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What little difference a century can make

By Staff | Nov 26, 2019

Postscript from the Previous Columns:

I was most impressed by the quality and sophistication that the editors of Successful Farming and Farm Journal magazines put into their periodicals nearly a century ago. They were lengthy, thoughtful and intelligent on many topics. They were not dumbed down. Given they were selling a combined 2,400,000 copies to a population of 120 million people, they were a major contributor to the issues of the day. Rural had more clout relative to urban back then. It would have taken a reader a long time to read these periodicals from cover to cover but they were not distracted by smart-phones and television so this was where they gleaned their knowledge from. Few farmers in that era had advanced formal education and these periodicals contributed to the general public knowledge. I still receive these periodicals today and they are much different.

Now they have to compete with all the other forms of media and are not the primary source of information that they were back then. Today, they are more concise, commercial and packaged and frankly not nearly so interesting as were their predecessors nearly a century ago. Articles are more superficial. Both sets of editors, then and now, have to appeal to their readers and things have changed.

What strikes me about farming nearly a century ago and today is that while our productivity has proliferated from advancement in technology and experience, that so many today lament this advancement heralding back nearly a century for their example for what they see as the future model of agriculture. They want small, inefficient farms, more machinery, back breaking labor and fossil fuel consumption for a domestic wealthy Whole Food’s consumer type.

In 1928 TV was something of the future, hybrid seed corn was just around the corner as was growing soybeans. Hogs and cattle looked like larger versions of butterball turkeys. If weeds got out of control you tried again next year. Weevils got more cotton than the gins did.

Today, contrary to foolish misconceptions, in my life I have seen great strides made in soil and water conservation. We have gone through the green revolution of intense pesticide and fertilizer use to what I see as something better. Precision agriculture is reducing crop inputs while crop production continues to grow resulting in heretofore almost unbelievable productivity. U.S. ag is on the global cutting edge of the sword relative to ag productivity. GMOs are the new hybrids. Norman Borlaug said so.

The mission of agriculture as I have seen it is to produce the most bountiful supply of food at the lowest possible cost in a sustainable manner so that consumers can devote their resources to the further development of the human race. We cannot go to Mars if we cannot feed ourselves affordably here on earth.

It baffles me how educated people who embrace technology in every other aspect of their lives somehow see agriculture as the exception where they think that they had it right in 1928 and we should farm accordingly. This spring, as wet conditions eliminated days suitable for farming, for example, organic producers grew weeds while we still grew crops because of technology and use of herbicides. While too wet to cultivate it was not too wet to spray. Real farms do not even own a physical cultivator today because they are outdated throwback technology.

People who buy foodie food throw their money away for nothing. Organic farming is Model-T technology in what otherwise is a Tesla world. We have fewer sows and cows today while meat and dairy production continues to rise in a positive arc. In other words, we are reducing our carbon footprint in livestock production while meat production grows affordably. A hog farmer once told me that he was unconcerned about the integrators because hog production was too much work for them. How did that work out? Probably about the same as it will for the dairy industry where 5 percent of cows are milked by robots today as the industry rides on the cusp of a productivity explosion resulting from trading technology for labor in that industry. Technology will win.

I have heard some farmers lament walking soybeans as being the good old days, mourning how herbicides made large farms possible hurting the little guy. I am not nostalgic at all for back-breaking work as we walked enough soybeans for my life. I used to imagine a light bar riding over crops that could identify weeds and zap them with a ray of some kind. I read recently where they had the prototype of my imagination. That is a lot different than foodies who think technology is a sharp hoe and think nothing of charging consumers double the cost of food for no good reason whatsoever. That is an unstainable fad.

I believe that the only way that we can feed the world is to use all the technology and expertise at our disposal in the same application that we do for everything else in our lives. The I-Pad has the same value to agriculture as it does to every other industry. Not to recognize that, would be for the human race to otherwise stall its development which would certainly bring all advancement to a halt. A century from now if we still farm as we did in 1928, as foodies advocate, there would truly be a crisis.

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.

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