Interesting discusion, and IMO extremely relevant for understanding grower
behavior. Ann, a confounding factor in charting historic changes in yield
CV is the bringing of marginal land into row crop production that has
accompanied the gradual increase in input levels. I don't believe it is
possible to untangle this.
> I would wonder if risk might actually be reduced - not as
> inferred, increased - by lowering inputs to production?
Risk is not the same thing as yield variability. Risk is the probability of
an economic outcome, a function of yield, grain price and input costs.
Given current prices for good agricultural land in say, Iowa, reducing
inputs to achieve consistent low corn yields would be a disaster for a
single farmer. Of course if everybody did that in the corn belt, they would
be better off because the price for corn would go up.
> "reduced input" agriculture doesn't mean contemporary
> agriculture without the inputs. It means a whole different
> way of growing crops and livestock, with lesser reliance on
> exogenous energy sources and much greater reliance on
> holistic farm management to capture synergies among
> enterprises etc.
But I thought we were talking about corn production as an example. The
diversified operation you describe, along with, I imagine, a simplified,
lower standard of living, makes comparison difficult. For one thing, input
of labor would be higher.
> His CVs may well be rising right along with the sum of
> all corn production, or not, but it apparently does not
> seem so to him. Else he would have backed off his
> nitrogen application rates
This is a good point. Many growers fix their minds on those occasional
bin-busting yields rather than sober analysis. In most years, some other
limiting factor comes into play, reducing yields, making a portion of the
inputs go to waste. Growers can accept this as an act of nature, but it is
harder to accept the possibility that they have limited yields themselves,
even if it might be a good strategy in order to reduce inputs and increase
average economic return. IMO crop consultants can help growers by bringing
information, analysis, and observation to bear on these decisions.
> You might be assuming too much when you ignore the
> role of self-interest at the individual level.
I think you are right. The important thing is *perceived* self-interest.
Typical corn growers could probably make a little more money if they backed
off certain inputs moderately. Since the perception is that backing off is
riskier than it really is, the perception represents an opportunity for the
insurance industry to make a little money by assuming this overvalued risk.
This is similar to the role of crop consultants, since they too assume risk
as they make recommendations. The reduction in inputs that could result from
management of risk (or perceived risk) might have beneficial environmental
> "Reduced input" can be taken to mean just conventional ag with
> less N - your point - or a whole different way of looking at
> yield and N - e.g. holistically - my point. I would suggest
> that risk management is an entirely different phenomenon in
> the two "systems".
I guess I don't know what you mean by "looking at yield ... holistically" in
the context of cash grain production. But of course you are not talking
about cash grain production. IMO, you are changing the subject away from
growers as part of the bourgeoisie. But most growers want to be part of the
economic and cultural mainstream. They want a suburban-style home, two
weeks of vacation, 401K accounts, medical insurance, college for the kids, a
nice car, etc. Most don't want to get up at 4 am to milk the cows and chase
hogs around the pasture. I'm not passing judgement on your values, just
stating what I observe. Personally, I'm more of a hog-chaser myself.
It seems like your personal values are intertwined with your economic
analysis, and the result is a vision that most farmers don't share. The
danger of this revolutionary vision is that sustainability becomes
perpetually out of reach, and growers fail to grasp the small steps that
will lead to improved environmental quality (though not necessarily
political change). Are you willing to sacrifice these incremental steps at
the political altar, praying for the sustainable millenium to descend?
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