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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017

Defending ag for the sake of future eaters

Posted Thursday, December 20, 2012, at 1:43 PM

I spend a lot of time defending agriculture. Recently (it wasn't the first time) I've been accused of defending it to protect my livelihood.

It's a fair assumption I suppose. But the truth is, I'm much more worried about my children and the future generations than I am my own. It's not really about their livelihood, either. It's about what they will eat someday, especially a few generations down the line.

Right now, we have a small, but very vocal, minority calling for local, fresh food. Many of those people live in the west coast and don't realize "local" for you and me would mean never tasting an orange, a pineapple, a grapefruit or a lobster. They don't realize the only local food I would have access to during the winter would be canned goods or meat. It would be worse for people farther north.

It sounds great on the surface, I enjoy local food too, especially what I grow in my own garden. But as a national food policy, it would be disastrous for about 90 percent of our population.

For my immediate family, we'd probably still have plenty to eat. We own farmland. We know how to grow food. We could do it organically, or we could do it with pesticides. If push came to shove, we could live off our land, and do quite well. Much of the equipment, milk buckets, butter churn, meat saw, etc. are still tucked away in our barns.

In 1940, a farmer could feed 19 people, and no doubt if forced to go backwards we still could. Today, American farmers each feed 155 people.

So if we abandon modern agriculture technology, what is going to happen to the extra 136 people we can no longer feed?

Farmers just make up 2 percent of our population in the United States, and most Americans are far removed from agriculture. A recent trip to Los Angeles confirmed what I already knew. There are a lot of people packed in a small amount of land. Many would have no idea how to grow food, nor would they have a place to raise it, even if they could.

But the people pushing for our food policy to go backwards would be fine. Most -- if not all -- can afford higher-priced food. They could buy it where ever it was available. But what about the unsuspecting masses, the other 90 percent? The kind of family I grew up in? Those who are too busy working and providing for their families to read Michael Pollan or know what "foodie" or "locavore" even means?

It's those people who keep me up at night -- not my livelihood, not even my immediate family. With a world population pushing nine billion people by 2050, no doubt many would starve. Some would adapt, but many wouldn't.

As Trent Loos told me, we should be celebrating our food system. It is more sustainable than ever before. We provide more food, fuel and fiber on less land with fewer people. It provides high quality, affordable food to people around our country with a much lower carbon footprint than the 1940s.

I only wish other industries were as efficient.

Instead of celebrating, though, it seems some are constantly condemning our food system. Often, those people point to the European Union as a model we should follow. Those countries have made laws banning some modern farming practices, including GMO commodities and hog gestation cages. Those laws were based not on science or facts, but emotion.

As a result, the EU now imports 35 percent of its food. People there pay up to 20 percent of their take home pay on food, as opposed to less than 10 percent in the U.S. To make it worse, EU farmers are subsidized at a much higher rate than in America.

In truth, the EU is a good example of a bad example.

When I look at the problem objectively, I realize what ever changes made probably won't be in my lifetime or even my children's lifetime. They will be slow, but they will be sure.

More than one animal rightest has written (even on this blog) they saw a day when our meat would no longer be grown here, but would be grown in a foreign country like China.

That would be good, if you didn't want people to eat meat. After all, meat sounds a lot less appetizing from a country not known for quality.

Some people criticize our USDA, but is no coincidence we have the safest food supply in the world. It's not perfect, but it is pretty darn good.

If we aren't careful, we will let a vocal minority scare us into a self-made and unneccesary food shortage.

So that is why I continue to write and defend modern and efficient agriculture.

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