Farm future: We are not the enemy


Agriculture received interesting attention recently as the cover story in Wired magazine, the recognized voice of new technology.

Wait a minute. Farming in a geek publication that last month featured the electric car? Yep.

The headline? “The future of food: How science will solve the next global crisis.”

It is a graphics-rich, text-minimal atlas presentation, laying out some of the industry’s problems (input costs, carbon emissions, chemical use, protectionism) and solutions (trade incentives, diversification, precision practices).

It’s a pretty even feature. Yes, the article admits, farmers use a lot of herbicides to kill weeds. But using herbicides also means fewer weeds, which means less tilling, which means using less fossil fuel.

Yes, aquaculture can reduce over-fishing of wild supplies, but it’s not without its own environmental concerns.

Yes, “the chemical age of agriculture is running out of juice,” but the article then points not to organics, but to genetically modified crops taking root as the next Green Revolution.

It illustrates what goes into an ear of corn and what comes out, what goes into a dairy cow or a beef steer and what comes out — listing the traditional byproducts like feed grain, milk and beef, as well as the often-ignored byproducts like starch for polymers, milk proteins, and collagen.

There was really nothing in the article that I didn’t already know, or that most of you aggies wouldn’t already know. But it was not targeting us, it was targeting the high tech maverick, certainly an audience we want to become better informed.

Here’s my take-home read: Conventional agriculture as we know it today is not the devil incarnate. There’s room for improvement, to be sure, but we need the science, the technology, the genetic advancements to feed the world today.

We need to eat and produce smarter, with more environmentally friendly practices and fewer food miles between farm and fork (recognizing that not all kinds of food can be grown in all places, and reducing transportation completely simply isn’t feasible). We need the management know-how, the marketing savvy, the political fortitude to farm profitably tomorrow.

The Wired article’s bottom line is my personal agriculture philosophy, too: “Our capacity for innovation is as limitless as our appetites.”

That is farming’s future.

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