homepage logo


By Staff | Aug 21, 2009

On the road to my office, there is a farmstead where they planted sweet corn. I’m sure it is organic sweet corn, because it’s half weeds and the plant population is scattered and uneven. It’s a mess. Right across the road there is a commercial field of corn, tall, even, weedless and lush. It’s probably GMO.

Which one is going to feed the world? Everyone is kidding themselves if they think that local, organic food production is sustainable. It may feed that farmer and a few neighbors, but the rest of the world would starve.

Even Michelle Obama found out that growing organic is tough. The White House garden tested high for levels of lead, attributed to compost used. Children are not supposed to go into the garden. So much for the White House organic garden.

There are, of course, good organic gardens and good organic farmers. They won’t feed the world, but they will feed consumers willing to pay twice as much for their food by personal choice. Only a few elite consumers from a world perspective can afford to do that. Organic farmers need twice as much for what they grow, as their cost of production is much higher relative to output.

Commercial farmers are good conservationists. Over my life experience in agriculture, today we use much less fertilizer and pesticide per unit of production than 20 years ago. Soil conservation practices have improved dramatically so that virtually everyone practices reduced tillage.

GMO seed has been a big boon to farmers, reducing the inorganic inputs needed to grow crops. Organic producers don’t use GMO seed, which has nothing to do with being an organic producer. GMO phobia is a psychological disorder disrupting common sense.

I support entrepreneurship so if someone wants to produce free-range chicken and turkeys, or breed goats, raise grass fed beef, or grow community gardens, these are examples of entrepreneurs finding a customer need and filling it. It’s the free enterprise system at work.

Don’t tell me, however, that these commercial/hobby farms are more sustainable environmentally or otherwise than commercial farms.

I define sustainable as the kind of production system that doesn’t deplete resources, that is capable of a level of production to meet the world’s food needs at a low cost. The trendline cost of food in the U.S. is going down and that leaves more disposable income resources for U.S. consumers resulting in higher standards of living and cultural development.

Mankind advances on the productivity of its agriculture. Organic production doesn’t meet my criteria for being sustainable.

Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal saying, “Given the right tools, farmers have shown an uncanny ability to feed themselves and others, and to ignite the economic engine that will reverse the cycle of chronic poverty. And the escape from poverty offers a chance for greater political stability in their countries as well. Yet, unfounded doubts have been cast on agricultural tools for farmers made though modern science, such as biotech corn in parts of Europe. Even here at home, some elements of popular culture romanticize older, inefficient production methods and shun fertilizers and pesticides, arguing that the U.S. should revert to producing only local organic food. People should be able to purchase organic food if they have the will and financial means to do so, but not at the expense of the world’s hungry – 25,000 of whom die each day from malnutrition. Unfortunately, these distractions keep us from the main goal.”

Borlaug continues, “At this time of critical need, the epicenter of our collective work should focus on driving continued investments from both the public and private sectors in efficient agriculture production technologies. To accomplish this, governments must make their decisions about access to new technologies, such as the development of genetically modified organisms – on the basis of science, and not to further political agendas. Open markets will stimulate continued investment, innovation and new developments from public research institutions, private companies and novel public/private partnerships. We already can see the ongoing value of these investments simply by acknowledging the double-digit productivity gains made in corn and soybeans in much of the developed world. Lack of significant investment in rice and wheat, two of the most important staple crops needed to feed our growing world, is unfortunate and short-sighted. It has kept productivity in these two staple crops at relatively the same levels seen at the end of the 1960s and the close of the Green Revolution.

“Of history, one thing is certain: Civilization as we know it could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Likewise, the civilization that our children, grandchildren and future generations come to know will not evolve without accelerating the pace of investment and innovation in agriculture production.”

Dr. Borlaug is as right as he could possibly be. The future of human development depends on enough people understanding this.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page