The term “sodbuster” came about during the American Civil War with the introduction of the Homestead Act in 1862. This law allowed U.S. citizens to file an application to live on and own up to 160 acres of unused federal land outside the original colonies.
These were farmers who first took the plow to the virgin prairies of the Midwest and later the lands of the Western U.S. As these farmers moved west, they came into conflict with the cowboy. Cowboys drove large herds of cattle across the great western expanse and were not big fans of fences and fields. Today, the western cattle rancher and the Midwest row crop farmer are at odds again. This time the dispute is not over land but over grain.
After decades of growing and selling corn at near or below the cost of production, corn farmers have finally seen prices rise to profitable levels. Cattlemen have responded with outrage and public and political attacks on what they see as the cause for the rise in corn prices: ethanol.
While the demand for renewable fuels is a factor in higher corn prices, countless studies have proven there are many and varied factors behind the move from $2 to $6 corn. In the past, the cowboys have limited their attacks to ethanol polices such as the renewable fuel standards (RFS). Now, however, they are calling into question the production of corn itself, and predicting a worldwide disaster.