Myths about food and agriculture seem to closely resemble the legendary Hydra. Hercules heroically faced the multi-headed water serpent in Greek mythology. Every time Hercules cut off one its heads, the Hydra would grow back two more. So it seems that every time we rebut misinformation about modern farming, another two grow in its place.
Unfortunately, it seems like farmers were the culprits this time. Multiple farmers posted TikTok videos claiming they received their “notice to destroy crops” from the U.S. Department of Ariculture. Some even posted videos of themselves mowing over soybeans or destroying corn stalks. It didn’t take long for the videos to go viral and lose the “just kidding” context.
It’s categorically false. The USDA told Snopes that no farmers are getting paid to destroy their crops. Nor would the USDA ever make such a demand. They probably don’t have the authority to do that anyway, unless the food is somehow contaminated or poisoned.
Instead, the USDA often purchases produce and other food for its nutritional programs. Just this week, the USDA announced a major buy of fresh grapes for distribution in food-assistance programs. Earlier this year, the department revealed it would purchase $159.4 million worth of seafood, legumes, fruits, and nuts to address food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
And that makes sense — the USDA doesn’t destroy crops, it purchases the food to give to those in need.
So why is something like this so believable? Believe it or not, there is a way to form a logical conclusion here. Early in the pandemic, food-supply chains were disrupted with farms suddenly losing their customer bases — schools, restaurants, and event centers. And some farms were forced to throw away and dispose of their products.
But the USDA had nothing to do with it; it was all about the market.
There’s another reason: It actually happened once upon a time. The Great Depression also disrupted supply chains, and farmers were stuck with excess goods they couldn’t sell. Prices nosedived with markets flooded with supply. Along with other nations, the U.S. tried to fix the problem by enacting the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. Under the Act, the federal government paid farmers not to plant fields, and even purchased farm goods only to destroy them.
But these measures didn’t work. The market didn’t correct course. And it quickly became apparent that such a program was ill-suited for the moment. Unemployed Americans were starving or malnourished while the government was forcing good food to go to waste. By the fall of 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt released $75 million to purchase food and redistribute it to the starving masses. Although the AAA’s approach didn’t last long, the problem with it was cemented in America’s consciousness. So even today people think that the USDA would destroy food before giving it to those who need it.
In the modern era, the only government program that allows farmers to get paid without farming is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). President Ronald Reagan signed the CRP into law in 1985. It incentivizes farmers to leave some fields untouched for environmental purposes. President Joe Biden has encouraged farmers to take advantage of it as we look for ways to fight climate change. It’s hardly an avenue to Easy Street though, and it’s probably underutilized. And a conservation program is much different than an edict requiring farmers to destroy growing crops.
So for the record: No, the USDA isn’t paying farmers to destroy their crops. I just hope those boys on TikTok will be more careful next time they want to play a “harmless” prank on everyone. Because this joke has grown into yet another Hydra head that we’ll be cutting off for years to come.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.