Monday, July 31, 2006

Sheer volume

Two things quickly come to mind when people visit with me about the many virtues of organic food production; can organic production supply the kind of sheer volume required in the world each day; and what is the carbon footprint of food transportation if you have to haul organic food long distances to get it to market?

I've been poking around for some data on the carbon footprint question and maybe I'll find some I can visit about. But when it comes to supplying the kind of food volume needed in the world every day, I'm thinking a wholesale shift to organic practices would create a wreck.

You can research and apply many best management practices to organic production to increase yields and produce quality. Fighting weeds in organic schemes, for example, uses such tools as crop rotation and tillage to reduce weed pressure. You may also go out and pull weeds by hand.

But when you're out there hoeing and pulling are you gardening or farming? On a small plot of land intensively lorded over, the hoe and hand weed process are fine. Scale up such production and you scale up your labor needs. I'm all for hiring people but I'd like to hire people at a living wage and not have my business depend on exploitation to gain a profit.

Somewhere I read that a rotation of commodity crops such as corn, beans, wheat, alfalfa, and so forth keeps the weeds and other pests common to each from gaining a foothold and thus pressure from weeds and pests is reduced.

Makes some sense. But I think you're going to get a yield drop compared to crops grown with what we're now calling conventional means. The application of fertilizer, insecticides, and herbicides are risk reduction tools as well as labor reduction tools. Imperfect as these tools are, their use reduces risks from the pests threatening crops.

Practices that reduce and eliminate the use of pesticides are great by me. But I'm not very interested in sending the whole world back to subsistence farming. Rejecting science and technology in food production is a risky notion.

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