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Tom Philpott's weekly column, "Military Update", appears in fifty daily newspapers in the United States & overseas. He lives in Centerville, Virginia. (Bowker Author Biography)

Værker af Tom Philpott

Associated Works

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017 (2017) — Bidragyder — 114 eksemplarer, 2 anmeldelser
The Best American Food Writing 2022 (2022) — Bidragyder — 33 eksemplarer, 2 anmeldelser

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Two summers ago visiting the beautiful island of Santorini I noted with extreme disgust that the island’s two million visitors each year drank bottled water that was exclusively imported. The island had virtually no fresh drinking water. Plastic bottles, plastic that was endangering sea life and creeping into our food, were everywhere.

In Perilous Bounty I learned that farming families in parts of Central California won’t drink the water from their own taps because it comes from wells dug so deep into the ancient aquifers that it increasingly comes mixed with arsenic from the earth’s core.

So these largely poor people buy water in plastic bottles, much like tourists in the Aegean Sea. To drink. Even to wash their children.

This story is largely about weakening supplies of fresh water for agriculture in California and the decline of soil in Iowa due to agribusiness.

In California we see the pressure on agribusiness coming from the decline in the snowpacks of the Sierra Madre mountains, the over-use of subterranean aquifers, but also from the diversion of the Colorado River and the snowpacks of the Rocky Mountains.

Equally alarming is the history of massive rainstorms which historically hit the area once every 100 years or so but will likely occur more frequently as global warming evaporates more Pacific Ocean waters more quickly.

If California public officials have plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people in the Central Valley on short notice, it seems unlikely they have plans to quickly evacuate millions of beef cattle, dairy cows, and hogs from the same area. The prospect of millions of floating dead farm animals is nauseating in the extreme.

The decline of Prairie soil is equally worrisome and a long term threat to corn and soybean growers. As is the leaching of poisonous insecticides and fertilizers into the Mississippi and Lake Erie water basins where it results in algae blooms, dead fish, and list livelihoods.

Much if this is not not new journalism.

Some of things that occurred to me before include:

- Iowa corn and soybean farming hasn’t been profitable on average for the past 30 years; profitable for the seed, insecticide, fertilizer and farm machinery companies, but not for the farmers themselves.

- Large parts of Central California are sinking by about 10” per year as the aquifers empty out.

- the scale at which Wall Street (and Toronto’s Bay Street) shifted money out of money-losing sub-prime investments and into pistachio, almond, and grape-growing agricultural lands, bidding up the prices of such land

- in the late 1800’s John Rockefeller eschewed buying oil wells and instead controlled the distribution and processing system. That game plan is pretty much in evidence in today’s agribusiness. Consolidation of meat packers, distributors, petro-chemical giants and commodity traders seems to have taken the fun out of farming.

The author of this book sees some daylight in all the gloom, but I found it misplaced given the financial stakes involved and the speed at which we have degraded the environment.

I also found it supremely ironic given the political narrative in the US about the cultural divide between Middle America and the coastal cities.

1) Monoculture isn’t just an Iowa problem. It is poisoning the heartland and the Gulf Coast equally.

2) California’s power brokers aren’t in Hollywood or Berkeley. They wear flannel shirts and cowboy hats and say “Yahoo!!” with feeling.

3) The heartland of America is as far from free enterprise as its ever been and its hard to imagine things loosening up. The farmers of Iowa are completed tied up by oligopolies. In this economy, there really is no freedom of choice or hope of innovation on any scale that can disrupt the status quo. Likewise farmers in California will see water regulations and labour laws that will dictate their businesses for the forseeable future. I see this in my own sector, I see it in many others as well.

Big data. Consolidation. Increased automation and artificial intelligence. These will guide agribusiness.
… (mere)
MylesKesten | 2 andre anmeldelser | Jan 23, 2024 |
In 1862, California's Central Valley was submerged under 10 feet of flood waters as a result of a heavy winter snow followed by weeks of warm rain. If comparable flooding were to occur today, this would have a devastating impact on the US and international food supply because of the amount of food it produces. Now, this week's news is bringing stories about initial flooding in this area.

Tom Philpott's Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It discusses the many challenge facing American agriculture focusing on California and Iowa. Although it would have been nice to have read a wider survey of agriculture problems around the world, his focus on these two areas allows him to better explain the problems facing so many other areas. The problems he explains include:

1) Drought and flooding, including the rapid disappearance of water from the aquifers.
2) Soil erosion and soil depletion in general
3) Water pollution of aquifers, Lake Eire and the Gulf of Mexico
4) Agricultural economics beginning with the oligopolies controlling the farm equipment, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides used by farmers resulting in an ever-increasing cost for farming. He then discusses the oligopolies controlling the distribution of harvested crops which suppress the prices farmers receive resulting in low margins of profit. This leads to more and more consolidation of the farms into very large enterprises.
5) Governmental policies that preserve the status quo and make it difficult for farmers to adopt new farming models.

The problems discussed in this book will soon impact every American. This book is a very readable way to learn about these problems and to hear some of the ideas for addressing them.
… (mere)
M_Clark | 2 andre anmeldelser | Apr 3, 2023 |
Philpott's book tells the story of how the corporatization of agriculture now risks the loss of two regions central to America's food supply: California and Iowa. To add to the pollution, overdrawing of natural resources and loss of rich soil, Philpott offers facts about the likelihood of overwhelming floods destroying cattle and crops in California (it has happened before), and similar effects of climate change on Iowa's agriculture. Philpott does offer some hope in the form of small farmers who resist the trend to sell out to large corporations and find ways to farm sustainably and profitably. Well worth reading.… (mere)
nmele | 2 andre anmeldelser | May 26, 2021 |

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