> Not since the advent of interstate trucking and international
> shipping has cooperative marketing really enhanced returns on capital
> in most sectors of production agriculture.
> In addition, "Big Milk" enjoys quite a few
> economies of scale, among them the ability to absorb some of the high
> storage and transportation costs in this line of business
This is true, but only because of massive federal subsidies to 1) the
transportation industry, through road-building projects and 2) the
energy sector, through the threat and use of military force.
> What might happen if we go ahead and admit to ourselves that New York's
> Big Milk producers can cover the metropolitan New York City market and
> still supply New England with the surplus?
Nothing in the short term, other than more dislocation of regional
producers. However, should society ever decide upon more rational
transportation and energy policies, the price of milk would likely rise
dramatically in New England. Would new producers be in a position to
reestablish regional operations? Probably not, due to 1) huge capital
outlays and 2) the fact that the old farms are now strip malls and
> Vermont and Massachusetts could leave the dairy
> business altogether. Would someone please tell me why this is so
Because, if nothing else, it is shortsighted. Food is not a luxury,
it's a necessity, and therefore it makes sense to retain as much local
capacity as possible as a hedge against future crises. The fact that
distant production is only feasible through continued massive federal
subsidies is another reason this is "so horrible."
> My suspicion is
> that the "open spaces" would remain open; they would simply cease returning
> rents to their (erstwhile) dairy farming owners.
Should we base policy on suspicions? My suspicion is that the open
spaces would be eliminated because their only remaining economic
potential would be in non-agricultural sectors, which largely have
little use for open space.
> The bottom line is this: Can anyone defend, on the normative terms by which
> we all try to make agriculture "sustainable," measures to preserve dairying
> in Vermont and Massachusetts?
The reduction of external energy inputs comes to mind. It is important
to differentiate true economic efficiency from perceived economic
efficiency. The former considers the externalities which the latter
> Given the reasonable assumption of largely
> stable demand for milk, shouldn't the most relevant environmental questions
> in the dairy industry be the number of hundredweights of milk produced per
> (a) cu m methane, (b) kg bovine manure, (c) liter bovine urine, or (d) kg
> plant protein?
I'm not an expert on manure and urine, but it seems to me that
integrated operations can use all that is produced. It is when you
separate the fields from the livestock that you create transportation,
supply and demand problems relating to what you imply are waste
Again, I believe that external energy inputs should rank highly, along
with your methane and plant protein criteria.
> Since when did
> "sustainability" include an implicit entitlement to fix a bygone era's
> allocation of human labor resources?
Sustainability includes a human element inasmuch as we are talking about
human society. Believe it or not, Jim, there are human values other
than current economic efficiency. We can choose to eliminate these
values from "sustainability" and still build a case for appropriate
locality and scale, but I personally prefer to include the human
> I apologize for the length of the message, but I invite either
> private responses or responses posted to SANET.
Don't apologize. These are important questions! Although you and I
seem to have very different worldviews, I enjoy the opportunity to
engage in dialog and healthy debate.
-- Robert Stevahn | Ours is not to feed the world. Let's learn firstname.lastname@example.org | to feed ourselves, then teach the world. Boise Food Connection | Population: Birth Control xor Death Control.