Category Archives: industrial agriculture

Reinert Interview: Farming and Monarchs

Today is the sixth post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here.
–Kay M.


K.M.: What is your impression of our farming system and what does it have to do with monarchs?

Reinert: The monarchs are in great decline. There is pressure from habitat loss due to illegal logging in Mexico where they go for the winter, but the bigger issue is the genetically modified crops and the loss of milkweed in the United States as marginal lands are put into production. Milkweed has become almost nonexistent, which is the plant needed by the monarchs to reproduce.

Although our food capacity is growing greatly, when we start looking at the effects, the Dead Zone, the pollution of the Mississippi River, the monarch, and the songbirds, then, it seems to me that we’ve made a deal with the Devil. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything in the overall scheme of things if the monarch goes away, but I happened to have a bunch of them in my yard yesterday and I thought to myself, “Oh, God, how beautiful.” So, it’s sad because they’re just another pointer.

There are really no more than 15 or 20 senators that are key to this farm policy, maybe less, and it’s a lot of money to advantage a small number of people at such a large cost. And it is ridiculous to think that the money is going to Mom and Pop farmer. It goes to big agribusiness. If you just moved the Iowa caucus elsewhere, things might change.
[END]


To see last week’s very popular interview subject of “Overfishing” click here.

Coming next week will be Reinert’s comments on the subject of climate change.

Photo credit: FlickrCC by Martin LaBar. Monarch butterfly caterpillar.

A Farmer Speaks Out: Unsustainable High Input Costs of Industrial Farming

The fine folks over at Farm Journal’s AgWeb published a letter which they received from a viewer following a show that they aired about the U.S. Farm Report. I thought it was very well stated, and the unsustainability of today’s big ag trajectory is not discussed often enough. What is the cropland owner to do when caught on this hamster wheel???
—Kay M.


THE LETTER:

In today’s U.S. Farm Report Mr. Phipps rightfully pointed out that we all constantly need to learn new skills. But if these skills are just employed in the same direction we have been going for many decades now, then will accelerate the downfall of even more farmers.

Relentlessly driven by economic competition, farming today is a high input game hunting the highest yield.

Ironically in the same shows which feature serious brokers and farm journalists warning the farmers to be prepared for the consequences of their own endeavors and pointing out the vicious cycle of great harvests and depressed prices, farmers are still admonished to be early adopters of the latest technology, i.e. yield enhancing chemicals, machinery and growing methods…as if the narrow band of specialization of row crop farmers was leading anywhere but disastrous ruin for most in the long run.

Only a few very large operations of that kind make it – not without help from the taxpayer, by the way.

Who profits most? The providers of said chemicals, machinery and growing methods.

I do not need to point out who suffers most from that kind of agriculture which has been in the heads of most farmers. On the other hand, there are a good number of examples of farmers who are breaking the mold, resorting to very different approaches to farming, but they are not featured.

Most of them can be found in the organic and/or horse-farming community. As long as farmers let themselves be talked into the afore-mentioned rat race the attrition of their numbers can be safely assumed.

How about forming organizations in which farmers for example discuss optimal yields for themselves and their communities, not maximum outcomes with their price-destabilizing consequences? How about organizations which help farmers to overcome the narrow specialization and give them tools for more diversified farming operations?

I could give more examples, but the idea should be clear: If we continue to be going in the directions we have been going for several decades now we should not be surprised that we will arrive there. Only a few people with deep pockets can even start independents farms, most will be hirelings and/or dependents of large corporations.

–Respectfully, (Missouri Farmer)

More Water Contaminated with Agricultural Runoff: Algae Blooms Create Toxins in Toledo’s Water

The ink was barely dry on my post “Less Corn More Shrimp” concerning the agricultural runoff which creates a Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico each year when headlines broke this weekend saying that residents of Toledo were without drinking water.

The reason? Again, agricultural runoff into Lake Erie, and experts tell us that it won’t be the last time this happens. Weather, rains, and poor farming practices all contribute. Better management of waterways would help a great deal.

PBS Newshour explains, here in “How weather and nutrient pollution create fertile conditions for toxic algae blooms”:

Global Productivity Growth of Agriculture Developing vs. Developed

Productivity growth in agriculture enables farmers to produce a greater abundance of food at lower prices, using fewer resources. A broad measure of agricultural productivity performance is total factor productivity (TFP). Unlike other commonly used productivity indicators like yield per acre, TFP takes into account a much broader set of inputs—including land, labor, capital, and materials—used in agricultural production. ERS analysis finds that globally, agricultural TFP growth accelerated in recent decades, largely because of improving productivity in developing countries and the transition economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

During 2001-2010, agricultural TFP growth in North America and the transition economies offset declining input use to keep agricultural output growing. By contrast, declining input use in Europe offset growing TFP, resulting in a slight decline in agricultural output over the decade. In most regions of the developing world, improvements in TFP are now more important than expansion of inputs as a source of growth in agricultural production. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only major region of the world where growth in agricultural inputs accounts for a higher share of output growth than growth in TFP.

source: USDA