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From Kernel to Grave

Thursday, March 14, 2013

For years the federal government wrongly sent millions in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies to dead farmers – a black eye for subsidy defenders and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Now it seems farmers are paying the dead back for all that bad publicity by bulldozing historic prairie cemeteries. From a Minnesota Public Radio December 2012 report:

That's when a descendant of those pioneers called Grant County Sheriff Dwight Walvatne to report something amiss. A small grove of trees at the cemetery was gone. When investigators got a search warrant they found evidence of what Minnesota's state archeologist says is a growing concern, the destruction after years of abandonment of one of the state's thousands of small cemeteries.

Damaging a cemetery can be a felony under Minnesota law even if it's abandoned. Even though the farmer owns the land, the cemetery is protected.

State archeologist Scott Anfinson called the Grant County case the most egregious case of cemetery destruction he has seen but certainly not the first.

"I'd say it's not unusual," Anfinson said. "I have three or four active ones right now, instances where farmers have either started to nibble away at the boundaries of a cemetery or removed the headstones and plowed over the top of it."

His list does not include more than 12,000 known American Indian burial sites, which are also protected.

Over the past few years, farmers have been planting every available inch of ground to capture sky-high prices for corn and soybeans. The U.S.’s misguided corn ethanol mandate has produced tremendous upward pressure on prices by requiring by law that 40 percent of the American corn crop be burned in gas tanks, with few tangible economic and environmental benefits. And heavily subsidized crop insurance encourages expanding planting into new and often marginal land by removing risk.

Back in January of 2011, Bloomberg News reported that “the pressure is acute, in terms of planting fence row to fence row, and really getting the message out to farmers that they need to be planting up their front yards.”

The plowing and planting frenzy doesn’t end with front yards and historic cemeteries. According to a New York Times story published on Dec. 30, 2011 even Iowa golf courses can’t compete with the plow.

The loss of a golf course isn’t the great corn gold rush’s worst threat to the environment.  Much more worrisome is the destruction of wildlife habitat, dangerous soil erosion and deluge of farm chemicals running off into rivers, lakes and drinking water.