Ann said:> >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.
Then Dale said:> 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
Ann says: No intention to infer an evil plot by anyone. Your
original point was that one should take a "systems" approach - fair
enough - but it is difficult to do this as a researcher when the
funding sources refuse to see past their next bottom line.
Researchers without funding have to be creative verging on magical to
produce anything of merit.
Ann said: > > 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.
Then Dale said: > 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.
Ann says: Without looking back through my doc pile, I cannot cite
the ref for this. But whether it is actually out or just under
"feverish" investigation (or whether it is corn rootworm or some
other management-induced problem), the principle is the same - you
are putting yet another patch over the skin cancer (and yes, it is
that bad (see below)), addressing the *symptoms* rather than the
*causes* of agricultural problems.
Dale said: > 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.
Ann says: Whether rotation completely solves the problem or just 95%
of the problem - or whether rootworms are adapting - as everyone knew
they would - to simple corn-soybean rotations - is irrelevant. The
point is, GE companies (or perhaps more properly, their new
owner/handlers (I believe it was DuPont, the 5th largest marketer of
agrichemicals in the world with sales of $2.5 billion in 96, that now
owns 40% of Pioneer?) have crafted a "win-win" situation - at least
First, the profligate use of BT-cultivars (of corn, cotton, etc.)
will accelerate the development of resistance in target organisms (it
has already begun to occur, by the way) and shorten the meaningful
lifespan of BT (genetically engineered or otherwise) as a protective
agent. As resistance develops, the GE companies will blame the
farmers - despite the very fundamental flaws in their own resistance
management plans (see Chuck Benbrook's homepage, http://www.pmac.net
for much more on this) and just walk away from the GE cultivars and
on to something new.
Then, the same companies will happily to pull out their waiting
arsenal of chemical products which producers will have to buy from
the same companies - that is, if they choose to continue to farm in
the current paradigm - or by then (only a few years from now) perhaps
another GE miracle will be ready for prime time. Either way, they
win and we lose. Why do we lose? Because treating symptoms rather
than causes costs more money than addressing root causes (see below).
Ann said: > >Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying all genetic
> >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
Then Dale said: > 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.
Ann says: Of the several rebuttals that come to mind, I'll just
settle for the one that is irrefutable - the products do *not* work
well, at least not all the time and for all farmers, and certainly
not if you base the argument on net return. Even though they have
been in largescale commercial production for only a year, significant
GE failures are already being reported in the scientific lit (e.g.
Science) as well as in the pop press. Ask the growers of BT or RR
cotton in Mississippi and Texas (lawsuits pending, I believe), or in
Australia. And of course, I take it as a given that we are all agreed
that it is only a matter of time - a very short time - before
resistance to BT, or Roundup, or whatever else your gene jockies
might come up with will render GE miracles obsolete.
Dale said: > Transgenics are really not as important as hybrids in
> 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.
Ann says: I'll agree with you about hybrids having been very
effective in channeling producer income into the hands of seed
companies. Shaking lots of money lose (to do more of the same, eh?)
strikes me as an argument of dubious merit.
Ann said: > >This is true - although not statistically significantly
> >in all crops grown in the US with, I think, the exception of rice.
Dale said: > If it is not statistically significant, why should I
Ann says: My mistake - it is statistically significant in some but
not all crops. So, being a good scientist, you should believe that
yield variability is increasing in some crops, with a similar but not
significant tendency in all the others.
Ann said: > >bigger and more specialized farms, and especially,
> >higher yield - have actually worsened yield stability, producer
> >income security, and overall food security.
Dale said: > I think you are overstating your case here. As far as
I can tell,
> farmers are doing quite well.
Ann says: Dale, we are not on the same planet if you thing that
"farmers are doing well".
Ann said: > >Friend Dale, let's not get diverted into red herrings
> >issue is not capitalism, per se, but the balance between purchased
> >inputs and commodity value - and hence, net return. Canadian figures
Dale said: > governments should be more aggressive in supporting
Ann says: No can do, my friend. For one thing, ill-conceived crop-
specific price supports and entitlement programs have been the cause
of enormous environmental and economic harm to rural communities and
farmers. Check out a talk I gave in Maine under my homepage (below).
For another thing, the whole trend is in the other direction, under
the current WTO regs.
Ann said: > >This is reminiscent of putting a band-aid on skin
Dale said: > How so? these production problems aren't THAT bad!
Ann says: They are that bad, if one is trying to make a living in
agriculture. I've already given you the stats on how ludicrously
small is the income left to producers (9% of gross) after paying out
operating costs and fixed costs of machine ownership etc. Try to
raise a family on that. It is no wonder that farmers are leaving
farming and rural communities are dwindling.
The tragedy, to me, is that this phenomenon is an intentional part of
government policy - and further, that it is *avoidable*, but only if
people can learn to think around the hype/advertising, peer pressure,
and salesmanship of the agribusiness industry. That is asking a lot,
but it is the only way that I can see to do it. I
explore some of this in the Maine talk - have a look.
Ann said: > > 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?
Dale said: > 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
Ann says: no question that risk differs among different options -
but the fundamental issue is "we should we rearrange deck chairs on
the Titanic" instead of taking a wholly new course? Sure, farmers
(like most people) would prefer to pay for predictability, but I am
not confident any more that that is an option. Not if they are
farming as a livelihood.
Ann said: > >There is certainly ample evidence of commercial scale
> >that is economically competitive, and that doesn't rely on chemicals
> >at all.
Then Dale said: > 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
> the soil.
Published comparative studies would dispute this interpretation.
If mechanical cultivation was such a risk of soil
erosion/degradation, why then are soil OM, biotic activity, and
essentially all indices of soil "health" higher on organic farms
(that use mechanical tillage) than on paired conventional farms (that
use chemicals)? I would suggest that the evidence strongly supports
the view that sound soil management is definitely do-able without
chemicals, even with row crops. However, it is fair to say that most
organic farmers do not emphasize corn and soybeans - in part because
of potential weed problems. I was on an 800 ac organic grain farm in
NY a few years ago, with lovely fields of both corn and soybean - and
mighty few weeds.
If Roundup is so effective in these GE crops, then why is it that
Monsanto is seeking a 200-fold increase in the allowable residues on
dry soybeans - from 0.1 up to 20 mg/Kg?
Ann said: > >The sense of the article was that so many of the calf
> >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.
Then Dale said: > 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".
> No, you often still have to pull the calves out.
Ann says: No - you most definitely should NOT have to routinely pull
calves. If you must, then you are definitely doing something wrong,
whether it is choosing bulls that throw calves that are too big for
the cows, or overfeeding the gestating cows, or housing cows so
they don't get enough exercise - or others we'll call Technology
Layer #1. Warming boxes to heat up the cold, listless calves is an
example of Tech Layer #2 - caused by Tech Layer #1. Having to pen
and rebond the calf to the cow is Tech Layer #3 (caused by Tech
Layer #2, separating to heat up the calf).
The point of the example - which has nothing to do with cows - is
that modern agriculture is technology heaped on technology to solve
problems created by technology. Why not craft farm enterprises to
*avoid* these problems in the first place, as it has been done
successfully in the past and on some farms today? Ann
Dr. E. Ann Clark
University of Guelph
Guelph, ON N1G 2W1
Phone: 519-824-4120 Ext. 2508
FAX: 519 763-8933
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