Friday, October 05, 2007

A battle we don't need...

Once I did the math, I realized the agrarian movement not only is not a competitor, it actually complements my industrial farm. As organic farms - or any other agrarian category - flourish, it suddenly becomes obvious to all that such producers can only fill a small portion of the food market. I'm not the only one to have this epiphany.
Can organic food feed the world? A recent study, published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems provides new data that suggests it can. However, I have some grave reservations about this prospect that are based on my experience as a scientist and my time living and working with real farmers in developing nations.

The authors of this study assume the major stumbling blocks to organic farming feeding the world are low crop yields and insufficient quantities of approved organic fertilisers. However, I have lived and worked in Bangladesh – as a professor of Cornell University, covering agricultural research and development – for the last 25 years, and I believe that even if these problems could be surmounted, using organic farming to feed the developing world remains a pipe dream. [More]
This should not be taken as dismissive of consumers who make choices for agrarian foods. Heck - Jan prefers some organic ingredients when it's more convenient or occasionally when it's the only choice. (I didn't actually know that - I just asked her now).

But behind the agrarian movement too often is a poorly disguised wistfulness for an imagined past that we could recreate if we only wished hard enough. The aversion to technology associated with agrarianism also means detailed economic analysis of its constraints tends to fall on deaf ears. Still, it is no justification to oppose the expansion of agrarian farms where they fit or to consider them a long-term threat to industrial agriculture.

Our main competitors in industrial ag are 1) each other and 2) other guys just like us all over the world. Any forward-thinking producer figures this out pretty fast or misses the cut one spring.


Anonymous said...

As a displaced farmer, now a vetern in the master gardener program. I can say, most of the people, telling you about organic veges, are full of it. Most people would need an acre to fifteen acres to grow thier own living. Suggest they read, " LIVING ON A ACRE, a practical guide to the self-reliant life", U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Anonymous said...

Organic farming is a production system using natural-organic inputs. Sustainable with natural/organic inputs is the future for a profitable farming operation. There is theology more than knowledge from both sides of organic therories. Put the carbon back in the soil as humus for healthier soil, plants, water, and animals including humans.

Anonymous said...

Great post, John !

This is one of the things I really tried to explain to folks on both sides of this debate in my recent campaign for Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture.

BTW: I lost, so you are not giving me any free pub by posting this here.

Les Riley

John Phipps said...


Thanks for reading. One of the breakthroughs for me was when I realized "farmers" were not one homogeneous herd.

That may be a good subsidy PR image, but it won't help your business plan work. After I came to grips with being an industrial farmer, it became much easier for me to accept a wide range of answers to the question "How can I live on a farm and be happy?"

There are a growing number of answers, I believe, and I will be writing more about this here and in Top Producer.