How Many Ag Scientists Truly Support Industrial Ag.

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Last year “Grassland’s The future of Sustainable Agriculture” was published by a consortium including, The American Society of Agronomy, The Crop Science Society of America, and The Soil Science Society of America. It was also co-sponsored by The Leopold Center at Iowa State University. In checking I found out that this group represented 11,000 members of whom 4400 were affiliated with Land Grant Universities either as faculty or students. This is a large group of Ag scientists who apparently support dramatic change in the direction of agriculture. I personally know 3 agronomists who actively support industrial agriculture. I wrote a letter to Fred Kirshenmann former head of the Leopold Center asking him if he knew how many current scientist/teachers of future farmers supported Industrial Ag. I was trying to get an indicator of the future of agriculture. While he could not quantify this answer he did characterize Ag scientists in the view of some of his colleagues and provided insight into his own views.

Letter from Fred Kirchenmann- Director of the Leopold Center For Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

Colleagues                                                                                                           Organizations have agendas that are most often at odds with their mission and so anyone that wants to speak independently from the heart has to be willing to give up the comfort and security of the organizations they belong to. What this is telling us is that many organizations cater to interests which they feel may not be consistent with their mission but which are essential to their survival. Consequently one has to be an outlier to have an impact.

The difficulty is the money—hence power— is not in forages. It is in corn and soybeans, so that’s what rules the day, both in terms of faculty emphasis and corporate/government support. Just follow the money. He went on to point out the disincentives in moving in the direction of complex rotations, despite the many benefits including forages and grasslands in a farming system. 1. It requires more management time 2. the government paycheck is smaller. 3. Alfalfa hay is hard to market—you can’t just take it to the local elevator and dump it.

Professor Kirchenmann:

Given all that, most of the effort in Land Grant Universities is devoted to tweaking the current system to make it more sustainable rather than redesigning systems. In my view this will eventually lead us into a catastrophic future in agriculture since the challenge we will be facing will increasingly make industrial agriculture untenable—The end of cheap energy, depletion of fresh water resources will challenge industrial agriculture—which requires obscene amounts of cheap energy and fresh water. In fact one could argue that without the many government subsidies the current ag system would already be unlikely to survive The true tragedy is that we are not paying attention to restoring the health of our two important natural resources, which will enable us to best deal with the impending crisis.

Some of the research conducted by Matt Liebman, weed ecologist here at ISU that simply by going to a 4 year rotation, 2 years of alfalfa followed by corn and beans one can cut herbicide usage by 85%, N inputs by 75% and cut a farms contribution to global warming by 60% and increase corn yield in the process.

Dick Thompson here in Iowa has demonstrated that farmers can do better financially on prime Iowa farmland with a 5-year rotation; 3 years of grazing on perennial grass followed by corn and soybeans.

The reason more farmers don’t do such farming methods is embedded in my above comments—the whole market infrastructure discourages such farming.

Research like Liebman’s and working models like Thompson’s are critically important because as the Industrial system collapses we need to have ideas floating around so that farmers have practical examples to transition to. This is one reason we decided to produce the Grasslands book. It will not cause a revolution but it will be part of the ideas floating around that can help us create the new agriculture once industrial agriculture recedes into the dustbin of history.

Fred Kirchenmann

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One Response to “How Many Ag Scientists Truly Support Industrial Ag.”

  1. opit Says:

    It sucks when people don’t say ‘Boo!’ Blogging is like yelling down a well waiting for an echo. Industrial agriculture was preceded by sustainable agriculture. On my cynical days that’s another way of identifying one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse : Starvation.
    I try to connect people of similar interests online : it’s your turn.

    http://my.opera.com/oldephartte/links/
    http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/08/bovine.html
    In order so as not to hit the spam filter I’ll refer you to Archives in Blogger
    13 Aug 2009 ‘Green Acres’ – food and junk food post
    Environment and Sickening Practices
    From Topical index in the Sidebar
    Water – wealth & power

    If you find these interesting I have a ton more where they came from. Just explore.

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