Monthly Archives: April 2009

More on potential food shortages

On January 6th I posted an entry titled “Food Shortages in 2009?” Since that time it has been the most actively hit entry on my site. Makes me think people are kinda nervous out there.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the refridgerator, there’s this from Scientific American — “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?” — by Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute. The article focuses on dwindling production and the potential effect on already teetering countries, the possibility of their collapse and the domino effect for all of us. Interesting reading from someone who has been predicting these things for 30-something years.

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The usda finally noticing organic

organic? when did this start?

organic? when did this start?

Link HERE to the official press release. Vilsack has announced a major NASS survey on organic ag going out in early May.

“The Organic Production Survey is a direct response to the growing interest in organics among consumers, farmers, and businesses,” said Vilsack. “This is an opportunity for organic producers to share their voices and help ensure the continued growth and sustainability of organic farming in the United States.”

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Bottom line: organic, diversified more profitable

not like this, but closer

not like this, but closer

The content of this article may not surprise you as much as the source.

Madison, Wisconsin (April 6, 2009)–Which is a better strategy, specializing in one crop or diversified cropping? Is conventional cropping more profitable than organic farming? Is it less risky?

To answer these questions, the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute agronomists established the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST) in 1990. This research is funded by USDA-ARS.

Systems ranging from species-diverse pasture and organic systems to more specialized conventional alfalfa-based forage and corn-based grain systems were compared at two sites in southern Wisconsin from 1993 to 2006.

Crop production analysis was published in the 2008 March-April issue of Agronomy Journal while this companion article focuses on the net returns and associated risk exposure of these systems. Full research results from this current study are presented by Chavas et al. in the 2009 March-April issue of Agronomy Journal.

“In our study we found that diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping,” explains Joshua Posner, University of Wisconsin.

With feed grade premiums the organic systems were more profitable than the Midwestern standards of continuous corn, no-till corn and soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.

Rotational grazing of dairy heifers was as profitable as the organic systems. And to our surprise, including risk premiums into the evaluation did not change the ranking of the systems. This study indicates that governmental policy that supports mono-culture systems is outdated and support should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices.

The full article is available for no charge until May 6, 2009. View the abstract at agron.scijournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/101/2/288.

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Big organic steps?

worth its weight in gold

worth its weight in gold

I have to say I’m a bit taken back and pleasantly surprised by two recent events initiated by the Obama administration.

The first is the organic garden started with great fanfare in the White House side yard. As a symbol of support for local and organic food we can’t get better than this, but that the first family will actually be eating some of that food…I’m blown away. I’m looking forward to reading about that in future months. May the White House garden become a permanent fixture.

Now we see pictures of Rodale dumping organic compost on the grounds of the National Mall in front of the USDA building, and the initiation of The People’s Garden, an organic plot growing vegetables organically and run directly out of Sec. Vilsack’s office. This is really an awesome turn of events.

I’m pretty cynical when it comes to government. Though I tend to lean right on most issues, I don’t put much faith in either party of our government to actually solve problems. In fact, I tend to think many problems would solve themselves if government got out of the way. This is especially true for the advancement of a stronger local food system. Government regulations create barriers (in the name of food safety) to small-scale, local producers and processors. If you don’t believe me read Joel Salatin’s book, Everything I Want to Do is Illegal.

Another reason for my cynicism stems from my experience in Illinois politics. For about 30 years Republicans ruled the State House in Illinois. Towards the end of that era we had managed to build up some clout around sustainable agriculture. Funding for the IDoA Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program reached a high of $750,000. Then corruption-riddled, George Ryan brought the whole thing to ruins and the Democrats won the day and took over the rest of the state (They’ve always run Chicago). I actually voted for Rod Blog that first term. It was a selfish decision really. I thought the state could do more to support sustainable agriculture. I thought Democrats were the environmental party and would place greater emphasis on sustainable and organic agriculture. I thought funding would increase and the world would be saved. Wrong. Rod Blog put a conventional hog farmer in charge of IDoA who wanted nothing to do with sustainable agriculture. Funding was cut. We lost funding all together for one year, before it was restored to about a third of its previous high. We were totally ignored. The Governor never made his legislatively mandated appointment to our committee. The rest of Rod Blog’s legacy is now history, and I learned a valuable lesson.

So despite all the rhetoric from the Obama campaign, I did not expect any action on the sustainable/organic ag front. I still may be disappointed, but these initial steps look encouraging. Let’s hope it’s more than just symbolic gestures.

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The transformation of ag

Rebeacca Hosking and her father

Rebeacca Hosking and her father

This documentary is the personal story of wildlife film maker, Rebecca Hosking and her investigation into how to transform her family’s farm in Devon, EnglandĀ  into a low energy farm for the future. The film ends with her decision to use permaculture as an approach to changing the farm from a traditional high-labor, high-energy requiring operation, to a highly diversified, low-labor, solar-powered operation that is more productive, environmentally sustainable and more profitable. All this is done through design, and requires extensive knowledge of plants and their properties. Hopefully we’ll see Part II in five years showing the results of her efforts.

To watch the video, click HERE.

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Filed under agriculture, environment, natural, permaculture, small farms