Pfand X
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac

Tom Farmer, with a frown on his face, grabbed the first of several envelopes that had arrived by private courier earlier that morning. The fact that they came by private courier, working for a Wache firm, was enough to let him know that the contents of the letters dealt with business of concern to the Pfand X. He had been getting a lot of letters, lately, and it was beginning to worry him.

He opened the envelope knowing that it contained a second envelope containing the letter. The inner envelope was sealed with wax imprinted with the seal of the family to which the sender belonged. He carefully examined the seal, convincing himself that it was intact.

He broke the seal and extracted the letter. Opening it, he saw that it was addressed, as expected, to 'The Landowner, ' his official title as head of the Bauer family line. he groaned on reading the first line.

The Landowner,

My farm is officially closing this week. As a result of water restrictions by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Federal Courts, all of my Almond trees have died. It took three years to kill them all off. As you are well aware, our attempts to get emergency measures through Congress have failed.

James Farmer

Tom was well aware of the situation referred to in the letter. It was a triple whammy for farmers – drought, increases in urban demand for water, and an endangered fish believed to be threatened by pumping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Northern California. One million acres of farm land had been put out of production with another two million growing less food than normal.

Congress wouldn't touch the issue with a ten foot pole. The courts wouldn't even take up the case. The fact that they had been unable to prevent this from happening, despite their tremendous economic assets, worried and angered him. People could fill swimming pools and water their lawns to have green patches of grass around their house, but farmers couldn't water their crops. There was something seriously wrong when one of the most productive farming areas in the country was shut down like that.

He wondered who in their right mind would favor lawns and swimming pools over food. Nothing about this situation made sense to him. With unemployment in California at an all time high, they were putting even more people out of work by destroying so many farms. It was irrational, to say the least.

He grabbed the next letter off of the stack, and opened it dreading what it would contain.

The Landowner,

My dairy farm was closed yesterday morning by the EPA. Apparently I am guilty of violating a new environmental regulation concerning spilled milk. Milk is now to be treated as a toxic hazard equivalent to oil. I was unaware that I was required to have a documented and approved spill prevention plan.

A Curador is currently trying to find out the details of the regulation, but has not made any headway. He has been told that the regulation exists, but they can't provide him with a copy of it until he files a Request for Public Information. He's puzzled by this since regulations are supposed to be a matter of public record and they will have to present the regulation in court.

I am not allowed to milk my cows until I have an approved spill prevention plan. Apparently, the process for getting a plan approved will take a minimum of six months. I won't have a dairy farm if my cows aren't milked soon.

If I am found guilty, I will be barred from dairy farming for life. I am facing a multimillion dollar fine and possible jail time. It is doubtful that I will be found not guilty. As they say, ignorance of the law is no excuse. The Curador lawyer believes otherwise.

I should mention that ten other dairy farms in the area are affected as well. None of those farms are affiliated with the Pfand X. The Curador and I believe that this is a test case that is being brought in an EPA friendly court in order to establish a precedent that will effectively block contesting the regulation in the future. The local judge was at one time a lawyer for an animal rights organization.

Henry Plantar

Henry was the fourth generation Bauer to run that dairy farm. He ran a tight operation that was well above national standards. He was well connected and well liked within the farming community. Tom was sure that Henry's farm closure had sent shock waves through the farming community. There was no telling how people would respond to this action by the EPA.

This letter was very worrisome. He had heard that the EPA was proposing such a regulation, but had not heard that the regulation had actually passed. The fact that neither he or Henry had known about the regulation was very disturbing, although nowhere near as disturbing as learning that a Curador could not get a copy of it. The EPA was required to publish regulations, but ... there was publishing and there was publishing. For all he knew, the regulation could have been published in a mathematics journal ... by accident ... instead of a dairy trade magazine. The mailing list for dairy farmers could have been confused with the mailing list for cod fisherman.

Tom tended to side with the Curador lawyer. He felt that Henry would be found not guilty, but only on appeal. The absence of proper notification of the regulation would get the case thrown out during appeal. The rejection of the Curador's request for a copy of the regulation would be passed off as his contacting a low level drone, who didn't know any better.

If the EPA wanted to shut down the dairy industry, the EPA didn't need to win the case in order to win the battle. In the time that it would take the case to move through the courts, all dairy farmers would have been put in an impossible situation. They would have to comply with the regulation, possibly having to close their dairy farm during the approval process, until the regulation was thrown out by a court or a grace period was established by the court. Ignoring the regulation would allow the EPA to forcibly close the farm and revoke the farmer's license to produce milk. No matter what, the dairy farms would be closed.

The dairy industry had been hit with enough regulations over the past four years to effectively put nearly every farm out of business. It was plain to Tom that someone wanted the dairy industry shut down. A lot of dairy farmers agreed with Tom on that matter. Even arguing that dairy products were an important source of nutrition wouldn't fly. The typical dairy section of a store now had as much soy milk as dairy milk.

Farms that managed to survive the increased regulations weren't out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. There were now attempts to require farmers to have enclosed, air tight barns to capture the methane produced by dairy cattle. The idea was that the methane gas would be used in generating electricity and eliminate a green house gas from the environment in the process.

It sounded good on paper. Of course, no one had showed that it would be cost effective. No one knew how much it would cost to put the kind of structure and supporting equipment into place. There was the added danger that OSHA would declare such a structure an unsafe work environment. Animal rights activists would argue that trapping poor defenseless cows in a methane rich environment was cruel.

There was an alternative to hermetically sealed barns. That was the cow backpack for trapping methane gas. It was basically a plastic tank on the back of the cow with tube running to the exit port of the poor animal to collect the methane released when it farted. Tom had seen pictures of the device and considered it the stupidest thing he had ever seen – his apologies to the person who invented it.

Disheartened by the direction that his thoughts had taken, Tom grabbed the next envelope, and opened the enclosed letter following his standard procedure of checking the seal before opening the inner envelope.

The Landowner,

Three days ago, Lawrence Plante was taken away by Homeland Security. Someone within Homeland Security decided that his purchases of nitrogen based fertilizers were excessive for the size of his farm. The best that we can tell it was because he rounded his fertilizer order up to the nearest ton, in his case-- three tons, which put him four hundred pounds over the DHS estimate. Our hypothesis for why he was arrested is that four hundred pounds of nitrogen fertilizer and the presence of diesel fuel tank for refueling his farm truck suggested to some overzealous agent that Lawrence was planning on building an explosive device.

At the present time, he is being held in an unknown location. I have Wache security firms trying to locate where he is being held. My attempt to get a writ of Habeas Corpus was denied on the grounds of national security.

Demitri Cura

Tom sat back in his chair stunned by the letter. He couldn't believe that Lawrence was hauled off by DHS for ordering an excess four hundred pounds on an order of six thousand pounds of fertilizer. That was practically nothing for a farm that size. Lawrence would have just stored the excess and used it the next year.

The presence of diesel fuel on the property was another red herring. It was common practice for farmers to have storage tanks of fuel, gasoline and/or diesel, on their property. Fuels for vehicles and equipment that were for farm use only were exempt from excise taxes. The fuel was dyed red so that law enforcement could prove if the fuel in a truck stopped on a public road had been sold without paying the excise taxes.

Having fertilizer and diesel fuel stored on a farm was business as usual and not a terrorist act. The fertilizer was necessary to grow the crop and the fuel was necessary in order to farm. Effectively, Lawrence had been arrested for trying to grow food.

He grabbed another letter.

The Landowner,

Four women employed by a Damenstern escort service were entertaining executives from several of the large agricultural companies last week. Three turned up dead from drug overdoses. Their naked bodies were found in Central Park with signs of having been tortured. The fourth was found wandering around Soho in an obviously drugged state and was taken to a hospital. She died the next day under what I consider to be suspicious circumstances.

Initially, I treated this as a simple 'party gone bad' and started the investigation to locate the perpetrators until I discovered that the party was supposed to have taken place in Chicago and not New York. A Wache company employee did manage to interview the last woman before she died. Our take on the situation changed immediately when the woman mentioned something about a group of companies getting ready to seize billions of acres of farmland. I repeat, billions, not millions, of acres.

I think the matter is serious enough for you to request a Pfand X meeting.

The Whore

Tom's heart was pounding in his chest. This communication from the head of the Damenstern family line put everything that had been happening into context. Someone, or rather some group, was attempting to take over the entire agriculture industry. It explained why water was cut off to hundreds of farms in one of the richest farming areas in the country, why dairy farms were being shutdown, and dozens of other actions that were taking place to kill independent farmers.

The farmers without water would be forced to sell their farms. Without water, the land was useless for farming. No one wanted to live in a desert like that so it would be worthless for real estate developers. The value of the land would drop to nothing and could be bought up for pennies on the current dollar value. The water tap could be turned on and instantly the land would be valuable again.

If someone had been informed about the new EPA regulations, they would be in a position to purchase existing dairy farms that had been found non-compliant and claim they were now covered by an EPA approved milk spill prevention plan. They would get land, dairy cows, and equipment at cut-rate prices.

There were still envelopes to read.

The Landowner,

My application to the FDA to start an organic cookie company was denied again. Apparently, as a new food production facility it has to be compliant with the European Union Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. I don't even know what that means.

I have no idea when it was decided that we have to follow EU practices. A Curador lawyer can't find where that regulation is buried. She is still looking, but believes that the individual who made that ruling was incorrect in thinking it had been adopted. She did find a proposal for such a regulation.

The last time my application was denied, it was denied on the basis that my facility failed an OSHA inspection. My loading docks were two inches too low. Before that, they were two inches too high. Someone is playing games.

Edward Plantar

Tom decided that the threat to the family wasn't only on farming, but food production as well. Edward had been trying for three years to open his production facility. The Pfand would continue to pump money into the project, but most individuals didn't have the backing that the Pfand could provide.

His jam and jelly companies had been hit with a number of new regulations over the past four years. There were probably a dozen government agencies that could pass regulations that impacted him. OSHA, FDA, EPA, and the USDA were the federal agencies that most easily came to mind. The state had additional agencies that were involved with health codes, worker safety, and tax codes. Then there was local government involvement with building codes and fire safety codes. He had even been required to perform a traffic impact study to determine if the local roads could sustain any increased in truck traffic to and from his factory. Complying with those regulations had nearly destroyed his profit.

Usually his problems started with some person showing up unannounced at the front door with credentials identifying him as an inspector for some government agency. The person would walk through the plant for an hour or two and produce a report declaring him to be out of compliance with some regulation. He'd be told that he was being fined and had to correct the problem within some impractical time period or face future fines. In one case, it had been discovered that the regulation hadn't actually been passed yet.

In light of what was happening, he realized that Carl Plante would have a very tough time getting his pickle factory opened. His time-line of having his facility operational within a year's time was overly optimistic.

The Landowner,

My entire cocoa harvest was destroyed by Frosty Pod Rot, a fungus. Sixty other plantations were likewise affected. At the end of the growing season, cocoa will be worth its weight in gold.

According to a Wache investigator and a Curador scientist, the fungus appears to have been spread intentionally since only small producers like myself have been affected. The Curador scientist says that the fungus is a highly resistant strain. My plantation may never recover from it.

Juan Brewer

Tom was beginning to get a headache. He revised his hypothesis to make the plot global in nature.

There were still more envelopes for him to open. He grabbed one.

The Landowner,

The E. Coli infection of my crop has required that I destroy the whole field. Local experts have theories that place the blame on the farmers, but they have no real evidence to support their theories. My farming practices run counter to the practices on which they base their theories. There is no reason that I can find for my crops to have been infected.

Heinrich Bauer

Tom muttered, "There's a reason all right."

He grabbed another envelope.

The Landowner,

A potential problem area has come to my attention. Corn is one of the most significant crops in the United States. It is used directly as food for people, feed for animals, and as a source of fuel. Farmers have been converting their operations to take advantage of the high prices corn has been fetching of late.

Earlier this month, I was studying corn taken from the cornfield grown by our agriculture department of the university where I am employed. A small area of the cornfield didn't look right. Some of the plants had mottled leaves. I investigated further suspecting Maize Dwarf Mosaic Virus (MDMV). My suspicions were confirmed. As best as I can tell it is a genetically engineered variant of the Dwarf Mosaic Virus.

It appears that this virus is extremely active. Over the past two weeks it has spread to almost the entire cornfield. Interestingly enough, it is hybrid specific – that is, only a specific hybrid of corn appears to be susceptible to it. I know this because a nearby cornfield with a different hybrid of corn shows no sign of the virus despite the fact that there is less than twenty yards between fields. Unfortunately, the corn that is susceptible to the virus is a very widely used hybrid since it happens to be one of the cheapest seed stocks on the market.

A lot of farmers may be impacted by this virus. I know that your farmers do not use this particular hybrid, but the virus could mutate. I suggest that you warn members of your family about this issue. Some may want to avoid corn for the next few growing seasons while others might want to take advantage of the high corn prices that may result.

Daniel Cura

Tom shook his head in despair.

A failure of the corn crop would be a major economic catastrophe. Thousands of small farmers could lose their farms with a significant failure of such an important crop. He had no doubt that the release of the virus was intentional. The MDMV virus was spread by aphids. Of course, aphids were small insects that were easily transported and distributed. He couldn't imagine anyone in their right mind raising aphids, but they made a simple delivery mechanism.

The timing of the release didn't fit a large-scale outbreak. For it to have a significant effect on the harvest this year would require that it had been released last year. He figured that this was a test crop and would likely be burned before it had a chance to spread beyond the field.

Tom knew that are only three things that are necessary for life-- food, water, and air. Someone was attempting to gain control over the world's food supply. With control of food, one could rule the world. Anyone willing to go to that extreme would not tolerate any competition. If he was right, then the entire Pfand could be destroyed.

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