Sustainable farming

I have been reading a lot lately on organic and sustainable farming. It seems as though everything I have read indicates that we could very well sustain our food needs as well as those of the world as our global population is expected to reach 8 billion by 2030 with the use of sustainable or organic farming.

First of all, I have tried to find out if there is a difference, even a small one, that indicates if sustainable agriculture or organic farming are two seperate terms and methods. As far as I can tell, there is not. But while I’m thinking about it, to the lay individual, doesn’t the name “organic” seem to imply like a 60’s style commune? I feel like many people think of guys and girls wearing hemp and Birkenstocks but more than that they might think: inefficiency, expensive, inconvenient, insect-laden, and time consuming. I prefer to term sustainable farming because it conjures up a more positive image. Good work organic P.R. guys, I guess.

Organic/sustainable farming, as I have read just involves the (very) minimal use of fossil fuel resources, decreased use of chemicals and pesticides, increase quality of life for farmers and communities by providing varieties of resources, and the use (as much as possible) of natural, biological methods to fertilize crops. In many cases this would involve crop diversification and rotation as well as grass fed and free range animals. It would almost be like it’s the 60’s again only as you will see, much more productive.

There have been many advancements in sustainable farming in the past 50 years. Francis Thicke, the author of A New Vision for Iowa Food and Agriculture has placed sections of his book online and I read one of the chapters. He worked and operated on a family farm as a young boy in the 1960’s and continues to operate his own sustainable farm today. The chapter was fairly short, it only took about ten/fifteen minutes of my time and I was taking notes. Here it is if you would like to read it but I’ll give the meat and potatoes (semi-pun totally intended) here:

  • in 1960 Thicke and his brother worked for 1 hour to cut 1 acre of hay. Today with the technological improvements, Thicke can cut 10 acres/hour by himself
  • in 1960, Thicke and his family (totaled 4) could make 50 bales of hay/day. Today, he can make 50 bales by himself in 2 hours
  • sustainable farmers use “mechanical weeders and guidance systems” to control weed growth in their pastures and vegetation
  • 50 years of scientific inquiry has resulted in increased knowledge of: “the ecology of insects, weeds and plant diseases [that] are helping organic farmers manage pests through the use of crop rotations, beneficial insects, pest mating disruptions and other cultural practices that circumvent the need for chemical pest controls
  • the agriculture research budget for the USDA annually is around $2 billion; in 2002, only $5 million was devoted to organic research and in 2008, only $15 million
  • a study by the University of Michigan showed that in developed countries, the crop yields of conventional (large-scale) and organic farms were about equal (I have no idea why he didn’t give a date, but I’m looking into this research)

Clearly there have been advancements in technology since the days when Thicke and his family operated a family farm. It would be nice to see if future Food Bills place a heavier emphasis on sustainable farming research. I mean, I hate to point out the obvious but food is pretty freaking important. I think many of us often don’t even think about the work and resources that are involved with supplying us all with our food and apparently, the way we are prioritizing and practicing our farming on many levels is not sustainable or even very good for us.

As a wise man Tupac Shakur once said, “Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live… You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do, to survive.”

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