Demystifying Agriculture

I read an article in a small agricultural paper here in Ontario.  I haven’t yet put my hands on the book itself, but intend to as soon as I get a chance.  The author, Maurice Hladik, discusses and puts some numbers on some things that I have known through my experience in modern agriculture. 

Many of you know that I am closely involved in modern agriculture, and am very supportive of the system that has developed over the past 50 years.  I find it frustrating to see the misconceptions that are accepted as “fact” by the majority of urbanites who are not exposed to the realities of modern agriculture.  I thought I’d share the article, and encourage anyone who is interested in where their food comes from to pick up this book.  If you are not interested enough to read the book, at least feel confident that the food production methods in North America are considering the same issues you feel are important, and they are constantly changing their systems to meet the demands and values of the consumers they serve.

 

Ontario Farmer

May 31 – by Jim Romahn – Maurice Hladik has written Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork to counter the annoying media criticisms of modern agriculture. He’s certainly got enough experience to write a book; he grew up on a farm in Central Alberta, gained two economics degrees, worked as agricultural attaché in New Zealand and Germany, and for a cellulostic ethanol company in Ottawa. Among the issues he “demystifies” are:

– Small farms are disappearing. In fact the average farm size in the U.S. declined from 431 acres in 1997 to 418 acres in 2007 and the percentage of farms of 99 acres or less increased from 49.2 to 54.4 per cent.

– Fertilizer use is increasing. In fact between 1990 and 2005, 17 per cent less nitrogen, 28 per cent less phosphorous and 20 per cent less potash was used to produce a bushel of corn. – Corporate farming is taking over. In fact the U.S. census found that 86.9 per cent in 1997 and 86.5 per cent in 2007 are owned by individuals or families.

– Organic farming is significant. In fact there are only 8,694 dedicated organic farmers in the U.S.,

– Food miles matter. In fact, much less energy is used to move oranges from Florida or tomatoes from California than to drive the family car to a local farmers’ market or farm. The energy used to prepare a meal in the home is far greater than the energy used in transporting food.

– The food system is broken. In fact, the percentage of the world’s people deemed malnourished declined from 33 in 1969 to 16 per cent in 2010 and the number of adequately-fed people more than doubled form 2.5 to 5.5 billion.

– Organic foods are nutrionally superior. In fact, a thorough review of scientific literature published in 2009 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that organically-produced foods are not superior.

Hladik says he has nothing against organic farmers, but he raises a lot of questions. For example, he wonders why so few organic farmers have been found guilty of cheating. He says it must be hard to resist the temptation to use pesticides to save a crop being devastated by insects or diseases, especially if inspections are infrequent and hardly any growers are decertified. He also provides a long list of pesticides that are acceptable to various organic organizations and wonders whether the public knows. Hladik makes a convincing case in favour of large-scale, modern farming methods. For example, only a farmer growing thousands of acres of grain can afford GPS technology, combines, tractors and no-till drills that result in greater precision, higher yields, reduced soil erosion and less pesticides and commercial fertilizers.

The paperback book is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon and iUniverse for $19.95 and in electronic form for $9.99.

Mike the Chicken Vet

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5 responses to “Demystifying Agriculture

  1. Would be good to see the same myths tackled using Canadian numbers. Statistics Canada released Census data in May, and it shows that there are fewer, larger farms. I do agree with the fact that organic is a marketing term, and there are no health benefits, no environmental or food security benefits. It is an inefficient way to produce food, and will end up hurting the world more than helping it. Some of the untested, “natural” fertilizers and pesticides used in organic farming are not as safe as synthetic chemicals made by multi-billion dollar companies that can afford to do that research.
    I might have to grab that book. Thanks.

    • Good point re Canada and larger farms – you are quite correct. I cover this in my book by comparing the situation north of the border with the US. In the US, a large proportion of the farm land is within comuting distance of a major urban centre which provides the opportunity for off farm employlment and supplying the local market at retail prices – one or both are necessary for viable small scale farmering. Canada, particularly on the Praries, is quite a different situation.

      Maurice Hladik – authotr of “Demysifying Food fromFarm to Fork”

      • Mr Hladik;

        I am so happy (and, lets be honest, surprised) that you found my blog. I have been involved in most aspects of animal agriculture (and by extension crops) throughout my life. It is refreshing to see someone who thinks critically about issues, rather than accepting the popular opinion. Thanks for taking the time and sharing your knowledge and opinions.
        I think Canada is able to maintain smaller farms in many of the commodity groups, mostly because of supply managed systems in feathers and dairy. These systems provide a reasonable income and don’t force farmers to cut their profits to the bone to provide giant retailers with a product on which they can earn an extra penny. The farmer remains a valued part of the suppy chain, rather than a cog in a wheel.

        Mike

      • Thanks Mike,

        Given the Chickenvet, perhaps you may find the following item that I recently placed on my blog amusing.

        An interview by the Chicken Whisperer with Henny Penny

        CW: I am in Farmer Brown’s chicken barn where I have met up with Ms. Henny Penny who has agreed to an interview about free range conditions.
        CW: Ms. Penny, it is a beautiful sunny June morning – would you not sooner be outside enjoying the great outdoors than being cooped up in here with all those other hens.
        HP: Please call me Henny.
        CW: Thanks Henny – sure would be nice to have the run of the great outdoors – too bad that you are cooped up in here.
        HP: I guess so.
        CW: Henny– you can share the truth with me – every human is rooting for you chickens to have free range privileges. Tell us how bad things are in here.
        HP: I think you are trying to put words in my beak.
        CW: Not at all – I already know how depressed you must be cooped up here with all those other birds all the time. Do you not want to be outside?
        HP: Ya perhaps; if it is not to cold, if there is no snow, if it is not raining, if it is not too windy, if it is not too hot, if it is not storming, if there are no predators such as hawks, eagles coyotes, foxes or stray dogs, if it is not dark, if there is lots to eat and drink and if I feel like it.
        CW: That is a lot of ifs.
        HP: Being a chicken is iffy business.
        CW: But I am sure you can overlook all those things just for the pure joy of being free range.
        HP: I never think about it.
        CW: (A little exasperated) Do you not care that people everywhere are dedicated to getting you out into the great outdoors?
        HP: Listen Mr. Know-it-all. We chickens are descendant from a long line of jungle fowl and left that all behind to be near people such as Farmer Brown who provides us with great food, ample water, protection from the elements and predators and a controlled climate environment. Life is good.
        CW: But that is not free range.
        HP: But it is free you have to admit. Besides you humans have the opportunity for free range but what do you do – you crowd yourselves into airplanes, classrooms, theatres, office buildings, busses, subways, sporting events and many other venues where the pounds of people per square foot are much greater than the pounds of hens per square foot here. Even with choice – are you free range?
        CW: How do you know all that stuff?
        HP: Let me finish – when you are in bed you even crowd up more and seem like to lie on top of each other. Judging by the noisy one on the bottom you find such close quarters quite OK.
        CW: You can’t know all this?
        HP: Farmer Brown left his old TV in here for us to watch and we learned how to peck at the remote. Surprising what pecking XXX brings us.
        CW: You chickens are smarter than I thought.
        HP: And you humans are stupider than I thought so I guess that makes us equal.
        CW: Inaudible
        HP: I see the girls gathering at the end of the hen house so I guess I had better flock off now or I will loose my place in the pecking order. Cheerio now and make sure you close the door when you go.

        Maurice Hladik, Author of “Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork”

  2. Matthew Patel

    Great Post Mike. Think I will pick it up. Cheers.

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