Posts Tagged ‘Baxter Black’

Sustainable Farming? Really?

Posted on February 14th, 2013 by Organic  |  No Comments »

Baxter Black, Cowboy poet and author of a weekly syndicated column recently wrote a column (week of Feb. 7th) claiming Biotech companies such as Monsanto, Dow, Pfizer etc. saved the world from starvation by creating chemical alternatives to crop production and GMO crops. I disagree and here is my response:

Dear Mr. Black,

I usually enjoy reading your weekly column but occasionally you change horses so to speak and attack environmentalists, animal rights groups and now “sustainable farming” and though not mentioned specifically, but by association, “organic agriculture”. While many of your articles put a righteous human face on those that are in the business of raising this nation’s food, and give much respect and credence to the personalities the animals we raise certainly have, these few out of character articles attack those who in my opinion most represent the values and ideals you champion in your column.

The farmers and ranchers you vilify want to raise healthy food, make a profit, respect the animals they raise, and do it in such a way as not to destroy the land, water and wildlife they love.  Farmers were once told to plow from fence row to fence row.  Grow the same crop in succession. Pour the chemicals to it. Yields down? They have a new chemical for it. Who profited from these practices?

Not farmers apparently. Farming is not one of those valued and respected professions. The number of farmers continues to decrease as consolidation in the industry increases. The average age of a farmer is in the late 50’s. A cubicle looks pretty good to a young person compared to the rigors of farming vs. the returns.

Not the environment. Toxic chemicals continue to contaminate watersheds and aquifers, especially in agricultural areas. Cancer rates are shy high among agricultural workers.  Species of wildlife are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. Fisheries are dying off.  Weeds are becoming resistant to herbicides; bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics.  The globe is heating up, ice sheets are melting, ocean levels are rising, disasters of huge proportions are straining FEMA’s budget. Dependence on chemicals is similar to drug addiction; you always need a bigger fix.

Not commodity prices either. As the yields you show on the graph increase, the costs of inputs, fuel, labor and machinery also skyrocket while the price for a bushel of grain has not increased proportionately.  My grandfather used to make a good living on 120 acres. Now 600 acres is not enough ground to support a family growing corn and soy. It was you that lamented in a recent column how many more steers it took to buy a new pick-up truck than it did back in the day.

The farmer that looks beyond today, that rotates his crops, that leaves stubble on the ground to prevent wind and water erosion, that increases the soils tilth, sequestering carbon, increasing the soils capacity to absorb water and allowing roots to penetrate deeply, whose soils are not as subject to erosion, that have a healthy population of earthworms and beneficial organisms, that have healthy populations of beneficial insects to naturally combat pests and weed populations are controlled by healthy stands of mixed species of beneficial plants, those are the “sustainable” farmers.  Honey bees can actually survive on a “sustainable farm”.

I do not believe that new chemicals and technology that move away from natural systems are the answer to feeding the world. I do not believe that in the 3rd world it is sustainable to teach and subsidize farming methods that are totally reliant on chemical inputs.  If 50% of the money spent on researching a chemical alternatives to food production was spent researching sustainable agriculture, I believe equal progress would be made toward sustainable solutions.

Organic food consumption continues to grow and now many universities are teaching sustainable methods in conventional agriculture. You cannot foul your own nest and expect to raise healthy young. I think you are riding a Shetland in the Kentucky Derby on this issue. Do you have any corporate sponsors?

Thomas D. McCracken