*Ted: you raise some interesting and worthwhile points. I'll start by agreeing with your reference to the trade-off between lower yields and lower costs -producing a null sum for relative profitability of organic vs. conventional produce. ... So how different ARE the yields achieved by these two production systems?*
So the rule of thumb is do not get Ann started while she is on sabbatical, whew!
We agree here, net yield is the same all other variables being even. I think that we may even be able to say that what we perceive as sustainable, bio-intensive, livestock inclusive systems may be closer to what we might call optimal (not maximal) production systems.
*Now, you ask:
Do you honestly propose that the *organic* system might be substituted across the board for the conventional systems?
Yes, I do. Scandalous, isn't it. ...*
Dangerous maybe, questionable yes, scandalous, I don*t know, I*ve been there, I*m just much more cautious about where I hang my hat these days. If you are talking about the top 25% of organic farmers who are outstanding practitioners with long experience; I wish we could propagate them really fast. But then if we look at the top 25% (quality not quantity) of those producers that we now have to call conventional, they look awfully good too. We finally are talking about good farmers and classifications pale.
At first I had a hard time with this section of your discussion but at second read I realized that you were covering the issue with out stating it. Setting aside the issue of the non-existent population of competent practitioners, you are describing the very lopsided modern production/distribution system as needing wholesale change. I have no problem with that, been saying it for over 25 years now. I just don*t see it happening in our lifetimes or those of our children.
We have to be real enough to accept the fact that humanity may never get there because some dominant system may emerge that we are not expecting, good or bad. I do not think that it is a stretch to think that there is a good possibility that the consolidated/mono-cropped/vertically integrated systems may not have peaked yet.
We may be in the position that we *can*t get there from here* which means that a diversity of bridge systems may be our refuga. These may include really monster more diversified vertically integrated systems and all sorts of hybrid systems of all sizes that may have to evolve over the next century. What may follow that may be a millennial golden age of pristine, intensively managed and intentionally designed diversified agro-ecosystems within which our descendants will subsist in the nurturing comfort of the womb like modern agrarian village. (Woops, flash back, flash back, sixties warning, sixties warning, the old fart drifted off again) I just can*t see that far.
*To the extent that we, in the privileged nations, accept the responsibility for the welfare of our fellow humans elsewhere, the only truly effective and sustainable approach must be ecologically sustainable practices -including but not limited to organic.*
Oh Lord, I pray that we not make the mistake that all reformers and revolutionaries through out history have made, please save us from this thing from which we do not seem able to save ourselves. Please help us Lord, not to take ourselves so seriously.
With out going to far down the road of definitions, I am not convinced that I fully understand what sustainability in either the ecological or the general sense means and whoever relegated the term to process and goal did us all a favor. I think that the true science of ecology will need to get through another century before our progeny will begin to understand the questions that we have begun to ask. Those questions may be our only true legacy. (Now Lord, I asked for your help and already you are failing me)
I admit that I believe that the top 25% of the organic practitioners out there are pointing in what I perceive/theorize is the right direction (so are the top 25% of the so called conventional practitioners). Unfortunately the balance is not only lagging far behind, they are not even demonstrating any significant progress toward the goals of the best of their ilk. When you make such a sweeping statement - I just flip out...
*It wouldn't take much in the way of institutional funding to provide research and extension support for the rapidly growing organic producer segment of society. I won't elaborate here, because this is already overlong, but would challenge my virtual SANET friends to contemplate just what institutional research can really do for organic farming -given their impressive (although not complete) success without us.*
Considering the excessive self inflicted gunshot wounds in their feet maybe we should just shoot them and put them out of their misery. Neither of us should confuse the really fine organic farmers out there with the organic community/industry and voluntary, self inflicted bureaucracy that has grown up weed like around them.
*You then ask:
> If this be your thought let me point out two things: 1) rightly the systems being discussed include livestock, not many conventional systems include livestock these days.
I do not see how agriculture can be practiced sustainably, let alone organically, in the absence of livestock (explanation will have to wait for another post). This does not mean that every farmer must own livestock. Other approaches can be -and are being -envisioned and implemented. ...*
I*ll say it for you - you, Bart and any one else that knows how these systems work can correct what I miss. The manure is secondary. What is primary is the inclusion in any agroecosystem (yes these can be extended across a land scape but the feed back loops need to be managed carefully) of both permanent and rotational grass/legume sod. These elements seem to be critical to the long term maintenance of or increase of top soil and humus in the system. This leads to the inclusion of domesticated livestock, particularly ruminants, in the system. This is necessary because though I have been known to graze I don*t have enough stomachs (ok Bart, don*t be wising off now) to be very good at it.
But this again reinforces your position that the whole production distribution structure of modern agriculture can and will change soon. Again I think that we are talking about centuries and generations not decades and our children.
*And finally, you ask:
> 2) the hidden input, that is very expensive, is management ....This management input is knowledge/experience based and I do not see the talent being developed today to shoulder the management load .....
Agreed. I have spoken recently at several schools about the urgent need to facilitate the entry of new farmers ...*
And here is the rub:
Where are the farmers?
I haven*t checked the numbers but I don*t think that our generation has contributed very much. The average farmer is still over fifty(remember when that was a lot older that you were). New farmers of any ilk are modest in number(who would willingly and knowingly accept the heart ache?)
*(existing conventional farmers or non-farm background) into the organic mileau. I foresee a vast increase in demand for organic produce in the immediate future -and I mean within 1-5 yars -which we will be wholly unable to satisfy.*
I don*t see it. I see sustainable/green brand names and commodity based labels moving into the market and answering the demand. These new labels will be well researched and well financed they will dominate the shelves and will have clearly defined standards and integrity.
*I am convinced that failure to nurture this industry right now -and I mean now, 1999 -will mean a real missed opportunity for quantum leaps in -yes, dare I say it -the wholescale introduction of organic farming into the agricultural landscape of North America.*
Sorry, the opportunity is already lost and it was theirs* to loose. I*d not invest any more energy in an industry that has failed to rise to even a small fraction of its potential. As sad as it may be they did have a shot but the small minds and lack of vision of the leadership that they allowed to guide them through the last decade failed to crystalize a practical ideology and methodology that would project a clear standard of performance. Instead they have allowed their consumers, environmentalists, their own self created and self inflicted bureaucracy of self absorbed, parasitic, nit-pickers and quasi-farmers, who think that they are lawyers, to dictate and project a delusional facade onto what should have been a positive and progressive market standard. A standard that held the central core of soil culture and competent agro-ecosystem management as paramount.
They have in fact now panted themselves into a corner. That corner will more than likely be very small , only time will tell whether they can expand that corner into a slightly larger space. At this point I see it as always being a corner, modest at best. There was a time that they were miles ahead of their competition, if they had moved forward with deliberation and vision they may have even absorbed their competition by setting the standard by which all the food and agriculture green labels would have been judged.
The future now belongs to the Groff*s of this continent. This is of course to much of a burden to put on Steve and his family alone but I see them as archetypes of all those innovators out there who are designing hybrid systems. These may be the bridges that we and our progeny need to get from here to there. I just hope our grandchildren will read Wendell Berry and *get it.*
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