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Growing 'International Markets'

A humorous look at an exciting new 'crop.'

Editor's note: One of our policy-wonk friends from "inside the Beltway" was wandering around the halls at the USDA the other day, and came across the following “Dear Mr. Secretary” letter, apparently unanswered, in a big, blue recycling bin outside Secretary Glickman’s office.

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Please send me any information you can on some new crops you keep talking about. I’m quite interested in what you and Chairman Lugar keep calling "growing international markets," and wonder if it’s anything like growing a row crop or maybe potatoes.

It’s quite clear that you folks think that these “markets” are the next miracle crop, which is pretty good, since Jerusalem Artichokes turned out not to be a real good deal, and the DEA seems to think hemp might be just a bit too "miraculous" for its own good.

At first I thought you might mean selling U.S. crops overseas to customers who want them, but that’s apparently not your idea. I mean, I’ve got soybeans that aren’t those new Roundup-Ready gene ones, and a bunch of folks in Europe who want to buy them, but you say it’s better not to sell them any beans at all.

I also notice that China’s likely to be a net exporter of food, along with most of the other places we send you to on trade missions, so it doesn’t seem that those are what you mean by "markets" either.

As for feeding a hungry world, I’m all for that. I’m always happy to help out hungry people, whether they’re in my church or halfway around the world. But folks in need aren’t exactly "markets" in the way I understand the term. See, if they had money to buy whatever they want from us, they wouldn’t be "in need," now would they? At least, that’s how the guy down at the ADM elevator put it when I suggested that his company ought to send some food to hungry people around the world. And it’s apparent you’re not talking about "markets" in the next town over or even in the nearest big city, either.

So I have to figure that these "international markets" are some new crop that your ARS boys have cooked up out there at Beltsville. It sounds like USDA and the Congress are really getting behind this one, putting up some serious federal money for growing "markets," the way you used to for growing corn or cotton. Then again, considering the mess you guys made with subsidizing those crops, you might want to think this one through a little more carefully.

I’ve got a pretty good rotation going, but I’m always interested in diversifying things, so these "markets" might be a good deal, so long as they aren’t hard on my soil and fit profitably into my system. The guys down at the extension office looked at me like I’d been out in the sun too long when I asked for anything they had on "markets," so I figured you just hadn’t sent the brochures out from Washington, D.C. just yet.

Waiting patiently,

[Name Withheld]

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