>nation in the world. Our success makes it possible for 98% of our
>population to NOT live on the farm and grow their own food. Were it not for
>the science and technology and the large-scale intensive production systems
>we have implemented over the past 50+ years, more people would be forced
>into growing food and thus would have less time to attack those who do grow
If you include everyone in today's food production system -- even us
agronomist types -- it comes out to about one-fifth of the work force.
One person in agriculture feeding himself and four others seems to be
about the long term average. What has shifted is the number of people
on the *land* and their percentage share of the total food dollar. To
say that one "farmer" now feeds 50 or 100 other people is literally
true, but economically meaningless.
Agriculture is the only endeavour of which I'm aware that seems to
measure its "success" by how many people it drives *out* of the
industry, rather than by how many it recruits to join. If you look at
"farmers" as a biological population, the 'species' (farmers) can only
be described as MORIBUND --- that is, absolute numbers are declining
and the entire population is aging. Low recruitment levels in a stable
population are cause enough for alarm. In a declining population, low
recruitment levels signal impending disaster.
The problem goes far beyond agriculture --- we have created a social
economy in which the vast majority of people under the age of 40 exist
either to entertain or to be entertained --- but economic history is
clear on one thing (if nothing else). Collapses and contractions in
the general economy are always preceded by difficulties in the farm
economy. Descriptive, not prescriptive. Associative, not causative.
What you consider "success," Mr. Reetz, I consider a "symptom," and
therefore regard as a warning to be ignored only at our peril.
>There are also some anti-Avery comments that I am concerned about. Dennis
>has a pretty solid story that if it weren't for our use of technology, much
>more of the world's natural forest ecosystems would be turned into food
Unlike many on this list, I largely agree with Mr. Avery's logic.
Perhaps it is because I have worked in areas of Latin America where
every critter larger than a squirrel has long-since disappeared into a
stewpot. From his initial assumptions, Avery draws a reasonable
series of conclusions.
Unfortunately, his initial assumptions are based on what might most
charitably be described as marginal science. The underlying "research"
on organic and sustainable yields appears to be Knutson's work at
Texas A&M. That particular piece of "science" consisted primarily in
*asking* the heads of Extension in the various states "What would
yields be in your state with organic production?" As far as I can
tell, the answers had no solid basis in research, and were taken at
To take as one's core assumption a quaternisation of generally
unreliable tertiary sources would probably guarantee an F for any
student paper in a 200s or higher level course. Avery's logic would
merit a more serious discussion if we were able to base it on solid
data for yields, bio-diversity, popluation dynamics, human demographics
Perhaps PPI would be willing to fund David Orr (Ohio), David Pimentel
(Cornell), Miguel Altieri, Warren Potter, and some other reputable
scientists on the "sustainable" side of things to work with an equal
number of "conventional" people in order to generate a family of
*mutually-agreed and reliable* numbers to serve as the basis for an
>Maybe instead of complaining about the direction of this list, I should just
>remove my name from it. For now, thanks for letting me vent my concerns.
I hope you stick around and keep posting. I especially hope you take my
remark about funding the above project very seriously. PPI over the
years has funded much landmark and groundbreaking work. Here's an
opportunity to take it to the next level.
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