Agriculture isn't just the process of sticking seeds in the ground. It's a highly skilled and scientific endeavor that drives the world's food supply. Because governments and some of the world's largest corporations are involved in agriculture, the subject is rife with politics. From corn subsidies, to seed patenting, to the increasing desire for organic foods, the umbrella topic of agriculture has beneath it a rich well of economical and ethical considerations that makes for compelling speech topics.
Genetically Modified Foods
Genetically modified foods are a hot-button issue. Supporters of the practice praise scientists for using biotechnology to create hardy, disease-resistant plant species that grow bigger and faster in poorer conditions. Others are concerned that genetically modified crops might breed with wild crops and cause undesired changes in local ecosystems. Genetically modified plants made to resist disease could potentially lead to stronger strains of disease that destroy natural, wild plants and trees. Food labeling also spurs debate, as anti-GMO food advocates believe genetically modified foods should be labeled, while the other camp believes labeling would hurt sales.
Seed patenting is another hot-button agricultural issue. Seed giants like Monsanto develop genetically modified strains of plants, then patent the seeds as intellectual property. As companies patent more and more seeds, farmers have fewer options and must often purchase patented seeds. When a company owns a patent to a seed, a farmer can only plant that crop for one planting season, then must purchase new seeds the following season. In the old days of farming, farmers only needed to purchase seeds occasionally because they could save some of the seeds from the current crop. Monsanto and other seed-patenting giants actively prosecute farmers they believe to be saving seeds. Seed-patent holders believe their practices are ethical because they will reduce pesticide and water use over time. The Center for Food Safety believes seed patenting has dangerous implications for the future of agriculture, as control of seeds, and therefore the world's food supply, moves to corporate ownership.
Subsidization of Corn
The types of agriculture the government supports financially have a big impact on our food supply and our health. The government gives corn growers billions of dollars each year to help lower the cost of corn production across the country. Those in favor of corn subsidies praise the government's role in lowering food costs and creating farming jobs. Those opposed to corn subsidies cite that the low-cost processed foods made with corn contribute to obesity and obesity-related illnesses, which not only shorten individual lifespans, but increase the nation's healthcare costs and dependence on prescription drugs. Milk and sugar are also subsidized.
Organic farming, which doesn't rely on chemical pesticides or fertilizers, has become so popular that even big box stores like Wal-Mart have brands of organic products. You could address the struggles facing organic farmers who are growing clean food in polluted soil, competing with non-organic farmers and dealing with continually changing and often nebulous organic farming definitions and standards. You could also address the benefits and downsides of organic farming.