Posts Tagged ‘Farming’

A Growing Dilemma

January 21, 2012

            Mention the word religion and what usually springs to mind is churches, mosques and temples with congregations of people gathered there. Mention the word agriculture and most folks think of “down on the farm” with livestock, pastures, and cultivated fields. Not that you can’t find those if you go looking for a farm; no more or less than you will find the faithful gathered in buildings when you look for religion. Few today would think of Luke Skywalker’s childhood home when they think of agriculture.

            Contained within the word “agriculture” is the word “culture”. The first definition given within Webster’s College Dictionary of the latter term is “artistic and intellectual pursuits and products”. What could farming have to do with that?

            Farmers today are doing quite well. The value of agricultural land and what it produces are very high and increasing. The markets claim one set of reasons for that (global demand), technology accounts for another (genetically modified cultivars and methodology) and the smaller percentage of people engaged in the practice may account for still another reason. A recent local news item concerned a township trustee suspected of a conflict of interest in terms of his civic responsibilities. Coming from a multi generational family farm background, his credentials for public service appeared impeccable. Now it is revealed that he individually farms over 2,000 acres and was steering development away from land he leases. “Intellectual pursuits and products” become apparent when considering traditional farming methods of retaining some of the harvest to be reused as seed in the following year’s planting. Do that today and you might find yourself sued for patent infringement on intellectual property. GM planting and methodology assume agreement with the terms of use which essentially retain ownership of how the product is used thereby eliminating the ability to reuse the end result for further production. Luke Skywalker might feel right at home with the “double loop”. Overheard on a morning radio ag talk show, it was mentioned casually as a contemporary matter of fact, much as a cell phone or hybrid automobile. Within that touted efficiency, the agricultural product is marketed as a resource for an energy manufacturing facility (such as biodiesel or ethanol). The residue (waste) from that production is then “recycled” back as animal feed. The residue (waste) from the livestock operation is then used to produce methane, another source of energy. The discussion on supplying the cash crop of energy failed to mention that the livestock are ultimately kept for human consumption (a traditional given). The emphasis of “intellectual pursuits and products” has shifted from supplying food for the table to satisfying the globe’s insatiable appetite for energy, and carbon based energy at that. This has various repercussions other than just, ultimately, global warming. One news item recently indicated that the GM phenomenon of huge per acre yields (allowing for the use of what the land yields as a resource for energy production) has been put into jeopardy by the very mechanism which originally stimulated its patented invention. Under the terms of use agreement, the agri business is to reserve 20% of its corn planting to a non GM cultivar, thereby providing “islands” of refuge for the destructive rootworms found in the soil in order that the 80% GM strain will maintain its rootworm resistance viability. Given the incredibly high yields per acre possible with GM products, and the high price for those products, many are choosing not to forgo that extra 20% earning potential. Studies in the Midwest indicate that this results in the evolution of a rootworm that is impervious to the systemic insecticidal features of GM corn. The entire house of cards is threatened to come down by the greed of a handful who want, or need to have that additional 20% immediately. We’ve seen this movie before. It is not a healthy outlook when agriculture stops being “farming” (with all its unpredictability), and decides to be like manufacturing or mining (with its singular and complete focus on end product and efficiency).

            Other farm related news out stated that last year saw an increase of first time farmers; mostly young people wanting to supply the veggies, etc. that the farmers’ market, healthy eating craze has created. Good news indeed as small scale farming doesn’t require the enormous capital/cash flow that agri business demands, is very compatible with current high tech media marketing, and allows for part time off farm income opportunities. One becomes apprehensive of the sustainability of such practices when one considers that family farms became agri businesses primarily for the benefit of the family. Come again, you say? Folks that farm also want their kids to have a better life and, like all parents, will do whatever in their means to help their children thrive. They want their kids to go to college, as well as have their own homes, etc. Such aspirations can be met by farming 2,000 acres, etc. But will the small scale, start up “family” farmers working to meet the demand of organic restaurants and pricey farm markets forego such desire? The day to day budget may be balanced with maybe some left over for health care and the homestead serving as a retirement investment, but will the children’s future be neglected? Is it that easy (or obvious) to slip the bondage of progressive modernity with all its genetic engineering and convoluted loops of economy?