> the hidden input, that is very expensive, is management (I am
> convinced that this is what happened to the old moniker of
> Low Input Sustainable Agriculture and is why we are burdened
> today with the term Sustainable Agriculture). This
> management input is knowledge/experience based and I do not
> see the talent being developed today to shoulder the
> management load of even a small increase in the organic or
> sustainable systems which are generally romantically
> discussed on this list server. I might add that the
> strongest proponents of a wholesale conversion are those who
> are nowhere near the field of practice (i.e. a farm).
This phenomenon of underestimating the cost of management is pretty common.
Being a techie at heart, I have always had some disdain for management. As
I made the transition from academic research to the seed industry, it became
clear to me that managing complex systems is no small feat, and that complex
management strategies usually fail because of human factors. As a
researcher I tend to view the farmers role in primarily technical terms, but
I am realizing that farming is mainly managing a business. It is rare for
someone to be so multi-talented that they can do it all (although some
brilliant farmers come close!).
I wonder if crop advisory services might be a neglected part of the
development of more environmentally responsible agriculture. I have gained
a lot of respect for these consultants. I think there are several reasons
why this might be a good fit. The biology is complicated. If you intend to
manage pests rather than simply whack em back with a pesticide, you have to
really be on top of things. Taking a landscape-wide view of these things,
with traps to monitor moths for example, is more efficient than an atomized,
purely local view.
The other thing, is that crop advising service could be combined with a crop
insurance scheme, since the interests of the the two parties coincide. The
group who is insuring the farmer wants them to succeed, so they don't have
to pay a claim. How about this scenario:
Public or private subsidy helps support and underwrite a company to provide
special insurance to farmers trying to transition to "sustainable"
practices. The farmer pays for the insurance, but gets a good rate because
of the subsidy. As an added benefit, the farmer can purchase technical
management assistance at a good price. This could be contracted out to
existing crop consultants, who would offer a good price as a volume
discount. The "political correctness" of the recommendations could be
arranged contractually between the insurer and the consultancy. The added
risk from, say, avoidance of pesticides, would be shared, and the incentives
would work in the right directions (I think).
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