Monday, May 31, 2010

A Farmers Opinion

Robert Blair demonstrates precision agriculture on his Kendrick farm.
What is You Definition of “Sustainable Agriculture?”

By Robert Blair, Farmer
What is “sustainable agriculture?” The definition of "sustain" is: (v) maintain, continue, carry on, keep up, or keep going among a few others. The antonym or opposite is "quit." It is difficult to find a true definition of “sustainable” in online dictionaries that are not skewed towards eco-activist type definitions.

In defining "sustainable agriculture," the true definition would be to keep going or keep up. Those of us in production agriculture not only have to keep going, but we need to keep up with the increasing demand placed upon world agriculture production. A couple of definitions regarding “sustainable agriculture” online are: “Agriculture that is socially just, humane, economically viable, and environmentally sound” or “Agricultural practices that seek to preserve environmental integrity, foster integrate farming communities, increase farm profitability based on diversified activities, and enhance political systems that take into account all stakeholders in the farming community.” I did not realize that farmers were to grow better political systems but you get the picture?

While there were many variations defining “sustainable agriculture,” there are definitions I think most farmers would agree with and practice every day. The one I would associate myself with is: “Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals: environmental stewardship, farm profitability, and prosperous farming communities.” It does not specifically state increased food production for world demand, but today’s agriculture needs to realize that our farming community goes beyond our back 40 or city limit sign to encompass the world.

Unfortunately there are many different techniques used to thwart “sustainable agriculture.” Trade barriers, lawsuits, and short sighted governmental decisions against biotechnology are not allowing agriculture to keep up with demand in a timely manner. There are so many positives to be gained, not only for farmers and ranchers, but for every mom who budgets out tight resources for quality food during these tough economic times.

I am currently at odds with the local school about “sustainable agriculture.” My son watched the movie Food Inc. (and I suggest all farmers watch it to understand what the other side is thinking) which led to me being at odds because of the dangers I perceive in students watching the movie Food Inc. without proper counter arguments. My resolve strengthened after watching the movie, especially upon the slanted view and focus that only a “John Denver” or an “American Gothic” type farmer can grow food that is acceptable in America. That view is a travesty, but “Thank God I’m A Country Boy!” (I could not resist the pun.)

There is a place and demand for "locally grown" or "organic" food which is closely associated with “sustainable agriculture,” but it cannot "sustain" levels of production to keep up with future demand. Besides, the farmers I know and have always grown food locally would relish the chance to visit with non-farmers about their crops and a chance to take their money.

The movie’s main focus is on “big industry” and “factory farms.” I have traveled across the United States and have yet to see smoke stacks sprouting out of fields. What I have witnessed is prime farmland, pasture land, and timberland cultivated for urban and suburban sprawl. Instead of raising wheat, corn, or other crops the land is now raising houses, quickie marts, and shopping centers. Is that the face of the new “sustainable agriculture?”

Also the movie implied that farmers are bad for the environment for their practice of tilling land and applying fertilizer or pesticides. I do not know one farmer that wants to lose topsoil or apply more pesticides or fertilizer than is needed. Any business that would spend more on inputs than is needed is illogical. Furthermore, erosion rates have dropped dramatically since the 1960’s because of better pesticides, higher yielding crops leading to increased residue, and advancements made in tillage practices and equipment.

The question now, “Is agriculture in a downward spiral because of reducing erosion? By relying upon pesticides brought about by governmental policy to farm certain ways and competitive environmental programs designed to make New York City and San Francisco Senators and Congressmen vote a certain way, are we as agriculture on the path to self termination?

What will happen when resistance to chemicals is too great to “sustain” current levels of production? Will agriculture be allowed to do tillage to control weeds and disease? Will chemical companies catch a break from Congress and the media to bring products onto the market in a timely manner that will work properly?

The battle agriculture is facing is a battle that is centuries old: The control of land and water! There is a decreasing population of people that control both, so the "have nots" are trying to find ways to gain control. The method they have chosen is through media, lawsuits, and government. They play upon the emotions of grade school through high school children by not telling the complete story. I hope for the sake of American agriculture and the safety and security of our bountiful food supply that their efforts are not “sustainable.”

1 comment:

Ray said...

Great job of exposing truths, Robert!

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