John Ikerd PhD
Professor Emeritus, Agricultural Economics
702 S. 8th Street Cir
Fairfield, IA 52556
Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics
Still Under Construction!
Note: The professional opinions expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect any positions the University of Missouri may have on these issues. John's personal opinions are posted at https://johnikerd.com .
What's New: Farm and Food Policies for a Sustainable Future -- See Farm and Food Policy section below.
The prices Americans pay for food in supermarkets and restaurants do not reflect the “true cost” of farming. The basic reasoning is that if the things of nature belong to any of us, they belong to all of us, and we are not all being fully compensated economically for their use. The economic costs of food production also fail to include the value of the damages inflicted on nature and society by food production.
Accounting for the “true economic costs” of food and farming is a necessary step in the right direction, is not sufficient to account for the “true cost” of American food. Ignoring the non-economic social and ecological costs of food are an even greater concern than failing to fully account for all economic costs. Costs and benefits that are purely social or ecological in nature have no economic value to be internalized. The “true costs” of food should include “all costs” – social, ecological, and economic. Read More
The Unfulfilled Promise of Rural America
During the 1940s and early 1950s, the future of family farms and rural life seemed brighter than at any time in American history. However in1993, I wrote: “The trend during this period has been toward fewer, larger, and more specialized farms. The result has been declining rural populations, declining demand for local markets and locally purchased inputs, and a resulting economic decay of many rural communities. Over the past fifty years, many rural communities seem to have lost their purpose. By the early 2000s, I saw hope for a "rural renaissance" emerging from the sustainable agriculture movement. Unfortunately, that hope has yet to be realized, as the wealth of rural communities continue to be extracted by industrial agri-food corporations. Read More
Agroecology: Science, Farming System, or Social Movement?
Agroecology is a science, a farming system and a social movement. First, agroecology applies the science of ecology to agriculture. There is a common phrase in ecology that relates directly to agroecology: “You can’t do just one thing.” Any one thing a farmer may do affects everything else on the farm. Second, as a farming system, agroecology respects the fact that the natural ecosystems upon which individual farming systems depend are inherently different or unique. Agroecology respects the “natural ecology of place.” Third, as a social movement, agroecology supports the global “Food Sovereignty Movement.” Food Sovereignty proclaims “The right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems." Read More
Reconnecting with the Earth and Each Other
We live in one of the most prosperous nations in the world with among the highest levels of income and wealth. Even after the COVID pandemic had crippled our economy, the stock markets quickly rebounded, unemployment has since dropped to historically low levels, and wages and salaries are rising. However, public attention quickly focused on inflation and the US Congress returned to gridlock. We feel we can’t afford the costs of dealing with issues of climate change or social justice. We Americans are an increasingly discontent, dissatisfied, frustrated, and unhappy people. Regardless of how much we have, we never seem to have enough. I am convinced this growing sense of national malaise is a symptom of people having lost any common sense of connectedness with each other and with the earth. Read More
I believe in the future of farming. When I was a member of the Future Farmers of America, the Creed began with these words. I believed those words then and still believe them now. However, I do not believe there is any future in the kind of farming we have created over the past 50-60 years. Today's industrial system of agricultural production is not sustainable. I believe the future of farming in America will be in a kind of farming very different from the large farms that dominate American agriculture today. However, in many respects, farming the future will be very much like farming had been throughout much of human history. Any approach to farming to have a future, it must respect the basic principles of nature, including human nature, as the family farms that sustained flourished human communities and societies in the past. Read More
The Status and Future of Local Food
I believe we are in the midst of another transformation in our food system. I believe the local food movement is in fact the leading edge of a change that ultimately will transform the American food system from industrial/global to sustainable/local. Organic foods were the leading edge of the movement. However, as organic foods moved into mainstream food markets, many consumers turned to local farmers to ensure the integrity of their foods. The modern local food movement emerged in response to growing distrust in organics. Admittedly, the future of the local food movement depends on being able to “scale up” to serve increasing numbers of consumers. However, if farmers compromise their ecological and social integrity in the process of scaling up, they will be little different from industrial farmers who are producing foods many of their customers are attempting to avoid. Read More
Farm and Food Policies for a Sustainable Future
Abstract: United States government policies have incentivized and supported the unsustainable agri-food system of the present and fundamental changes in farm and food policies will be necessary for a sustainable future. US farm policies, initiated in the 1930s, were designed to ensure long run domestic food security by ensuring the economic viability of independent family farms. New mechanical, chemical, and biological technologies of the 1950s made it possible to increase agricultural productivity by applying industrial production strategies to farming. A shift in farm policy during the 1960s made the shift from family farms to industrial agriculture inevitable. The full article is available in the University of Missouri Law School: Business, Entrepreneurship, and Tax Review.
The Economic Realities of CAFOs
Their defenders claim that CAFOs are an economic necessity. They claim that CAFOs are the most economically efficient means of animal production and are necessary to keep retail prices of meat, milk, and eggs affordable to consumers. They argue that CAFOs will be necessary to provide animal protein for a growing and increasingly affluent global population. CAFOs are also defended as being necessary for the economic viability of rural communities in agricultural areas of the nation. CAFO defenders claim that the continued proliferation of CAFOs is inevitable. Regardless of whether CAFOs are a consequence of free markets or government policy, defenders see CAFOs as the inevitable future of animal agriculture. They argue there are simply no economically viable alternatives. None of these are consistent with the economic realities of CAFOs. Read More
Feeding the World Intelligently - Without Corporate Agriculture
What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods. Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in the places where additional food is desperately needed... Also paving the way for diverse diets and improved health.” Read More
Reclaiming the Future of Farming
Food Security; The First Requisite for Sustainability