In an ever growing world fewer and fewer resources available U.S. farmers and ranchers are doing more with less to provide food in a sustainable manner. This video does a great job at explaining how traditional beef production has improved over the years and is more sustainable now than ever.
I’ve got to get something off my chest. The last two days I’ve run across two articles praising the growing interest in sustainable agriculture programs at universities and colleges. I agree that this is a wonderful thing. Increasing awareness and interest among young people in agriculture is imperative for the future continuation and growth of our industry.
What gets my goat is the fact that many of these “sustainable” agriculture programs have a major focus on organic agriculture and organic only. Even my own university, the University of Kentucky, is among this growing crowd. If these universities want to really teach about sustainable agriculture they should combine both organic and conventional methods, taking the best management tactics from each system, to take a truly sustainable approach to food production.
The hijacking of ’sustainable’ by some of those in organic agriculture has lead to a misleading view that organic is the only form of agriculture that is sustainable. By only focusing on organic ag, universities and colleges are only perpetuating this myth. Instead let’s take the best of both worlds to come at the issue of sustainability in agriculture.
The one promising thing that I did see in the first article mentioned was from a graduate student, Misha Manuchehri, currently studying crop science at Washington State University. ”Sustainability is just as important, and I don’t think sustainability and organic is the same thing,” she said. “There are some great conventional farms that are extremely sustainable, and I could easily see myself working for them.”
Let’s hope that more students will take her words to heart.
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
“Penny wise and pound foolish” and “Do as I say do, not as I do” are adages that come to mind with the latest spate of media fawning over England’s King-in-Waiting Charles of Windsor and his crusade to save us from ourselves through organic farming, alternative energy, and more thrifty lifestyles.
This is the same Prince Charles who was skewered a while back by the snarky British press for chartering a luxury Airbus aircraft that could seat 156 passengers to take him, his wife, and 10 personal staff on a five-day 2,200-mile European jaunt. Prior to that, he used another giant Airbus for 14 people to tour South America so he could advocate against global warming (both trips generating a huge carbon footprint), and is reported to have spent almost $5,000 to fly into London to just to see a movie.
Well, gee, nobody expects a king-to-be to travel steerage, and when one has millions of dollars per year at one’s disposal, why not enjoy all the perks of royaldom?
For his recent trip to the U.S. to deliver the keynote address at the Future of Food Conference at Georgetown University, he is reported to have downsized, traveling on the private jet of an American financier. Cost unknown.
“In some cases,” Charles said at the conference, “we are pushing nature’s life support systems so far they are struggling to cope with what we ask of them … and the entire system is at the mercy of an increasingly fluctuating price of oil. One study I have seen estimates that a person today on a typical western diet is, in effect, consuming nearly a gallon of diesel every day.”
Further, he said, a fifth of all U.S. grain production is dependent on irrigation and “every pound of beef produced in the industrial system takes 2,000 gallons of water.”
“An agriculture dependent upon the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, and artificial fertilizers and growth promoters is not a genuinely sustainable agriculture,” Charles said.
There is “plenty of current evidence” that organic farming “can produce surprisingly high yields,” he said. “And yet we are told ceaselessly that organic agriculture cannot feed the world … Why is it that an industrialized system, deeply dependent on fossil fuels and chemical treatments, is promoted as viable, while a much less damaging one is rubbished and condemned as unfit for purpose?”
Farm subsidies in the U.S. and other industrialized nations are “geared in such a way as to favor overwhelmingly those kinds of agriculture techniques that are responsible for many of the problems,” he said, “and the cost of that damage is factored into the price of food production.
“Consider, for example, what happens when pesticides get into the water supply. The water has to be cleaned up, at enormous cost to consumers, but the primary polluter isn’t charged. Or, take the emissions from manufacturing and application of nitrogen fertilizer, which are potent greenhouse gases. They, too, are not costed at the source. This has led to a situation where farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of price.
“There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing, but as things stand, doing the right thing is penalized.”
This, Charles says, “raises an admittedly difficult question: Has the time arrived when a long, hard look is needed at the way public subsidies are generally geared? And should the recalibration of that gearing be considered so it helps healthier approaches and techniques?
“Could there be benefits if public finance were redirected so subsidies are linked specifically to farming practices that are more sustainable, less polluting, and a wide benefit to the public interest, rather than what many environmental experts have called the curiously perverse economic incentive system that too frequently directs food production. The point, surely, is to achieve a situation where the production of healthier food is rewarded and becomes more affordable, and that the earth’s capital is not so eroded.”
There is more, much more. You can read the entire 34-page speech at wapo.st/princespeech.
To his credit, Charles is reported to have an organic farm on one of his vast estates — which, media sources say, has never turned a profit. But then, when one has millions of dollars in yearly income from royal holdings, one can jolly well grow all the organic parsnips and kale one wishes, and hang the cost.
It is one thing for Charles and assorted ultra-wealthy entertainment and sports stars for whom the cost of food has no relevance, to espouse salvation through a manure-fertilized, pesticide/GMO-free, windmill-generating world.
But to preach to the average working family that they should make do with less, while trying to stretch food dollars as best they can as supermarket prices continue skyward, is utter hypocrisy.