------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
From: Self <CSNET/ACLARK>
To: "Wilson, Dale" <WILSONDO@phibred.com>
Subject: RE: Biological research, - another twist
Date sent: Mon, 19 Jan 1998 16:04:10 EDT
> >Solving *management* problems
> >with *genetic* solutions is misguided and misleading, and benefits
> >only those whose business it is to create yet another new round of
> >genetic solutions to problems.
> Think system, not atomized categories of "problems". Genetics and
> management are intimately intertwined in crop production. If I were
Interesting perspective. I would suggest that the converse -
focusing on specific single issues rather than the system as a whole -
has been the single most defining characteristic of both the
agribusiness products provided to farmers and certainly the research
funded by agribusiness at academic institutions. There can be no
better example of this than offering GE corn hybrids resistant to
corn rootworm - a problem than exists only if one insists on growing
corn in series, rather than in rotation with other crops. Genetic
"solutions" such as this are unnecessary and in fact
counterproductive, because they encourage farmers to plant corn in
series (because NOW they CAN!) instead of retaining the crop
rotations * a system approach * which have worked well to *avoid* the
problem in the first place.
Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying all genetic solutions are
bad. But certainly, the way that genetics is being employed today by
the few giants left in the industry is not condusive to lasting
benfit to farmers - or to consumers - just to the purveyors of the
>> to emerge. So we are driven by competitive pressures to improve
our seed vigor. Progress in this is good for my company. Is it
> the farmer? You bet! It produces stability.
I'd encourage you to have a look at a book called Variability in
Grain Yields (1989) edited by Anderson, J.R. and P.B. R. Hazell.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, what these folks report is that as
yield increases, variability in yield also increases - in other
words, "progress" as referenced above is effectively destabilizing
yield. This is true - although not statistically significantly so -
in all crops grown in the US with, I think, the exception of rice.
Why? Various chapters address this, but the conclusion is
not what proponents of high tech ag might want to say - e.g. wierd
weather or expanding out into unfavorable areas. It is called
"behaviorally-induced" yield variation. As I recall, this term was
coined in a chapter written by Don Duvick, a name which is perhaps
not unfamiliar to those acquainted with the leadership of Pioneer.
In a nutshell, producers are behaving more and more consistently
across agroclimatic regions - they respond to the same market
signals, sell into the same markets, pay about the same for the same
types and amounts of inputs, and according to Duvick, grow very
similar genetics across an entire region.
What this all means is that in a good year, everyone does
well, while in a bad year, everyone does poorly. In concert with
ever higher yields in the good years, this means wider and wider
amplitude variation in yield between the good and bad years. This is
specifically because regional "yields" are no longer buffered, as
they once were, by wider range of genetics in the cultivars and
hybrids grown, greater diversity in management decision by producers,
So, in fact, the very forces that have been driving this trend toward
homogenization, bigger and more specialized farms, and especially,
higher yield - have actually worsened yield stability, producer
income security, and overall food security.
> >I would suggest that focusing attention on purchased
> >products distracts attention from the REAL source of the problem(s)
> >(see above). Problems should be avoided by properly designed
> >rotations and soil/fertility management, proper selection and use of
> >cultivars, and probably, by better integration of crop and livestock
> >enterprises - rather than by buying some new gadget, product, or
> >biological entity to *solve* the problem after the fact.
> So your real complaint is against capitalism. I can respect that. The
> idea that "purchased inputs" are something different in kind from
> everything else a farmer does is a popular idea, but a false dichotomy.
Friend Dale, let's not get diverted into red herrings here. The
issue is not capitalism, per se, but the balance between purchased
inputs and commodity value - and hence, net return. Canadian figures
show that the aggregate input price index for agriculture has
increased by 16.5% in the last 10 years, during which the aggregate
commodity index (the value of what producers received) increased by
only 0.2%!! At present, Canadian producers retain only 9% of the
farm gate value of their products - the rest goes to people like you.
Yes, we can most assuredly achieve the high yields that we are all so
proud of - but only with ever costly purchased inputs (we'll leave
aside for now the issue of the environmental impacts of those
purchased inputs). The net result of all this progress is less
profit for the producers (and more for those marketing the inputs).
To illustrate with a practical example which is quoted in a chapter
by Fick and Clark in a soon to be released CAB publication (Grass for
Dairy Cattle, edited by Cherney and Cherney), over the 10 year period
between 1986 and 1995, on average, NY dairy farmers:
* increased per cow output from 7372 to 9202 kg (16237 to 20269 lb)
* increased herd size from 95 to 160 cows, and
* increased farm size from 117 to 162 ha (288 to 399 ac)
for which they were rewarded by a net
* DECREASE in their profit per cow, from $115 to $63/cow!
The high yield paradigm doesn't work, if people cannot make enough
money to stay in business.
> And, by the way, "solving the problem after the fact" is often the most
> environmentally responsible course, because you can wait and see if
> there really is a problem. Take preemergence vs postemergence
> herbicides, for example. Why till in a pound of a persistent chemical
> to solve a weed problem that may or may not materialize, when you can
> spray an ounce of a non persistent chemical later, only if needed?
> Transgenics are helping to enable this.
This is reminiscent of putting a band-aid on skin cancer. Rather
than ask producers to choose between one environmentally damaging
option and another environmentally damaging option, why not stand
back and ask why should agriculture depend on chemicals at all?
There is certainly ample evidence of commercial scale agriculture
that is economically competitive, and that doesn't rely on chemicals
at all. Refer to Alternative Agriculture edited by John Pesek for a
somewhat dated but still provocative source of case study information
You might enjoy an article by Roy Berg and Mick Price in the spring
calving issue of Cattleman magazine a few years ago. At the time,
they were a Dean and an Associate Dean of Agriculture, resp., both in
Animal Science at the University of Alberta. Not exactly a pair of
flaming radicals. If I may paraphrase the opening sentence, it went
something like this,
* A visitor from Mars who reads the spring calving issue of Cattleman
magazine could be excused for concluding that "pregnancy" is a
disease that breaks out annually in the cow herd, and that has to be
cured by an invasive procedure called "calving".*
The sense of the article was that so many of the calf pulling
devices, approaches to reviving weak, listless, frozen calves, hints
for storing colostrum, and other solutions presented in this annual
special issue were solving problems created by technology, which was
in turn imposed to solve problems created by earlier technology. In
effect, layering technology upon technology, rather than go back to
first principles. These two modern day hippies (I won't say long
haired, because one of them was bald) forwarded the preposterous
notion that if cattlemen would just time their calving to more
closely match natural calving (when grass was ready, instead of in
Feb), provide pasture resources to allow cows the seclusion they need
to calve and bond with their calves, and so and so on (e.g. more
closely approximate NATURE; such foolishness!), they would have fewer
problems, and even make money! Closet capitalists, I am sure.
That is the point, after all, making money - right? Oh yeah, I mean
for the producers.
> >That may be true. If so, why is Pioneer in business, if farmers are
> >going to solve their own problems anyway? How much of the problems
> >faced by farmers today are, in fact, created by previous products or
> >advice given to them by ...... agribusiness, either directly or via
> >research funded by them?
> This too, is myth. I've talked to the old timers, about the weeds
Refer to the above, pls.
> >As discussed above, the reason for the plethora of short-term gee
> >whiz stuff at public universities is the drying up of public funding
> >and the increasingly obligatory dependence upon private money - e.g.
> >from companies like yours. Ann
> People like novelties and curiosities by nature. When money is
I can't really think of anything printable in response to this gem,
so will just leave it stand on its own merit. Ann
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