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  • Sarah Gilliatt

A Visit to the Naylor Farm

By Sarah Gilliatt

For a couple of days before the Summer NFFC Meeting began, I was very fortunate to have the special opportunity of visiting former NFFC President and agricultural economist George Naylor and his wife Patti Naylor at their beautiful and diverse organic farm in Churdan, Iowa, a couple of hours northwest of Des Moines.  George had grown up on this farm and, as a young person, had wished it would become organic, but his idea was met with laughter.  At long last for him, in 2014, he was able to make the transition to organic methods.  George and Patti grow a wide range of crops, including grains, vegetables, corn, and, most recently, lots of apples.  By foot, car, or by hopping onto their golf cart, they showed Zena McFadden from Family Farm Defenders, Megan Stratton, staff member from the North American Marine Alliance and NFFC, and me around their prolific farm that teemed with pollinators, butterflies, birds, and a myriad of critters who clearly were happy to have found a haven in the midst of genetically engineered corn and soy monocultures, and hog Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that dominated the landscape.  Their farm struck me as a wonderfully powerful and radical act of providing clear proof of the viability of an entirely different kind of farming than that of the dominant model. 

I have long admired George’s deep analysis of our agricultural system and NFFC’s approach to the work of transforming our food system.  Being from Iowa, educated at UC Berkeley in mathematics with a minor in economics, and active in the Farm Crisis of the 1970s and 80s, he served as NFFC’s President for many years. As a citizen-economist, he was a leading proponent of parity policies that had been a cornerstone of US domestic agricultural policy starting in the New Deal era.  These parity policies meant that the farmers’ costs of production were met, that farm prices were indexed to inflation, and that there were floor prices below which agricultural products could not dip.  After just ten years, the positive impact of parity pricing could be seen -- livestock production was based on family farms, with hay, pasture, and oats used for feed and bedding, allowing for built-in crop rotation with weeds relatively easy to control without chemicals.  But in 1953, Ezra Taft Benson became head of the USDA, and the parity policies started to be dismantled.  In NFFC’s series of extremely informative videos on Disparity to Parity, George explains how when aggregate farm income declines, as it did when parity policies were abandoned, farmers resort to overproduction and increased technology, which sacrifices sustainability on the farm and constitutes a misallocation of resources.  He explained how it led to the “externalizing of costs to the detriment of soil, biodiversity, rural communities and many dreams deferred.”  Living in the heart of corn and soy and CAFO country, George witnessed the impact of this daily and described how these industrial farms produce cheap feed, valued at 1/3 of the 1952 price, adjusted for inflation.  As George concludes, “Cheap feed has led to more meat production rather than the demand for meat leading to more feed production.”  Indeed, industrial meat consumption has tripled since 1952, together with its tremendous environmental costs and inhumane treatment of animals.  This absence of parity has created a vicious cycle of cheap feed and cheap livestock in which farmers are unable to raise livestock for good prices and so switch to corn and soy, which makes feed cheaper so that livestock producers no longer produce their own feed and processors can buy both feed and livestock at low prices.  But George asks, who doesn’t want to live in a society of parity, parity not only in agriculture but across all dimensions of our society?

See George Naylor’s article “A Parity Farm Bill for a Future with Family Farms and Monarchs” in The Natural Farmer Winter 2022-2023 Issue on Countering Corporate Capture.

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