2. You take issue with the notion that farm technology is being
driven and shaped by institutional researchers/extensionists and the
research station agenda. Don't believe that is a valid assessment of
what was said in the CJPS paper by Clark et al. Yes, it is true that
farmers and most certainly private industry are constantly creating
new products and technologies, and yes, it is true that many of these
gadgets and gimmicks are "banal and short-sighted" to use your
terminology. We are agreed on that.
The point we were making was that research conceptualized by
researchers and conducted on research stations - whether public or
private - asks very different questions and has very different
outcomes than what a farmer might ask or need - and unquestionably,
what consumers and the environment might need. This conundrum is most
particularly true for academic researchers, but is most certainly
true of private industry as well - thinking now of the bromoxynil-
tolerant cotton, Round-up Ready soybeans, and triazine tolerant
germplasm, to say nothing of precision farming, Harvestore silos, TMR
systems, and other capital-intensive gizmos. These products were
most certainly driven by private industry's desire to expand the
market for themselves - nothing to do with what farmers need or want.
Nobody asked the consumers if they wanted it. Nobody consulted with
environmental interests if they wanted it.
Yes - I will agree that there has been substantial uptake of these
technologies - in the short term. But I would suggest this was more
a case of "keeping up with the Farmer Jones' than industry filling a
farmer-identified need. Where is Harvestore now? Top dairy fellows
in Ontario consider it too expensive for use anymore. Another
example of inputs rising faster than commodity values. It is the
TMR/BST/confinement paradigm that has made US (and Canadian) milk the
#1 and #2 most expensive milk to produce in the world (e.g. cost of
production per liter of milk is higher in our two countries than in
any other country in the world). So, yes, there was producer uptake,
just as there are people knocking themselves over to buy GE cultivars
now - but why? Because people like you (in the generic, Dale,
nothing personal) keep telling them how great it is (in the short
term, neglecting to mention the longer term implications). When it
goes bust - as it most certainly will - you will be on to something
new, and the farmers will be there to absorb the losses.
Where I take issue with research station research - apart from the
fact that is is seldom validated meaningfully in on-farm trials - is
that we in academia SHOULD be undertaking non-proprietary research
that will directly benefit the farmer, society, and the environment.
We are not doing that because we cannot do it without funding. And
to a truly appalling degree, what little government money remains for
public research is being tied to matching industry funding- placing us
in harness to serve people like you (again, nothing personal). The
kinds of questions we should have been addressing are reviewed in the
CJPS paper (and in a talk I gave in Ohio in 97, under my homepage),
so won't go through it all again.
But I stand by my conviction, which is amply supported by the
distribution of wealth from agricultural production in recent decades
- that an agricultural industry that is shaped and driven by "sharp
private sector people with cell phones on their waists, yield
monitors on their combines, and portable computers in their pickup"
is one that increasingly disenfranchises primary producers, with the
net winners being those selling the inputs and the gadgets.
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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