>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.
I think you are correct, up to a point. I joke with my colleagues about
the idiosyncrasy of always focusing on whatever problem is fashionable
at the moment. But, I would venture that this is a foible of human
nature rather than an evil plot by the captains of industry. There is a
certain mindset that seems common to some managers. It is part of the
'cover-your-butt' instinct. If you are burned in a particular year by
some problem that snuck up on you, it seems like this problem is the
biggest problem in the world. Farmers are like this too.
> 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.
I really don't know where you got this, because I don't think anyone has
a genetic construct that is very effective against rootworm, in spite of
feverish work. If Pioneer or Novartis is going to market something like
that any time soon, it is news to me! Farmers now dump millions of
pounds of persistent, highly toxic insecticides into their soil to
control rootworm. I don't see why you would claim that substituting a
GMO for that would do anything but good for the environment. And
another thing, rotation doesn't completely solve the problem.
>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
I assume you mean recombinant genetics. All these technologies are being
licensed to regional seed companies, so they share in the profits. And
farmers don't have to buy the Bt version of the hybrid or the RR
soybeans. But they buy these products because they work well.
Transgenics are really not as important as hybrids in serving to
concentrate genetic power in the hands of a few companies. Yet the
marketing of hybrids has some good effects, such as shaking lots of
money loose for research and development, since investors have some
protection on their investment.
>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
I will look at the book, but I was talking about the more limited domain
of seed vigor, my area of work. I maintain that improved vigor is
clearly a stabilizing influence.
>This is true - although not statistically significantly so -
>in all crops grown in the US with, I think, the exception of rice.
If it is not statistically significant, why should I believe it?
>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,
I agree, this is an important problem.
>bigger and more specialized farms, and especially,
>higher yield - have actually worsened yield stability, producer
>income security, and overall food security.
I think you are overstating your case here. As far as I can tell,
farmers are doing quite well.
>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
I guess the farmers are becoming very efficient. But seriously, this is
a market power problem, the classic ag econ problem. Perhaps the
governments should be more aggressive in supporting commodity prices.
The real winners are the commodity companies more than the seed
>This is reminiscent of putting a band-aid on skin cancer.
How so? these production problems aren't THAT bad!
>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?
But you are skirting my point, that some solutions, even some high-tech
solutions invented by big companies, are more desireable than others.
The reason farmers don't want to "let nature run it's course" is that it
represents risk. Many farmers would rather pay a little more, and gain
>There is certainly ample evidence of commercial scale agriculture
>that is economically competitive, and that doesn't rely on chemicals
This is true for some crops. For example, I wouldn't apply anything to
my hay. But for row crops, the big problem is weeds. Often, tillage is
more damaging to the environment than judicious use of chemical
controls. For example, soybean production in the midwest. The farmer
will apply little or no tillage after corn the previous year, then go in
just before planting soybeans, with Roundup. They plant in narrow rows,
or drill with no tillage, and then follow up, as needed with a
post-emergence herbicide. I think this is very environmentally
responsible. The older style, mechanical tillage solution was harder on
> Refer to Alternative Agriculture edited by John Pesek for a
>somewhat dated but still provocative source of case study information
Many of the case studies were picked and chosen carefully to illustrate
>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.
I know, I found out the hard way, when had some cattle on our tiny farm
in Idaho (a distinctly low-tech operation). I naively thought that
calving would sort of take care of itself. But isn't this mainly a
traditional breeding issue? I don't know what you mean by "technology".
>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.
No, you often still have to pull the calves out.
>> This too, is myth. I've talked to the old timers, about the weeds
>Refer to the above, pls.
I don't know what you mean.
>> 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
Why was this so offensive to you? I didn't mean to imply that you were
squandering money, just that it is the rule, both in public and private
sectors. One can always develop a rational argument for some line of
research, and then selI it aggressively. I wasn't all that successful
at grantsmanship, I guess because I'm just not very political. In
industry too, salesmanship and group dynamics are supremely important.
It is just human nature.
Thanks for the interesting discussion.
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