Thursday, December 3, 2009

Misunderstandings By #profood Part 2

Let me start by appologizing for not getting this posted sooner.  Fall is a crazy time on the ranch and the calendar is filled with meetings.  The livestock and previous commitments come before blogging. Sorry

This part pertains to an area that I feel is not realized or truly understood by many in the #profood community. It involves the relationship between geographic location and the ability to produce commodities. I shall preface this part by saying I fully support those that are growing organic and natural products, it will take a variety of production methods to meet the growing consumption needs of the world.

First, the ability to grow crops and livestock is dependant upon geographic location. Most crops are limited in the areas that they will grow. Elevation, length of growing season, soil type and availability of water are just some of the limiting factors. For example: peanuts grow very well in Georgia, but are not found in Montana; Pears grow extremely well in portions of Oregon, but do not do well Arizona. Similarly, there are certain breeds of livestock that perform better in particular areas of the country; Brahman thrive in Texas, but not in North Dakota; Angus perform well in Michigan, but not in Florida.

Second, geographic region also is a major factor in determining the success of raising organic crops. Recently, a report has been tweeted that makes the statement that organic crops are equal to conventional and in some cases, greater in terms of yield. Some in the #profood community would have you believe that this report pertains to “all” types of crops being grown. It should be pointed out, however, that the study this report cites was on corn and soybeans. It should also be noted that the author also made the following points: 1) equal to and/or greater yields were not realized until after year 4 or 5 and 2) he noted that other crops (ie row crops) probably would not share the same results due to the higher susceptibility to insects and fungus. It should also be noted that this study was done in a specific region and should not be applied across the country. There are definitely areas of the country that favor organic production for some specific varieties. However, to assume that all crops can be grown organically, in all locations, at a level that will meet demand is in error.

Finally, the recent promotion of eating local, and the concept of eating food within a 100 mile radius is noble, but in the case of metropolitan areas, unreasonable. Variety of food is limited by geography, as is the ability to produce an organic crop. In addition, the amount of acres necessary to produce enough “local” food, for city of 100,000 for 12 months is simply unreasonable. Further, it must be taken into consideration that at least half of the United States has a growing season of 120-150 days or less. Production in these areas would need to be doubled at a minimum in order to have enough produce to preserve for the rest of the year.

In conclusion, it is wonderful for people to support local producers of fruits, vegetables, milk and meat. The more direct sales that occur, increase the profitability for the farmer, and certainly provide a “farm fresh” product for the consumer. Consumers have a wonderful opportunity to actually see the face that grows their food, and it is not the person at the check out counter, as well as learn how their food was grown. However, the ability of our country to supply our own people with enough locally grown, organic food is impractical at best, let alone be able to profitably produce organically in all regions of the country. The environment simply places too many restrictions upon production naturally, and this does not take into account the economic factors, but that is the next part to be addressed.


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  2. You're right on. All of my city friends have gone rabid over local eating. They believe it's going to save the planet. I'm glad they have a choice, but most of them don't have the right frame of reference.

    All of the farmers in the state of New York couldn't feed NY City. And what about the rest of the world? Hunger has always been a distribution problem as much as it's been supply. Now the environmentalists want to compound the distribution issues and the animal activists want us producing no meat. How do we continue to feed the world if they get their way?


About Me

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Jeff Fowle is a fourth generation family farmer and rancher from Etna, California. He and his wife Erin and son Kyle raise registered Angus cattle, Percheron draft horses, warmbloods, alfalfa and alfalfa-grass hay. They also start and train horses for riding, jumping, and driving. Their family run ranch has incorporated many environmentally beneficial and water efficient technologies and management strategies. Jeff attended college at Colorado State University for two years and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for four and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science. Following college, he worked in Washington State for a year as a herdsman for BB Cattle Company and then returned to Etna, California in 1995 to own and operate KK Bar Ranch and Siskiyou Percherons. The latter was started by his grandfather, Clarence Dudley, who devoted much of his time to the Percheron Horse Association of America, specifically to developing their youth education program.