I come from a British tradition which has a high regard for understanding the
historical context of any debate. I wonder how many of you people on this SANET
group know where the USA organic movement arose from? That it is, again with due
respect, a somewhat dogmatic development from the excellent scientific work of
Sir Albert Howard, that its British expression was the Soil and Health
Association (and in New Zealand originally the Composting Club).
Let me be blunt. In my view the original intent of Sir Albert was to alert
people to a public health issue. It was a call to governments to understand the
inevitable links between public health and agriculture. It was a reminder to
individuals to require their governments to take cognizance of these issues.
Now agriculture, like any other human activity has an economic aspect to it.
Organic food production is no different. Unfortunately many people in the
organic movement see its survival as dependent upon the price premium paid to
organic producers. I disagree in the strongest possible terms. If we are all
really primarily concerned about public health, in which money is a necessary
servant, then the only long term future for organics is if it becomes the only
agriculture. This will only happen when organic products can be grown, processed
and marketed at a cost equivalent, or preferably lower, than conventional
production. This would allow a number of things:
Public access to healthy food at an affordable price.
An increased return to growers and processors.
A regeneration of rural communities
One of obstacles to the widespread adoption of this philosophy is that many of
our organic systems are conventional systems in drag(males in female dress). The
ability to redesign food production landscapes to minimise input cost requires
an understanding of ecology not often appreciated and even less frequently
applied in organic circles in New Zealand and, I presume, in the USA. Of course
the production system which Albert Howard experimented within were mixed systems
and he states on a number of occasions that this was as a basic requirement of
any healthy farm.
I am not a pocket theorist. While my focus is primarily a research one I do grow
my own vegetables at a lower cost than if I followed conventional wisdom. I am
still trying to pursuade my partner to grow fish in the swimming pool, and I am
still trying to grow cheaper feed for my poultry (organic grain costs the earth,
in a manner of speaking).
What is most exciting for me is that some growers in the organic kiwifruit
industry are coming very close to growing an organic crop of better quality
(cold storage is the easiest quantifiable benefit) and at a price fast
approaching that of conventional production. I believe that we are sitting on
research which will allow a further reduction in input cost and improvement in
quality. Of course conventional production takes no account of the enviromental
and public health cost. Further organic kiwifruit producers have not even begun
to look at the potential of, for example, a return on other undervine crops eg
poultry and sheep both of which have clear cost reduction benefits on kiwifruit
production and produce another organic "crop". Further reductions in kiwifruit
production costs can be achieved by utilising packhouse space etc. in the off
season. What I am saying in this one industry alone it looks easily possible to
reduce real and actual production costs well below that of conventional. This is
only a start. Avocados, asparagus, strawberries, apples and pears are our next
I trust that the consequences are blindingly obvious. Conventional food
production will become a thing of the past. Of course the potential is still
there for those whose primary motivation is greed, to subvert the enormous
potential social benefits to the narrow issues of economics and money. It is up
to each of us, acting as individuals in our various communal interests, to
ensure that this does not happen.
It is nearly dawn and I must go home and do the last of the autumn planting.
Snow peas, spinach, lettuce, lambs lettuce, miners lettuce, chervil, carrots,
dill, etc. before I go on holiday to the beautSouth Island which will be
beautiful at this time of the year. Enjoy spring now that the solstice is
passed. Happy ruminating.
Regenerative Food Production
MIRINZ Food Technology and Research
PO Box 617
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