Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good day for Roundup, bad day for weeds...

Today’s decision by the US Supreme Court, on the surface, looks like a great victory for Monsanto, and to some extent, it is. The Big “M” has about a ga-gillion dollars invested into RR Alfalfa so far, and has watched it sit on the sidelines for the better part of 3 years while lower courts squabbled over reports, science, and weather APHIS (that’s a big acronym for the dept of ag oversight group) really did its job watching Monsanto’s testing the first time around. But this story is about much, much more than alfalfa.

For years, farmers have been using biotech crops, all the way back to the 1930’s. By definition, the first time that we cross-bred corn, we were using biotech crops. The science has come a long way since then, but the mission has not-produce more crops, better crops, and cheaper crops. This is the primary mission of agriculture-the more we produce, and the less we produce it for, the more people who can eat off a single acre of American Farmland without having to work on it. Last I checked, the number was around 450 per acre. But back to biotech-see, people need to remember, this stuff didn’t just happen one day. People far, far, more intelligent than me have spent many, many years of their lives working on these crops-researching, testing, designing. I’ve met these people, firsthand, and I’m here to say, they have no motive beyond what every farmer does-feed the world, make an honest living, leave the planet a little better than they found it. Their science, backed by the best universities on the planet, has stood the test, and it’s who it stood before that makes it that much better.

The supreme court, while being a very, very intelligent group of jurists, are not scientists. They are essentially average Americans; Americans who have seen Food Inc, and HSUS commercials with sappy music playing. They shop in the same stores, see the same news, and have read the same books and papers. And best of all, they have the same prejudices towards food systems that many of us do as well; and in spite of this, they waded though the muck to make a clear decision. They have determined that the science passes muster, and while further testing is needed, which I’m confident will prove the validity of Monsanto’s claims, they have shown that science trumps emotion.

Right now, my wife is working on her Masters in Food Safety from MSU, and her current project is a comparison of sanitation (how many bugs are in the eggs) between caged and cage-free systems. The results are overwhelming that cage-raised eggs are hands down safer than cage free; and I’m not just talking one or two articles-I’m speaking about the 3 foot high pile of scientific data that has invaded my dining room table. It’s court decisions like this, and the science I see though my wife first hand, that gives me hope in our future. I think it’s a safe bet that at some point, we’ll see a “prop 2” type issue that is happening in Ohio come before the court. And hopefully, they see the science though the smoke the same way they did today.

Monday, June 7, 2010

But won't that hurt small farmers??

I had the duty this weekend to make the trip to Detroit to pick my wife at the airport, but it gave me the opportunity to catch up with an old roommate from my MSU days that lives in the area now. Now, this gentleman and his wife are both extremely intelligent, highly educated people. They are open to ideas and often as us questions about agriculture and food safety. This weekend proved to be no different.

Jim and I headed out to a local restaurant for some good bar-b-cue and a couple of cold domestics. A few minutes into the conversation, the topic swung over to agriculture and farming. Jim wanted to know how the farming was going, what we were up to, etc. At some point we started discussing the new technology we use on the farm. I explained that for example, we have auto steer in our sprayers for row crops, and that we hoped to have the same technology soon in the orchards. He asked if I thought we’d ever see fully automatic sprayers (no driver needed). I told him I believed so, and that we’d see them in the next 5 years. Just as the food arrived, he quipped “I’ve got to believe something like that would hurt small farmers, because bigger farmers can afford the technology and farm more land”. Dinner arrived, and the topic changed.

Here’s the response, because I know Jim reads this blog.

At first glance, yes, I can see where many people would see that point. However, it is interesting that in orchard crops, far more technology is in the hands of small farmers, instead of large farmers. The reason is simple-the technology is complicated, and expensive, and many of the large farmers rely of hired labor to run those machines. They don’t trust those workers with that type of an investment, so they don’t make it. But it brings me to another point I’d like to discuss-where do all the “small” farmers go?

Well, let me tell you.

My family has made no secret in the last 5 years that we want to grow our business and expand our acres. So when the opportunity presents itself, we take it. For example, two years ago, my brother and I had an opportunity present itself to us. A neighbor had become widowed, her husband having died of cancer. Her farm sat, and she had no children or grandchildren who wanted to farm. My brother and I stepped up and purchased that farm and equipment from her. For the first time in 30 years, there was no longer a person with the last name of Fraser farming that land. In fact, that family has left agriculture all together. So to some, that’s a “small family farm” that is gone; and they are right. That family’s farm is no longer theres-however, my family carries on that tradition. The same goes for a large tract of row crop land we picked up this year. For the first time in several generations, this other family is not farming. But it was time for the current owners to retire, and no children or grandchildren wanted to carry on with the farm. What should happen in these situations? Should we just let the land sit idle? Should we develop it all into houses? If not my family, then who?

Our view is someone is going to farm it, it might as well be us. People are going to need to eat tomorrow, and I intend to feed them, wether they like it or not.