Inside Story Americas
Are big American agribusinesses too dominant?
As the US suffers from the worst drought to hit the country in over 50 years, we discuss the future of US agriculture.
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2012 14:19

As the US continues to suffer from the worst drought to hit the country in over 50 years, what does the future have in store for America's farmers?

"The drought is dramatic .... We are going to see some pretty dramatic price impacts."

- Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union

The US is known as the bread basket of the world, producing food not just for domestic consumption but feeding hungry consumers worldwide.

But the worst drought to hit the country in 50 years has devastated crops and hit farmers hard.

The drought is already leading to a rise in food prices nationally and across the globe.

An increasing number of scientists are linking the extreme weather to global climate change and it is suggested that farmers will have to brace themselves for more unpredictable weather in the coming years.

"Agriculture is ... a natural system. As we look at increasing storms and increasing problems, we need to be looking at how we decentralise instead of centralise, how we move out and increase diversity rather than decrease diversity, because part of the problem is that you have one area that is responsible for such a huge percentage of the food ...."

- Scott Marlow, Rural Advancement Foundation International

Critics argue big agribusinesses are coming to dominate production and say the interests of small farmers are being marginalised as these big companies spend millions lobbying politicians in Washington.

So, beyond the short-term crisis, what is the state of US agriculture? Are big agribusinesses too dominant in US agriculture?

And given the challenges of the drought can US farmers be counted on to meet the future food needs of the world? 

To discuss these questions Inside Story Americas is joined by guests: Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union; Karen Hansen-Kuhn, the international programme director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; and Scott Marlow, the executive director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International, who represents the interests of small sustainable farmers.

"The idea that US feeds the world - historically that's true, to some degree it's still real. But some of it was created, some of it was financial institutions, donor agencies telling countries the best policy was not to worry about growing their own food but to import it from wherever it was cheapest. So in many countries production capacity was weakened. So rather than just accepting that the US feeds the world, we need to be putting a lot more emphasis on building up local production in developing countries ... 20-30 years ago most countries had grain reserves, so when this kind of shortage happened there was something to fall back on - that's gone." 

Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy 


  • The US is experiencing the worst drought in 56 years
  • In July the drought covered 57,2 per cent of the contiguous 48 US states
  • The corn crop has been severely damaged by the drought and corn prices have surged by 60 per cent from June
  • The drought affects fartms in the US agricultural heartland in Midwest
  • The US government expects the corn output to be 13 per cent lower than in 2011
  • The US government expects the soya bean harvest to be 12 per cent lower than in 2011
  • 40 per cent of US corn output has been diverted to fuel production
  • US Agriculture Department expects food prices to rise by 3-4 per cent next year
  • The US produces more than 40 per cent of the world's corn
  • Four firms are in control of over 60 per cent of US grain business


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