Posted: December 23, 2009
I regularly hear people discuss the pros and cons of various farming practices – yes, they all have them – but one thing that baffles me is the inability of some in the organic camp to see room for diversity and consumer choice. It is all or nothing, regardless of the limitations of organic production. It’s good to have passion regardless of pursuits. I have an un-abiding love of our oceans and marine life, Harley Davidson bikes, and all kinds of music.
But blind zealotry is unproductive, frankly unrealistic, and often dangerous. Learning that lesson the hard way is fine on some topics. You screw up and you can say oops or never mind and move on. However, when it comes to the persistent attacks on our food production system by well-off, well fed elitists, the consequences can be horrendous.
“If the whole planet were to suddenly switch to organic farming tomorrow, it would be an ecological disaster,” said Michael Mack, chief executive of Syngenta. “Organic food is not only ‘not better‘ for the planet, it is categorically worse.”
Mack recently told the New York Times that organic farming takes up to 30 percent more land than non-organic farming for the same yield. This presents a bit of s conundrum considering world population is expected to grow by 3 billion more people in the next 40 years.
Barring a major world war or a pandemic, populations are going to grow by 150 people every minute. In the time it took to write this blog another small city of homo sapiens has taken root on this earth. One would think it is a good thing this current generation of farmers – with the help of hard work, innovation and technology – have doubled corn yields. But not if you listen to these free-range radicals.
Virtually all crops have seen significant improvements in productive capacity, and they have done so while making remarkable environmental advances that have been good for water quality, air quality, cutting soil erosion and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For some this is not enough. They want to take us back to production practices from the 1930s. They don’t like pesticides (even though they have been proven safe) nor do they like biotechnology which has reduced pesticide usage more than any single factor. They espouse grass fed beef which is kind of comical. The same folks who say they want to protect forests don’t seem to realize the massive amount of pasture land needed to accomplish this task. We simply can’t have it both ways when it comes to feeding a growing world.
Many of the evangelists at the front of the “dump traditional Ag movement” from Michael Pollan to the Humane Society of the United States have self serving motivations or personal agendas that defy logic and definitely run contrary to the greater good of society. Underplaying the significance of agricultural productivity at this critical time in the evolution of the human race is foolhardy at best.
Thank goodness farmers and key agribusiness leaders are getting tired of being polite. Farmer’s normal response has been to write off these over-privileged extremists as flakes. Farmers and ranchers continue to be very focused on cranking out calories and sustenance for the masses; however, they are also getting more vocal on food issues because the aforementioned flakes find themselves on the New York Times bestseller list and on TV shows.
There is no doubt there is room for organic practices. At the same time the public needs to realize there is no “traditional Ag” any more. If you mean the folks that form the heart of our agronomic system today, these are the family owned farms that still form the backbone of modern agriculture. These farms have become a marvelous mixture of the best tools and technologies including many sustainable practices once claimed by the organic community.
So if you are already skeptical of some of the myths and misinformation being cast about as gospel these days, stay skeptical and remember this: if you believe half of what you hear you are probably half right!