Archive for Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking forward, not backward

December 30, 2008

Some proponents of organic, labor-intensive farming contend we should go back to the days when every family owned 40 acres, farmed with hay burners (horses) and applied no chemicals.

You remember the good old days when people were self sufficient, owned a couple milk cows, tilled a garden and butchered 40 or 50 fryers each spring.

Some of these zealots propose each nation should also strive for self sufficiency. No imports. No exports.

Should such events occur, you may want to prepare yourself for milking each morning instead of enjoying that piping hot mug of coffee. Forget about sliced bananas on your bowl of corn flakes. These goodies we import into this country, and a lot more, won't be on the kitchen table any more. Count on it.

God forbid we adopt these policies. If we cave in to those who spread hysteria about unsafe food and giant farms, be prepared to do without the services of all the non-agricultural types. This includes carpenters, painters, nurses, doctors, teachers, writers, musicians, etc. In case you haven't heard, labor-intensive farming doesn't permit time for many other pursuits. Neither does production agriculture.

Farmers run non-stop, from early morning to late at night, planting and harvesting crops, tilling the soil, feeding and caring for livestock. Their work seldom ends. It's foolish to assume everyone would want to leave his or her jobs in the city to move to the farm. It ain’t all “Green Acres” out there folks.

And who’s to say all these people from other professions would become productive farmers?

A city friend remarked to me that he does not want to be a farmer. He contends he couldn't feed himself, much less the rest of the country or world.

“I’d starve to death and so would the rest of us,” he told me. “If you want to till the soil, go for it. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us want to, thank you.”

If we return to a system in which everyone farms, brace yourself for even more uncertain economic times. Manual labor and animal power could spell the return of food shortages and famine. A nation of farmers translates to a nation even more vulnerable to depressions and hunger. A drought, plague of insects or disease could trigger such tragedies because we’d have no chemicals to fight them with.

Today's mechanized farmer provides us with the safest, most abundant food in the world. He works closely with crop consultants when applying herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers. He has cut his uses significantly in recent years — up to 50 percent in some cases.

Farmers work years to leave a legacy of beneficial soil practices. Most of the farmers I know would give up farming rather than ruin their land. They are proud of the crops they grow and the land they work.

Farmers continue to work to conserve water, plug abandoned wells, watch their grassland grazing and continue to adopt sound techniques that will ensure preservation of the land. Urban residents should also look at new ways to protect the environment where they live.

There’s an old saying that rings true today. “You can never go home.” Yes, we can never return to the good old days. Besides, were they really all that good?

— John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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