Re: excess supply hogs -- 3 pages of new stuff.
Wed, 14 Oct 98 11:39:58 CST
I can understand that Greg finds it "both very frustrating and
disappointing that he has to argue the merits of family farms and pastured
livestock's role in sustainable agriculture on a sustainable ag list" but I
hope he will keep on doing it. Some folks just have a hard time believing
that the future can be much different, and possibly much better, than the
past and present. We have been "brainwashed" into believing that there
simply are no logical alternatives to our continued mindless desire to
acquire "more stuff" as the only means to a higher quality of life and
never-ending "economic growth" as the only true measure of human progress.
In reality, the future is almost never like the past or present. Thus, the
challenge is to help shape a future that we want, with our uniquely human
foresight and sense of purpose, rather than simply accept whatever evolves
from following our animalistic instincts. I think we do this best by
modeling this future, as nearly as possible, in the way we live our own
lives in our little part of the world -- day by day.
In early 1991 Science Magazine published a couple of articles related to a
proposal by two scientists that "everyone" should be taught "The 20 Great
Ideas of Science." Among their top 20 list were "one set of laws describes
all motion, energy is conserved, energy always goes from more useful to
less useful forms, everything is made up of quarks and leptons, every
observer sees the same laws of nature, and all life is connected" -- some
pretty heavy stuff. But also on the top 20 list was "everything on earth
operates in cycles." The global scientific community was asked to respond
to the proposed list. There were some slight differences of opinion
regarding how the ideas should be stated, but no serious challenges to any
of the ideas on the list.
Everything on the earth operates in cycles -- seasonal cycles, business
cycles, cattle cycles, life cycles, electronic cycles, and so on. Nothing
goes in one direction forever. At some point everything changes direction
and comes back toward where it has already been. Of course, the rest of
the world may have cycled a few times in the time it takes for something to
pass through, turn around, and come back. So each cycle may be quite
different in detail, but its fundamental nature is essentially the same.
Historically, humanity has seen people within societies congregate in large
cities only to disperse themselves once again across the country side. In
fact, Allan Savory claims the only city-based society that has been able to
survive historically has been that of the Nile Valley -- only because they
were subsidized by a new annual deposit of top soil from up stream. We
have seen societies build upon "large farms" before -- serfdoms and
plantations, for example -- only to see them later dissolve into
individually owned "family farms." The emergence of the large,
corporate-owned, centrally-controlled agribusinesses of today may have been
inevitable. If so, they inevitably will be replaced by small independently
owned farm and food enterprises. The problems are not inherent in the
trends, but instead in fact that trends often go too far before they are
reversed. The question is not whether changes in trends will occur, but
instead is when and how they will occur.
Must we have an "untouched field" on which to start over in order to change
directions? Must we wait for external conditions to change? Of course
not. We never have, and we never will. A new trend emerges while much of
the visible evidence indicates that the old trend is firmly in place. The
change comes first in the minds of a few, then in the minds of more than a
few, and as these changes become visible in their activities and outcomes,
change becomes an observable characteristic of the whole. But even then,
much of the whole may "appear" unchanged.
Is sustainability a dynamic concept? If everything on earth operates in
cycles, sustainability must be dynamic as well. Does this imply that
family farms are obsolete because there were a part of our "idealic" past?
The world would have to be "linearly" dynamic to support this proposition
-- for which there seems to be no evidence. Society may soon discover that
quality of life in not something we buy with what we earn from working for
someone else 40 or 60 or 80 hours a week. We may conclude that quality of
life has not really been increased much by just having "more an more
stuff." We may well decide that we don't want to continue to go in the
same old fruitless direction, but instead are ready to turn around and come
back to something better.
Sure we need to be able to fulfill our basic needs for food, clothing,
shelter, and health care. And, in a market society, that requires us to
earn some amount of money. But quality of life is also about how we spend
every day of life, in our work as well as at leisure. Quality of life in
about our relationships with others -- within families, communities, and
society as a whole. Quality of life is about fulfilling our need to be in
harmony with some higher order of things -- our relationship with the
environment and with those of future generations. Sustainability is a
dynamic concept. It's about finding and maintaining harmony among the
economic, ecological, and social dimensions of our lives. Sustainability
is not about getting more stuff or "getting" anything -- it is about
"living" -- living in harmony with ourselves and with others of this
generation and of generations to come.
Does animal agriculture have a place within sustainable agriculture? No
one knows for sure, but I would be willing to bet that animals are
"essential" to a sustainable agriculture. Ultimately, human life on earth
must be sustained by the inflow of solar energy. Some parts of the "animal
industry," such as large-scale confinement feeding operations, don't make
sense from an energy efficiency standpoint. But, animals on pastures and
forages are a key links in the conversion of solar energy into human useful
forms. Many environments will not support plants that can be consumed
directly by humans but will support plants that can be converted into meat
or milk by animals. Animals are key links in recycling energy that might
otherwise be wasted or lost from human use -- by converting it to meat and
milk and discharging the residual as manure. Animals are an important part
of a great and wonderful "web of life" of which we humans are but a part.
Animals and humans have played complementary roles, not separate roles, in
this web since the beginning of time -- and I would bet that animals are
critical to the sustainability of humanity into the future.
Some in the sustainable agriculture movement quite likely believe that the
natural environment would be better off without humans. Maybe so, but how
can we know what species "would be king" if humans were not? And, how do
we know that our successor species would be more responsible with the
resources of the earth than can we humans? Humans are uniquely capable
among species of anticipating future outcomes that are fundamentally
different from anything we have ever experienced in the past. That gives
us a unique ability and responsibility to make the world better than it has
ever been before.
Are the big corporations getting on sustainability band wagon? Sure, even
Monsanto has a "sustainable agriculture" program. We will see lots more
big corporate operations getting into organic production as soon as they
have a national organic standard to set their minimum requirements. We are
also seeing a lot of big corporate operations tailoring production to fit
niche markets -- Toffler calls it "mass customization." But, the natural
resource base is inherently diverse and dynamic and does not lend itself to
"ecologically sustainable, industrial production" methods. And niche
markets are inherently small, because we consumers have diverse tastes and
preferences, and do not lend themselves to "socially sustainable, mass
marketing" methods. The issue of sustainability, if we take it seriously,
ultimate will lead the economy toward smaller production units that market
their products directly to equally small groups customers who want and need
what they produce -- back to a "family-farm-like" agriculture.
The trend toward sustainability would reverse the current cycles of
economic, social, and ecological decay and destruction. People would seek
harmony among the economic, ecological, and social dimensions of their
lives -- not just maximize short run profits and income -- because doing so
would result in a higher quality of life -- not as an act of sacrifice.
Producers would produce in harmony with nature and with humanity because
they know they are better off than if they attempt to maximized profits and
growth. Consumers would live and consume in harmony with nature and
humanity because they know they are better off than if they spent more time
and effort trying to acquire "more stuff."
Is all this idealistic? Perhaps, but a positive future is always made of
ideals, hopes, and dreams for that future -- not of the harsh realities of
the past and present. Being realistic often is just an excuse for us to
settle for the status quo or for whatever future those with more motivation
and energy create for us. A sustainable society means that people will be
healthier, better educated, and freer to pursue their dreams wherever they
may be -- not just better health care, schools, and roads. A sustainable
farming community will be a place where people will "choose" to live and
where their children and their children's children will also choose to live
and grow. We know the future will be different. It is not necessarily
idealistic to truly believe that it can be better. I truly believe that
will be enough.
How do we make it happen? By each of us doing whatever we can do, in our
little part of the world, day by day. The only life we have for sure in
"right now." The only thing we can do to make the world a better place is
what we can do right now. I once read a book with the title "All we can do
is all we can do, but all we can do is enough." Whatever we can do in our
little part of the world is all we can do.
______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re: excess supply hogs
Author: firstname.lastname@example.org at MU-Internet
Date: 10/13/98 2:31 PM
Greg & Lei Gunthorp wrote:
> Greg's reply:
> I think I still need some clarifications. I put some questions and comments
> to your statement below. Am I misguided in my pursuit of a "sustainable"
> agriculture that is profitable, environmentally, and socially just?
I agree that your goals are the right ones. If we start with a tabla rasa
or a flat, untouched field in a particular geographical location, then we
have flexibility in designing the solution. In the case of existing
farms, we are given a set of limits which present unique challenges. the
chances of finding a viable alternative in the later case may be much
lower than a clean sheet start with the design and execution. As in
medical practice, not all patients can be saved without extraordinary
There are external conditions which can be changed but until these
changes occur, not all situations can be salvaged. So work must be done
at two levels- the larger or global changes and specific interventions.
One simple issue is debt loading. Land trust and other models which take
the ownership of the land from an economic and not environmental
perspective, can do a lot to change the sustainability picture. Iwould
look at the theories of Henry George and others wrestling with this
issue. It is firghtening how fragile small farms are when confronted with
debt and yet how passionately ownership is maintained making farmers both
small businesses and giant speculators.
>Does the profitability deal with long term economics and quality of life on
> individual farms? Does the environmental aspect have to do with turning
> over farms and resources to future generations in better shape than we found
> them? And does the social aspects have to do in part with the vitality of
> communities because of a prosperous sustainable agriculture?
These are rhetorical? First, sustainability is dynamic. There is no
magic equilbrium on earth, anywhere except is the equations of some
model builder. the earth is changing and thus what we beleive to be
ecologically and economically viable will change over time. Even the
idea of "quality of life" changes from person to person. What was the
idyllic farm family during the 60's has changed in the 90's. The devil
is in the details. I don't think you can put 5 persons who farm in a
room and get the same answers to the questions today and have these same
answers remain constant over time.
> Isn't sustainable agriculture all about providing
> long term solutions for small farms?
Family farms, small farms, sustainable farms are not all equivalent and
not all desirable by different folks. Even communities bound closely by
family and/or religious ties can't all agree. Do we now create "black
Shouldn't we be arguing about the
> obstacles to moving the US livestock to a more sustainable system?
We have low grain prices so we create livestock to eath the grain and
then we create consjumers to eat the meat and doctors to treat the heart
disease from the overeating of the meat which was raised to eat the
grain to keep the farmer on the farm. What's worng with this picture.
A person who lives by selling raw materials has to sell more to buy the
manufactured goods to meet a lfe style. As the demand goes up either more
must be sold or the prices go up driving the upstream prices higher and
not curing the problem. the raw material, commidity producer will have to
either get bigger or find a way to add value- beans to tofu, two jobs or
get bigger. raise the price of grain raises the cost of hogs raises the
cost of workers raise the cost of tractors -----------------------------
> proud of the fact that I support my family off from 100 acres with pasture
If I were you, I would be very proud too.
If you now expand your model, you now have to ask how many persons want
to have the lifestyle you have chosen and how many merchants in a town
can farmers such as yourself support? And all the other questions
surrounding the next generations.
> >We see this at the country level where incomes are dependent on
> >extraction of minerals or agricultural commodities. Why should a farm be
> Sustainable farms don't have to be mineral extractors.
Every unit of production carries minerals off the land, atom by atom.
the roots of the plants draw up micr nturients which are exported either
in the grain or the animals. Some is recyled, but if minerals were not
extracted, the food shipped off would be mineral deficient. More goes
off than just carbon hydrongen and oxygen. And erosion does occur. Care
can reduce but not eliminate.
Even if I had
> 100% return from a soybean crop I still wouldn't come close to the income
> producing potential of pastured hogs. Pastured hogs over the average cycle
> hog cylce will NET more per acre than crop farms GROSS per acre.
Some farmers must be seeing a positive cashflow. Why?
> The only solution the conventional farmers have found is expansion.
this is not exactly a truism. I know several very large farm management
companies who have folowed organic farming developments and look
seriously at all the emerging practices. And today some of the largest
farms in the country are certified organic. if grass fed hogs prove to
be a viable option, you can bet the bottom line pencil pushers will be
looking at how to adapt these to managed operations. And from an
ecological perspective it is probably very good. What it means for the
small farmer is yet unknown. we are seeing many decentralized
manufacturing operations today. Even giant production lines can now
produce individual bicycles, suits of clothing etc.
I am not certain that the needs of ecologically sound agriculture and
the desires of a particular socio/economic life style have to be
incompatible. But I think creating limits as to the size of the
operation or other social constraints is an intellectual exercise that
may be raising false hopes for many, particjularly those with city mouse
tastes but wishing to have them supported on country mouse incomes.
That's the real challenge- particularly when the same infrastructure
demands are to be made for schools, hsopitals, roads etc. I don't see
such a model working when carried out in a systems view
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