Baxter Black: Sustainable farming? Really?
February 18, 2013
Most of the agricultural community watches the pied pipers of "Sustainable Farming" the same way grandparents watch their grandkids play with toy trains. We humor them but don't try to explain how real trains work. Many "Sustainable Farming" proposals are the exact opposite of their name. "Model T Farming," or "Third World Farming" or "Farming to Feed the Few" would be more accurate.
As a caveat, I must credit those scientists seeking realistic solutions to agriculture's booming production capabilities. However, the dream world lead by Luddites and New Age gurus are proposing a return to farming methods used in the first half of the 20th century. A time they describe as "not relying on toxic chemicals, pesticides, synthetic fertilizer and genetically modified foods. A time when animals moved freely, consumed a natural diet, and were not confined."
I do offer a tip of the hat to hobby farmers with a nice garden, some chickens or 15 sheep as 4-H projects. Their contribution is appreciated, but they realize very quickly that they can't grow or raise enough to feed their families for a fortnight, much less 50 of their urban neighbors. Which, of course, is the elephant in the room.
After World War II the population of our country and our world began to explode! In the 1970's scientists were increasingly convinced a new "Ice Age" was coming and "Global Starvation" was imminent. But help was on the way. Monsanto, Dow, John Deere, Pfizer, Monfort, Pioneer, plus a battalion of academic and privately funded scientists had seen it coming and were already root-deep into research. Their objective was to increase production of food and fiber from a decreasing number of acres (a result of urban encroachment), AND keep it affordable for the masses.
Look around you, my friends. They did it … and saved the world.
Indulge me a few statistics:
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1950's 2000's 2020 2024
1. U.S. wheat production (bu/acre) 25.4 22
2. Total wheat production (billion bu/year) 1.057 2.2
3. Beef production (lbs/cow) 208 722
4. Total beef slaughter (million head/year) 69.5 110.8
5. Population of United States (millions) 152.2 311.8
6. Population of world (billions) 2.5 6.9 7.5 8.2
In the last 50 years the United States and Canada have not only been able to keep up with the sky-rocketing global demand for food, we have shared our research and taught the third world how to feed itself! THAT is what I call "Sustainable Farming."
Agriculture, Great Grandpa's agriculture, before the advent of pesticides, chemicals, antibiotics, concentrated feeding and genetically modified seed, was, and is not "sustainable" by any definition.
I suggest we call the methods that the pied pipers promote, something that more accurately describes their toy train idyllic vision. For the sake of clarity how 'bout "Subsistence Level Farming."*
*subsistence: syn. (Poverty, Insufficient, Hand to mouth) Roget's Thesaurus.
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