Ann says: Not sure what you've said that is different from what I
said. Farmers and researchers are asking different questions. In
our end of the world, most producers are, as you said, pushing the
capital- and resource-intensive paradigm in which that they have
invested a lifetime of work, capital, and ego. No surprise there.
The research which is being done - usually with funding from their
commodity organization - supports their interests, with perhaps a dab
of "environmental" or "sustainable" or some other buzz word thrown in
for appearances sake. But within that paradigm, the questions asked
reflect the source - producer or researcher.
For example, a researcher might want to know efficacy - does it work,
how much does it yield, and sometimes, does it work/yield the same at
perhaps 2 sites over perhaps 2 years (very interesting exercise to
go through the journals and document how limited is the focus on
generalizability over sites and years (we did this in the CJPS
paper). We all know why - lack of interest from funding sources, and
demands for quick turnaround, readily accountable projects).
Researchers will usually ignore, or at best, try to remove all
sources of "extraneous" variation, e.g. preceeding crop, crop
rotation history, manure management practices, slope, aspect,
presence/absence of livestock on the farm, educational/experience
level of the producer etc. etc.
Now, a producer - if asked to design the same experiment - might
frame the question quite differently, measure quite different
parameters, and tailor the research more effectively to his/her own
1. Perhaps the producer knows from experience that fungal
pathogens are a real problem on a north-facing field, but have never
been an issue on south-facing land. If the product to be tested is a
fungicide, s/he would likely choose to place the trial on the north-
facing field, where differences (if any) might be expected to show
2. The producer might know from experience that a key determinant
of the success of this type of product is timing - when you put it
on, relative to the weather, growth stage of the crop, etc. S/he
might also know that at that time of year, other responsibilities on
the farm are pressing. So, perhaps the producer would place
particular value on the issue of timing, and would value a product
that might be less efficacious but would allow application earlier in
the season, when other responsibilities are less pressing. Or a
product that was less sensitive to stage of development, incidence of
rain, or other factors.
3. The producer is certainly interested in yield, but might be more
interested in what happens next year. Or the year after. Will
applying this product now affect pathogen problems next year, or in
later years? So, the producer might conduct the trial over a 5 year
period instead of 1 (or perhaps 2) years.
4. The producer would certainly be interested in net returns. DOES
IT PAY to apply this product? The absence of this consideration by
many agricultural researchers, and certainly by the agribusiness
firms which promote the inputs, is readily apparent from recent input
lines. But usually "after the fact", when producers
have already bought the thing and wasted their money, independent
researchers then publish papers showing that net benefit to the
farmer from the input (e.g. BST, transgenic crops, etc.) was actually
small, nil, or negative. Evidence for this is discussed in the
"luddites" paper posted under my homepage.
So, this is what I mean when I say we are asking different questions.
You don't even have to go so far as to bring in the "environmental"
vs. "conventional" split. Within either paradigm, researchers are
asking the wrong questions, unless they actively involve farmers in
the design, conduct, and interpretation of the studies - so-called
"farmer participatory research", which we discuss in the CJPS paper.
Ann said: > >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.
Then Dale said: > I agree. All the fuss about precision agriculture
is a good example.
> But, I think that farmers are smart enough to not be fooled in the long
> run, and will only adopt the parts of this that are truly of value.
Ann says: Nope. Reality check. Farmers are often induced to buy
stuff that they don't need, sometimes by the "Joneses" process, but
more often by slick ads and one-sided research that reveals benefits
but not costs. It is only after the fact, when they have already
bought the thing, that reality intrudes. Farmers are no different
than other humans - how many gadgets do most of us have in our
kitchen, bathroom, tool shop, or car - which are really dysfunctional
and certainly unnecessary?
> >...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.
Then Dale said: > There are station people who are quietly doing just
this. It requires:
> 1. Grantsmanship skill to tie into the trendy SARE and foundation money
> 2. Tone down the strident, politically correct, activist rhetoric (too
> 3. Discretion and finesse in dealing with grower-run commodity
> commissions, who (as far as I can tell) do not share your
> environmentalist convictions
> 4. Some tangential service to relevant ag industries, to get some money
> from them
Ann says: true enough. There are a few people who manage to perform
the impossible. How few? See Lipson's new publication Searching for
the O-Word, which documents how perishingly small is the amount of
USDA funded research that bears, even tangentially, on the real
issues facing organic farmers.
> >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).
Then Dale said: > I maintain that "people like (me)" are not a
malignant, evil force, but
> share many of the concerns that you do. I don't see this as an
> adversarial thing. It is possible to do research that benefits the
> ag-related industries, and farmers, getting support from both groups.
Ann says: "evil" is not a word that I would apply to anyone in this
situation. The issue is not malevolent intent and what is happening
is not illegal. Agribusiness is into making money - no problem with
that. I happen to like the stuff myself. My argument is not with
them, but with
a) the premise that what is good for business (agribusiness profits)
is good for farmers, the environment, and society. It isn't. Makes
for good advertising (check out the latest Monsanto web site
revisions - what amazing balderdash), but just not true. No possible
way that BT-cultivars can, will, or were ever intended to benefit
anyone but the proprietors of the genetics. When Benbrook gets his
talk (presented at the Ag Alternatives Conference at Guelph last
weekend) mounted on his web site, this point is made clearly,
unambiguously, and irrefutably.
b) the publicly funded researchers and especially funding sources
which should be providing a counterbalance to the wholly unbalanced
partnership between agribusiness and farmers/environment (leaving out
consumers for the moment)- and aren't.
Ann said: > >- 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.
Then Dale said: > Those "sharp, private sector people" ARE the
primary producers. The net
> winners, as far as I can see, are the consumers who pay ridiculously low
> prices for food.
Ann says: We'll have to disagree on this, perhaps due to
terminology. The term "private sector", in the context of the
discussion, refers not to farmers but to those supplying the farmers.
If you apply it to farmers, then perhaps you mean the 2% (and
declining) of the population who are still in farming. As for net
beneficiaries, even a cursory review of the evidence on where the
money is going in agriculture supports the view that agribusiness
suppliers and marketers are getting almost all of it. As for
consumers, yes, it is argued with merit that US consumers pay the
lowest % of disposable income on food of any nation in the world.
However, this comforting assessment explicitly excludes from
consideration the indirect and externalized costs of the current
paradigm. See contributions from Pimentel et al. on the social and
environmental costs of biocide use in the US (in Lehman and Pimental,
The Pesticide Question) and from Repetto and colleagues at the World
Resources Institute on costing the externalities. Society is paying
in many ways for the "cheap food" that we now enjoy. Ann
> Besides more government money (which is probably not in the cards) what
> can the R & E system do to improve it's capacity for long-term, applied,
> relevant research, and what role can industry play in this?
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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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