Someone passed this along to me - nice overview of role that "food industry" plays in the US economy (12.3% of GDP and 17% of workforce... this is "food industry" remember, not just farm workers) - and a reminder that it is - perhaps - the only industry in America that continues to be an innovative leader in practices and technology that we are able to export to developing countries. Your thoughts?
"American Agriculture’s Cornucopia of Opportunity and Responsibility"
October 15, 2009
Some interesting points made in the article:
- Industrial, highly commercialized ag transformed America - as well as Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Canada - to be major players in the world economy.
- Even, large scale ag is still primarily "family-owned"
The author concludes by suggesting that:
1) We have set up a false dichotomy between "industrial" and "sustainable" agriculture
2) Technology and a focus on productivity can help expand smaller or local ag
3) We cannot expand small ag at the expense of big ag - big ag provides for research, innovation, technology
4) Growing world population will not be fed without big ag
"Night of the Howling Dogs" by Graham Salisbury
I = P x A x T
Until these factors on the right are gotten under control, our fate is clear. Locavores will make only the tiniest dent in this dilemma. And MCasey's implicit conflict skirted over in their link - the execrable corn as biofuel "option" - makes us even more unlikely to solve these issues.
But how about those Red Wings, eh? ;o)
[QUOTE=ColoGI;588096]It always comes back to population, doesn't it?
I = P x A x T
And MCasey's implicit conflict skirted over in their link - the execrable corn as biofuel "option" - makes us even more unlikely to solve these issues.QUOTE]
Could you clarify please? "... the implicit conflict"?
(Go Red Wings)
It’s either: accept new technology and new paradigms; or wait for some sort of Malthusian crisis.
"food dumping" has negatively impacted food security all over the world and has been a hot topic in international development for almost a decade now.
Also, I think our food systems as a planet have become so intertwined that we have exposed ourselves to the possibility of global food catastrophes. For example, almost all the bananas exported around the world are a single variety called "cavendish." In recent years, this variety has been subjected to a soil borne blight impacting much of Australia and a good deal of Asian markets. Most US bananas come from South America, but these plants are not immune and so its just a matter of time before the blight reaches them. It has already started to infiltrate Africa where millions of people rely on bananas as part of their daily staple.The way the food aid programs of various rich countries are structured may be of concern. In fact, food "aid" (when not for emergency relief) can actually be very destructive on the economy of the recipient nation. Dumping food on to poorer nations (i.e. free, subsidized, or cheap food, below market prices) undercuts local farmers, who cannot compete and are driven out of jobs and into poverty, further slanting the market share of the larger producers such as those from the US and Europe.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose
Industrial ag is the last thing from sustainable. It is merely substituting cheap energy for skill and manual labor. When cheap energy goes away, we will have to decide which sector loses out on petroleum: materials, transportation, or food.
I think the authors made some interesting points - and then backed their statements up with some links to the data upon which they based those statements (maybe we should also be discussing the validity of that data?). I want to see growth of the "small," "local," "sustainable," food economies - but as I have been reminded throughout this thread - there is this big 800 lb gorilla in the room...
Selected statements from the article:
1) "...industrial, highly commercialized agriculture" helped America, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Canada to become major forces in the world economy.
I believe the term they use is "transformed" - It's hard NOT to agree with the main statement - but perhaps there is great disagreement on whether that transformation has left us in a "good" or "bad" state at the present time?
2) "...it is principally large-scale, scientifically advanced farming that produces the vast majority of the average family’s foodstuffs and accounts for all but a tiny percentage of our exports."
Again, hard to argue against the truth of the statement - but plenty of room to argue about the goodness/badness of the system - including
3) The US "leads the world in the export of the agricultural technology that helps other countries, notably in the developing world, feed their own people."
Sounds like the last piece of this statement might be up for very strong debate (see Wahday's "Food Dumping" link above) - while we may export more ag technology than any other country, perhaps the end result of "developing countries feeding their own people" would be a better outcome.
I do not deny that the federal govt is offering quite a bit of incentives for research about, and production of biofuels - but the debate about the tradeoffs of using good ag land, the fuel emissions, etc. has - in my opinion - been pretty public and LOUD. I personally do not favor the use of good ag lands for the production of biofuels. And I think that without big subsidies of some kind - most farmers (even massive corporations!) will not find that line of work to be as profitable.
o The attack on “industrial” agriculture reflects a growing trend by environmentalists to subordinate all productive industry to their own particular agenda. [found in essays against organic ag]
Some extremists in the local food movement would discourage cold climate inhabitants from the luxury of a midwinter tropical fruit because of the energy used in shipping. [marginalization phrase, appeal to desire]
o In this lexicon ranchers, corn, and wheat farmers are not far removed from Afghan poppy growers or coca cultivators in South America. [false dichotomy, invocation of fearful imagery from the drug war (and certain demonized enemies]
o The assault on agricultural production and the food system as we know it [ending subsidies and demanding pollution accountability is an assault, you see]
o the often well-heeled advocates of bucolic romanticism hold great sway [mischaracterization and demonization]
o taking steps to reduce large-scale efficient production does not seem to be either a practical or humane choice [common mischaracterizing phraseology when disparaging your competition, organic ag]
Assiduously avoiding the obvious fact that the ag sector has jettisoned jobs steadily notwithstanding,
The standard, tried-and-true template for a certain type of argumentation is to heighten the emotion at the beginning in order to make one receptive to the message, IME often from polluting industries such as industry or chemistry. Note the appeal to emotion ends about 1/3 of they way through, typical for long-form pieces such as this. Note what phraseology is used and who it appeals to.
The argumentation is transparent and obvious and weighted with key framing and indicative phraseology. I've seen it a million times. This one is somewhat clever as it pretends to value at the end what it disparaged early on, a new tactic AFAICT.
Some of the reasons I rarely give a page view to that site, as IME that sort of thing happens far too often there.
So with some background aside, we return to the question: in such an environment, is it realistic to wish that our fair city can feed itself? What realistically can we do to change this paradigm?
And, I would love to hear more talk about
1) do we think it is realistic that our (village, town, city, municipality, county, state, island, or canoe - you pick the scale) can "realistically" feed itself.
2) if we do think it is possible - let's talk about efforts that we think are "working" - or that could work - to make it possible.
1) It is realistic that any area could manage to feed itself - it would simply require a completely different way of eating than what people are now accustomed to. I don't believe that everyone is ready to do that (I'm not ready myself). I also think that should a local area manage to "de-link" itself from our current "large ag, global" food system - you would likely see some pretty dramatic migrations among our population - "What? They grow oranges there? Florida, here I come!"
2) I like what is happening among local food advocacy efforts - and I think there will probably need to be a number of approaches employed to begin shifting toward more "local, sustainable" production. Chief among the approaches would be specific efforts that make the work of food production profitable to those who do it. CSAs, Food Sheds, zoning for "agbelts"? Those might be ideas that planners will be involved in guiding
I DO NOT, however, believe that big, industrial, commercial ag will - or should - go away. The changes in our world in the coming years - namely, our growing population - will provide more than enough demand for their products - and profits for those companies.
So, how do we begin to assess, monitor and meet the food demands of a local geography? (Any innovative ideas out there?)
And, how do we make it possible for small, local food growers, ranchers, processors to play a role in the growing global food economy?
Has anyone seen an attempt at a regional comprehensive food plan like this:
Central Ohio Local Food Assessment and Plan
Here in Hawaii, the Kohala Center (a small non-profit that has been doing some big things recently!) has begun the discussion about, and planning for food and energy sustainability.
I know that the Food Trust has been doing quite a bit of research and programming in Philadelphia regarding school food, farmers' markets. And was one of the partners in developing the innovative Fresh Food Financing Initiative
And I know that NYC once had a Food Policy Coordinator - although it seems like maybe no longer? - lots of planning around improving the distribution and disposal of food within New York City and increasing access to healthy food - (Part of the City's PlaNYC 2030)
I also enjoyed learning about Vermont Fresh Network when I last visited in 2009. A group dedicated to building relationships among farmers, chefs, and consumers to grow markets and eat more locally grown food.
Anybody out there had experience with any of these groups? Any other intersting stuff happening in your neck of the woods?
I think this is the point that many people miss. If another source of energy - that is capable of producing as much output per unit as fossil fuels - isn't found in the relatively near future, large-scale agriculture that relies on shipping goods globally to take advantage of preferable climates, cheap labor, and cheap land, will no longer be a cost-effective option. As ColoGl pointed out, once Big Ag can no longer substitute inexpensive energy for labor and skill, the cost of producing and transporting food will go up. Whether or not it will go up beyond the point where it is more cost efficient to produce food locally will depend on how efficient the new source of energy is. The point is, if a new source of energy isn't capable of returning the same cost benefits that fossil fuels do, it won't matter whether we all like to eat the foods that can be produced locally year round. We won't be able to afford to eat otherwise.
On a lighter note, I had a roommate several years ago ask me if I would plant a pickle plant in our garden
I have a lot to say about localism and food security. Since I'm a little late to this discussion, I'll keep my comments limited to where it seems everyone is in the conversation.
@MCasey,I know I've seen atleast two other agencies that have approached food security at a regional level. I'm looking for those sources. Oakland was the first entity that I became aware of that was addressing food as a planning problem. The Community Food Security Coalition is the largest resource I know of for such assessments at the community scale.
I think it's important to separate conversations about could and should. Mixing them up confuses goals and means and then we start spinning our wheels. Industrial Agriculture is definitely entrenched, but through several mechanisms not the least of which is the federal subsidy program.I DO NOT, however, believe that big, industrial, commercial ag will - or should - go away. The changes in our world in the coming years - namely, our growing population - will provide more than enough demand for their products - and profits for those companies.
I'm only able to scan through comments but I'm ecstatic that this community is able to see through so many of the arguments of industrial agriculture, re: ethanol, job security, sustainability, etc...
How do people feel about the sustainability of "large-scale" and "small-scale" local ag? - I'm thinking about "industrial farms" vs. "market gardens" - or maybe "large quantities of few or single crops" vs. "smaller quantities of wide variety of crops".
In some sort of new world order - what do you think the cost-effective option of a "new food economy" would look like for your locale? Do you think there would still be large growers of crops that travel well (rice? potatoes? corn?) or would the necessity of small local food economies drive farm production?
And, if food production were to shift to a more local basis, how do you see it impacting the role that big ag exporting countries (US, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, etc.) play in the new world?
Nonetheless, you are trying to frame the cart before the horse. First things first.
1) We can't make predictions about what the world (ours, not Jupiter's) will be like in the future (?)
2) "There is no way to know" (?)
3) It's not worth discussing
Methinks that you are making an argument for the end of this thread... or, perhaps saying that this is something that the planning profession can't touch?
It seems that what Howl is talking about is how Industrial Ag could look in the future, suggesting that it COULD be made more sustainable. And that may be correct. But I think you two are talking about two different scenarios - what it looks like today versus what the future potentials are.
I generally agree with ColoGl's assessment that there are a lot of variables impacting future directions in almost all sectors of our society right now and so one needs to be careful about becoming too invested in assuming it will go any particular way. At the same time, this is what planners do, yes? We work with communities to envision a desired future. And then the dance begins - work begins to implement the "plan," but circumstances make it such that it doesn't go exactly the way we thought. Then we revisit the plan and make changes in response to these first moves, and on and on, back and forth.
My last comment about what commercial agricultural production might look like in the future is to be careful not to assume that because a solution or approach is the best option that the industry will decide to go that way. Consider Betamax video tape. It was clearly the superior technology of the time, but it did not become the industry standard. Why? Because the VHS folks had more resources available and better access to the market to get their players and tapes out there first. Inferior, yes, but they dominated the market. I could easily see the same thing happen with commercial agriculture (or any sector of the society for that matter).
Last edited by wahday; 04 May 2011 at 12:48 PM.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose
Industrial Agricultural firms make profits hand over fist.Why do you think Industrial Agriculture cannot be made to be sustainable – both in economic and environmental terms? I think that is definitely the way things are moving. Large scale agriculture corporations are doing a lot of research with the goal of producing more food with less energy use, including minimizing transportation costs. That’s the only way they are going to make a profits in the future. I suspect in a few decades bio-engineered foods, grown in local hydroponic greenhouses with recycled water and waste products will supply most of your fruits and vegetables if you live in an urban area.
Cargill, ADM, Monsanto, Tyson; the list goes on. Industrial Agriculture is built on federal subsidies that had, suppress the price of corn. Its through that momentum, built especially through the policies of Ag Secretary Earl Butz during the Nixon Administration, that the current system of monopolies exists today. The dramatic increase in the price of corn in the last six years is attributable to the demand from ethanol producers, who are subsidized at a rate of nearly 50% on the gallon. This is largely attributable to the capable lobbies of the three aforementioned companies.
IA is a human reaction to maintain profit margins, not populations. Massive populations are maintained throughout the world without industrial practices. The United States is one of several nations that produces more food than it could possibly conceivably consume.ColoGL - It is clear from the thread above and every other source that industrial ag (IA) is not sustainable. But IA is merely a human reaction to a need to maintain an unsustainable population.
Aside from dressing the fields with lime (a natural substance made from ground limestone) to lower soil acidity, they do NOT use any chemical fertilizers. They spread manure from their own cows and use crop rotation (clover, soybeans, corn) to maintain soil fertility. They rotationally graze their cows on pasture from April/May through late October so that they feed less harvested feed, their cows are healthier than being confined (less lower veterinary costs), and they use less energy for barn cooling, cleaning, lighting etc. They probably don't produce as much milk per cow but they produce their milk a lot cheaper per hundred-weight (how bulk milk is sold) and get higher prices for it because it's organic, so their profit is more. It takes more land to do this, but land in this area is cheap to buy and/or rent.
BTW, milk is one of those products that is already largely locally produced in most areas simply because it's so perishable. Milk-based products like cheese are more likely to be distributed further away from the production, but the processing is much closer to the farms that produced it than, say, grain-based products.
There's one small-scale milk producer around Central Illinois that markets their own label. When I interviewed them last fall, they were the only milk producer in Illinois with their own bottling plant on-site. They also market and distribute their non-homogenized product on their own (its tasty!).
They are not organic. The explanation they gave me was that in the event that any of their animals got sick, they would not be able to administer antibiotics in the event that they got sick and maintain their use of the Organic label. As managers of 70 head of Jersey, that would be a burden for their scale of operation.