the future to decide what steps to take toward water security and realizing the precious commodity that North and Central America possess.

Because agricultural subsidies are currently tied to production and subsidies have become incorporated into the price of land, agribusinesses that produce more receive more funding from the government. This has begun to cut out the smaller farmers who simply cannot compete and grow on a corporate-farming level. Subsidies in the U.S. for cotton reach a shockingly insignificant percent of cotton growers. This fact exemplifies the growing reach of major agribusiness in the U.S. and how farm owners today are no longer the good natured, suntanned and broad-backed Americans they once were. Owners of farmable land in the U.S. achieve major gains because of the way production is now tied to land possession.

These land titles are progressively being grabbed up by the only entities that can afford them, creating a barrier to entry for new farmers who simply do not possess the startup finances to obtain land. America has historically been anti-trust for “too big to fail” businesses, but with no end in sight for agricultural subsidies, it is only these types of corporation who will continue to produce the food that Americans consume every day.

— Brianna Irene Lazerwitz