Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rurality as a Dimension of Environmental Justice: Call for Papers

2014 Rural Sociological Society Annual Conference: “Equity, Democracy, and the Commons: Counter-Narratives for Rural Transformation.”

Location: New Orleans, Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Date: July 30th to August 3, 2014

Paper Abstracts due: March 3

Submission: Email abstracts (up to 350-words) to Loka Ashwood (ashwood@wisc.edu) and Kate Mactavish (kate.mactavish@oregonstate.edu) in lieu of an online submission.

Changing community and production dynamics in rural America make it a state-sanctioned site for some of the most hazardous and toxic industries of our time.  From its production treadmill, industrial agriculture has cast onto rural America a plethora of negative externalities:  mounting levels of air and water pollution, farm consolidation, and depopulation.   A range of extraction and other risky industries justify the siting of facilities in rural areas because of easy access to ample natural resources, sparse populations that reduce exposure risk, and the possibility of economic revitalization.  State and federal statutes (e.g., right-to-farm laws, the Federal Code of Regulations for Nuclear Operations) often permit these industries to target rural America based on past practice and low population levels.  

On an international level, cities serve as powerful hubs for the global economy, pulling resources away from less prominent urban and rural areas. The growing periphery within core countries, as well as continued resource extraction of rural places abroad, calls for increased attention to the rural facets of injustice in developed and developing countries.

We invite paper submissions that explore facets of rurality that help explain rural places’ vulnerability to environmental injustices from interdisciplinary perspectives, including (but not limited to) sociology, geography, law, anthropology, public health, and the environmental sciences. We are especially keen to receive papers from scholars working broadly on issues of environmental justice in order to foster conversation between those scholars and scholars whose focus is on rurality more generally.

Select papers from the proceedings and a wider call will be reviewed for potential publication in a special issue being considered by the Journal of Rural Studies.

Confirmed Panelist: Steve Wing, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.  

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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Finally, some law and rural sociology/ag scholarship

For the six years I've attended the Rural Sociological Society's (RSS) Annual Meeting, I've been pressing for the production of more scholarship at the intersection of law and rural livelihoods--and specifically for more attention among rural sociologists to the role of law in the phenomena they study.  So, imagine my delight when I learned at the RSS meeting in August, 2013, of an article forthcoming in Rural Sociology titled, "Where's the Farmer?  Limiting Liability in Midwestern Industrial Hog Production."
Scholars largely assume that hog production is following the same industrialization process as the integrated poultry industry. Since the collapse of hog farming in the 1990s, academics have anticipated that producers will eventually become trapped in contracts that leave the integrator with full control over the production process. Embedded in this prediction is an assumption that hog farmers respond to these productive pressures individually. Our analysis of the Carthage Management System suggests a different path for the hog commodity chain. The Carthage Management System is a conglomeration of business management firms that bring finishing hog farmers together to form limited liability corporations (LLCs) in the breed-to-wean stage of hog production. We use a sociology of agrifood framework to suggest that the nuances of hog production encourage the use of what we call folding corporations to limit liability in ways that profoundly transform the family farm. Corporations and individual hog farmers alike employ this creative LLC structure to deflect responsibility for the risks of hog production. We identify how folding corporations externalize the costs of production onto rural communities. Additional research is needed to better understand unfolding farmer identities, legal protections for farmers, how widespread organizational structures like Carthage Management System are, and their consequences for rural communities and the industrialization process.
The paper's authors are Loka Ashwood, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin in the Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, and Danielle Diamond and Kendall Thu, both of the anthropology department at Northern Illinois University.  I was fortunate enough at RSS 2013 to moderate a panel on which Ashwood presented her paper on "The Moral Economy of Land Loss," and I'm excited by the prospect of future work from a rural sociologist expanding the discipline in exciting cross-disciplinary ways, including by engaging law and legal processes.

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.  

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Food v Energy in the "Land of Plenty"

Among the agriculture and rural development issues I have become aware of during my time in Australia is the growing conflict over coal seam gas (CSG).  Coal seam gas, you ask?  That's what Aussies call the natural gas released by fracking, and Aussies are beginning to debate the practice as hotly as we are in the United States.  But the Australian context for this debate--which has evolved into outright conflict in several locales--is different in various regards to what it is in the U.S., including the legal schemes for regulating the practice and the extent to which farmers and others in rural areas can prevent it.

This February 2012 piece by Bond University law professor Tina Hunter summarizes several of the issues, including who has the power to regulate or prevent the practice.  In short--it isn't the individual land owners.  Hunter's headline speaks volumes, "Food security v energy security:  land use conflict and the law. "  She writes:
The development of unconventional sources of gas (such as coal seam and shale gas) is providing Australia with energy security, as well as generating a huge export industry in the form of LNG [liquified natural gas].
* * * 

However, many of the coal seam gas deposits occur in areas of high agricultural fertility.  This includes the Darling Downs area of Queensland, and the Liverpool Plains of NSW, which comprises only 6% of Australia's total agricultural area, but produces more than 22% of its food.

This is Australia's breadbasket.

 * * * 
This  creates conflict in land use; farmers are understandably reluctant to allow their prime agricultural land to be used for coal seam gas extraction.  However, as the law stands at present, even if a farmer owns the land, a government has the right to grant a licence to an energy company to extract the coal seam gas from under the ground, by drilling wells to extract the gas. 
Hunter notes that Queensland has "declared a two-kilometre exclusion zone on mining activities near towns with more than 1000 people," and that "farmers are calling for a similar embargo over prime agricultural areas."   

One thing that makes this tension between ag and energy particularly interesting in the Australian context is that both mining and agriculture have typically fallen within the purview of several states' Department of Primary Industries (DPI).  See, for example, the State of Victoria's website here.  But those departments are increasingly being divvied up.  The DPI website for Queensland redirects to the new Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), which mimics the federal delineation between the DAFF on one hand and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism on the other.  (Resources refers to mineral, oil and gas resources--which makes its clustering with tourism very odd.)  South Australia's site is here, and you can see that as of the beginning of the year, it transferred its minerals and energy resources division to a new Department of Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy.  Western Australia, which has seen the greatest benefit from the nation's resource boom but which has no coal seam gas wells, has separate departments for Agriculture and Food and for Mines and Petroleum.  Perhaps these relatively administrative divisions reflect that sense that ag and various extractive industries cannot peacefully co-exist, either within government or on the ground.  An earlier post about a conflict between farm and coal interests is here.

Hunter goes on to highlight the water issues in particular, noting Australia's perennial water woes, particularly in the Murray-Darling basin, west of the Great Dividing Range, where the federal government has preached conservation and restricted farmers' use of water.  She notes that--contrary to Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland are linked to the Great Artesian Basin.  This means that fracking chemicals entering groundwater there could contaminate a water supply of enormous importance.  Other academic analysis of the issues is here.  A report commissioned by industry is here.  A prominent Australian environmentalist comments here.

Recent Australian media coverage of fracking issues include this very recent story about Victoria banning new licenses on coal-seam gas projects (a story which the Chicago Tribune picked up this week-end), and this one about a blockade of a coal-seam gas project in Newcastle, New South Wales.  Here's an Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) website on the issue, which includes an interactive map of existing wells.  You can see that many of the Queensland wells are in the areas south and west of Chinchilla and Dalby, not far from where I took the photo shown at top.  The ABC website is called Coal Seam Gas by the Numbers. Not surprisingly, some of those numbers are jobs statistics.  The industry is predictably touting its job creation potential--as in a billboard I saw on one of my Queensland drives between the Darling Downs and Brisbane with a headline about job creation by CSG in Queensland.

Just this week-end, the Sydney Morning Herald's News Review section featured a front-page story about the resource boom, which is projected to end in the next half century or so, as different resources--from gold to coal--are exhausted.  As the nation asks what next, it remembers the decline of the agriculture sector, according to the story by Peter Martin and Matt Wade.  They write:
Those who grew up in the 1950s were forever being told the nation rode on the sheep's back.  Back then the farm sector accounted for one quarter of Australia's production.  Today it accounts for a little over 2 per cent.
That's a sobering statistic for the agriculture sector and one that would seem to bode well for the energy sector when its interests are in direct conflict with those agricultural producers.  It also seems to be bad news for rural communities generally because a great deal of Australian resource extraction is being done in "fly in, fly out" mining camps, which circumvent local economies.  One anti-CSG group picked up on the community angle in a statement earlier this month:  
Coal seam gas represents a serious risk to farm enterprises and water resources, to the future profitability of agriculture and other industries such as tourism, and to the social cohesion of rural communities.
 Read posts about the links--and conflicts--between fracking and agriculture in the U.S. here, here, and here.

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

An Overflowing Trough ... and Accompanying Disincentives to Land Stewardship

I published this post last Sunday on Legal Ruralism, but am only now getting it up on Agricultural Law, prompted in part by Susan Schneider's excellent post on the same topic a few days ago.  Here's my post: 

A trough that overflows is the image Robert Semple, Jr., conjures in his editorial (by the same name) in [the June 3, 2012 issue of the] New York Times.  In it, Semple argues that the current version of the next generation farm bill replicates the problems long associated with the farm bill:  it supports fat cat farmers while doing too little to help small-scale farmers.  Semple makes references to "rural" and "small town" in the opening paragraph, but does not return to these concerns expressly later in the piece.  He makes no mention of rural development funds, which have always been a proverbial drop in the farm bill/USDA bucket. [Some sources I have since read indicate no provision has been made for rural development in the current draft of this farm bill].

What Semple focuses on is how federally subsidized crop insurance is increasingly replacing direct payments (a/k/a subsidies).  The lede to Semple's editorial follows:
Every five years or so, Congress promises a new, improved farm bill that will end unnecessary subsidies to big farmers, enhance the environment and actually do something to help farmers and small towns.  But what it usually does is find ways of disguising the old inequities, sending taxpayer dollars to wealthy farmers, accelerating the expansion of industrial farming, inflating land prices and further depopulating rural America. 
Semple goes on to explain how the new farm bill fails to respond to environmental concerns, perhaps even aggravating them.  He concludes by hitting hard on the bill's likely environmental consequences, given that the new focus on federally subsidized crop insurance does not depend on keeping some land fallow; nor does it require farmers not to drain wetlands.  Semple concludes:
Enriched by high prices (at least for now), cosseted by inexpensive insurance, relieved of their environmental obligations, farmers could well be inclined to start planting from fence line to fence line.  That would be a severe blow to the American landscape.  
The "fence line to fence line" comment reminds me of this passage from Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow, just one of several in which Berry contrasts two men's approaches to farming to illustrate conflicting  views of "progress" and the "good life."  The two men, Athey Keith and his son-in-law Troy Chatham, are residents of Berry's fictional Port William, Kentucky:
What I do know is that [Athey] used his land conservatively.  In any year, by far the greatest part of his land would be under grass--for, as he would say, "The land slopes even in the bottoms, and the water runs."  He was always studying his fields, thinking of ways to protect them.  He was doing what a lot of farmers say they want to do:  he was improving his land; he was going to leave it better than he found it.  I know too that his principle was always to maintain a generous surplus between his livestock and the available feed, just as between the fertility of his land and his demands upon it.  "Wherever I look," he said, "I want to see more than I need, and have more than I use."  And this is a principle very different from what would be the principle of his son-in-law, often voiced in his heyday:  "Never let a quarter's worth of equity stand idle.  Use it or borrow against it."  
Athey said, "Wherever I look, I want to see more than I need."  Troy said, in effect, "Whatever I see, I want."  What he asked of the land was all it had.  He had hardly got his first crop in the ground when he began to say things critical of Athey and his ways.  "Why, hell!" he would say, "it's hard to tell what that old place would produce if he would just plow it." Or:  "Why the hell would a man plow just forty acres of a farm when he could plow all of it?"  He would say these things leaning back in his chair, his ankle crossed over his knee, his foot twitching.  He was speaking as a young man of the modern age coming now into his hour, held back only by the outmoded way of his elders.  
Athey was not exactly, or not only, what is called a "landowner."  He was the farm's farmer, but also its creature and belonging.  He lived its life, and it lived his; he knew that, of the two lives, his was meant to be the smaller and shorter.  
Wendell Berry (with Wes Jackson) wrote this op-ed about the farm bill in the New York Times several years ago.

The photo above is of a farm in Witts Springs (Searcy County), Arkansas, May, 2012.   I offer it up as an example of place that will probably get very little benefit from the farm bill.  Searcy County is a persistent poverty county, and Witts Springs is not even a Census Designated Place.  The community appears mostly reliant on an agricultural economy, principally cattle.  The community sits on a ridge in the Boston/Ozark Mountains, about 16 miles from the county seat, and is the sort of place that would benefit from rural development funds.  The U.S. Post Office at Witts Springs was until recently on the chopping block (read more here and here), and its K-12 school closed several years ago.  I would be very surprised if any farmers in Witts Springs are receiving USDA money, in part because of the size of farms, in part because of what is produced (livestock, not crops).  Another photo from Witts Springs is featured in this post.  

P.S. Here is a story in the June 7, 2012 New York Times re the cost of the government subsidized crop insurance included in the new farm bill.  It details how rising crop prices have led many farmers to plant land that is prone to flooding--and to plant from fence row to fence row, even "where the land slopes and the water runs."  In North Dakota alone, the Times reports, nearly a million acres have become cropland since 2007.  South Dakota has lost nearly a half a million acres of grassland to farming.  Read more of the story at risk of depression.

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