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The agro-industrial complex

(article, Culinate staff)

In a recent New Yorker article, Michael Specter profiled a tech company, the Climate Corporation, that aims to combine Big Data with geography, weather, farming, and crop insurance. In theory, the setup means farmers will farm more efficiently, world hunger will decline, and everybody will make more money — including Monsanto, which recently bought the company for a billion dollars.

(Of course, as Specter notes, Monsanto is the megacorporation that liberal activists love to hate, especially for its controversial role in developing and promoting genetically modified seeds (Hawaii is the latest battlefield in the GMO wars). An employee of the company recently shared, with two other scientists, the World Food Prize — an honor that the Union of Concerned Scientists quickly attacked as being founded on poor science.)

As with many technocratic solutions to contemporary problems, the Climate Corporation tries to offer practical improvements on a system — in this case, the federal crop-insurance program — that discourages innovation. As the Environmental Working Group has pointed out, the crop-insurance program is an inequitable, inefficient, and inappropriate way of disbursing federal funds — so much so that Bloomberg News has labeled it '"a in which taxpayers line the pockets of insurers (and '"farmers,"' although we're not talking about the small family farm here).

Of course, the crop-insurance program is part of the much-fought-over Farm Bill — a cumbersome but essential piece of federal legislation that expired a year ago, and is still in limbo in Congress. So what will happen first: federal political reform, or tech-driven changes?