Most Modern Farming Methods Stink!

by updated 2008/07/15

  I almost broke my rules and used a “bad” word, but stink will have to do. I am straying form my normal course of trying to be passive and gentle in my persuasion. When it come to industrial farming practices, though, it is hard to have a discussion and keep a level head. I am talking about the huge multi thousand acre mono-culture farms, not the farms run by smaller business people. Although many of the smaller farms have had to adopt practices similar to the industrial giants, most farmers have to respect their land and their animals if they want to continue to make a living from the farm.

For more than a year now, I have been saying we need to bring about a move towards “Ethical Food”. Every part of our food supply chain needs to be judged not just by how low the cost in dollars is, but by how high the hidden costs are to consumer health, farmer health, societal health, animal health, and the health of the earth. Many make the argument that today our food supply is healthier and more varied than it has ever been. On the surface this can appear to be true, but scratch a little deeper and things look a bit different. As just one example on a grand scale, look at what farm runoff is doing to thousands of square mile of ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. Farm runoff, especially from big agri-businesses, is affecting the health of people, animals, water, and land all over the world.

I would not be surprised if the recent salmonella contamination of the water supply in Alamosa, Colorado was the result of farm or feedlot runoff into the ground water. Maybe not, I suppose it could have entered the system in many different ways. But, when farm runoff reaches the water supply as it inevitably does, the danger is not just from bacteria. Other chemicals like antibiotics, hormones, herbicides, and pesticides are contamination worries also.

So today I am writing again about our water supply. I know it has been 4 posts on the topic in the past 10 days, but this needs to be pointed out. Last week the news people were talking about the “big story” that factory farm feedlots are contaminating our water tables and drinking water supply. When stories like this break, I feel like shouting at the TV, “wake up, this is news so old that it is not even funny”! I understand that with the recent news about pharmaceuticals in drinking water, the topic of pollution of our water is on the front burner. But really folks, check this article out. It is from July of 1990, 18 years ago! And, it was written by a conventional school of agriculture in the heart of the U.S. “breadbasket”. We have known about this problem for decades. On the other hand, it is important to keep these issues publicized.

Modern industrial scaled agriculture can be a difficult thing to evaluate. Some factory farms and feed lots are horrible places. Others do their best to be responsible in their farming methods. I agree that any argument against modern farming methods has to be countered by realities of our abundant and varied food choices here in the U.S. Recent increases in many food items like wheat and corn are hitting families in the pocketbook. It is tempting and understandable to look only at the price on the package of meat or the bag of peppers. But there can be hidden costs associated with our food. These are hidden expenses to our wallets, to our health, to the health of animals brought to market, and to the health of the planet.

Now I have to say that I do look at the cost of food when I shop. I do eat meat, but, I wish I had more choice and that there was a greater availability of meat that was ethically and organically produced. I am sure I eat other food that is not produced in an ethical manner. It is impossible to know the sources of everything that goes in to all the many things we buy and feed to ourselves and our families. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is very applicable to our modern food supply. There are some things you can do, however.

On a daily basis, think about the sources of your food. Ask questions of the places you buy your food. Try to think in terms of Ethical Food. Don’t just choose organic for the sake of organic. An organic bag of lettuce from a huge corporation in California is not necessarily a better choice than a bag of uncertified lettuce from your local farmers market, food co-op, or health food grocery. It may sometimes be a cheaper, but often not a more ethical choice.

Spread the word and use the term “Ethical Food”. Make this an important consideration when you shop. Buy local as much as you can. This is harder in the winter, but should be easy almost everywhere in the spring, summer, and fall. If you live rurally, you have many opportunities to grow or buy locally produced food. If you live in a city, you have more choices of places to shop. Find a business that makes an ethically considered decision about the food they sell. And then thank them for doing that. We can all improve our food choices, and in the process improve our health and the health of the world’s food supply.

If you agree this is an issue that needs to be publicized as much as possible, a Digg, Stumble, or any other publicity to get the cause of Ethical Food spread far and wide would be appreciated. Thanks!



Will Sig
1 Anna

Will your post shows how ignorant our society is until it is too late. I could not agree with you more, you are so right about everything. The scary part is that we fed our society with all these luxury stuff that people can just take the ready to go food and throw into the micorwave, not knowing, let’s say high salt content, artificial flavours, and macrowaving is adding to our health cost, like you said. Marketing is a billion dollar industry, and we are the victims of their manipulation.

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2 Andrew Flusche

I haven’t been big into buying local, but I’ve been reading more about it lately. Maybe I can do a better job at supporting small farms and local growers.

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3 Jennifer Robin

Great post. Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? It’s is frightening what corn production is doing to our environment, from fertilizer runoff to the greenhouse gases created in ethanol production. And people are buying the concept that ethanol is a “green” fuel when it couldn’t be further from the truth.

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4 Will

You are right, Anna. I try to influence my kids all the time to make them realize what all that marketing is. They seem to get it. There are other things about what they eat that are really convenience issues. I have not been as successful yet with that area. But I think kids really do model much of their diet after what they see parents eat. My kids actually often make very healthy choices without prompting. And they seem to get some of the biggies, like not drinking soda.

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5 Will

Hi Andrew – Buying local can also mean buying at a store where the person doing the purchasing for the store is available for questions. With the big chains, the buyers for the stores are often hundreds of miles away and unavailable even to the employees of the store. Depending on where you live, your choices might be limited or you might have many options. They main thing is to think about it when shopping and the little changes will make a difference.

-Will

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6 Will

Yes that is a great book, Jennifer. We are a corn fed nation, drinking corn syrup and eating corn fed beef. Take a look at this post for a look at another of ethanol’s problems. Thanks for your comments!

http://willtaft.com/environment/ethanol-kills-thousands-of-crabs-fish-and-shrimp/

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7 Alex

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. Food is our common ground, a universal experience.

Anyway nice post :D

“We’ve got a blog about nutrition, healthy eating, and health food
too. It includes summaries of articles in the news, lists healthy
recipes, offers tips and personal feedback on healthy eating, and
reports on nutritional research.”

check this out:
http://www.laurelonhealthfood.com
A

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8 Tyler

Hi, My parents are Farmers and I have worked on a Farm my entire life and there is a problem with farming methods today. But why is the blame always on the farmer. Do you not all eat food from a grocery store it is how My family makes a living. I am going into the field of conservation myself and I see the problem modern farming created. But in the end we all need to pay the bills to raise a family and the Farmers job shouldn’t be put down on anymore than someone who sits at a computer all day. If we really wanted to reduce amount of chemicals and run off from farms the problem is the number of people in this world not the number of farmers. —- Farming used to be something almost everyone did in their backyard but now with many less farms and many more people we have to resort to drastic mono-crop culture. And I’m ready for people to say here is what we need to do reduce the amount of consumption. have you thought of that? or maybe everyone should start their own garden for produce? Or lets reduce the population of the world through education of sustainability and world carrying capacity. Don’t blame my family or other farms for population problems, oh and by the way you cant go organic overnight with farms the size of cities. I know there are problems and I want to find ways to fix them, but we have to realize we have pushed ourselves into this, the entire world cant buy local, its a good start but majority of people use WalMart and superstore goods that are cheaper because that is what their income allows for no matter how the food is produced.

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9 Bob

Great article Will. Love the link you put in your post from 1990, it even had some solutions, I wonder how many of them are being put into practice today and by how many people/ industries. I had never thought of these and other environmental issues until I starting visiting your site and I thank you for the part you are playing to educate the public, every little bit helps, not going to happen overnight and I still buy stuff at WalMart and Superstore, but not as much as before.

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10 Will

Tyler – All your points are good ones. And difficult ones to really argue with. How big is your farm?

You are also right about the big box stores and the people who have to shop there. I sometimes wonder what would happen to our economy if our food prices were not so artificially low. But in the end we pay, if not with our wallets, then with our health or the health of the land, rivers and oceans.

And I’m not sure I agree that the entire world can’t buy local, at least part of the time. But it does make me think.

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11 Will

Thanks Bob. I know, it is amazing that those things were written 18 or 19 years ago by an academic whose intended audience was the biggest farming belt in the world. In many ways, it could have been written last week.

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12 Freya

agreed

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13 Vertical Farms

This is exciting! Look into vertical farming for our sustainable future! It solves a LOT of the growing environmental and food issues we are facing today. This stuff is actually making pretty big waves around the world too and Robert Kennedy Jr. is taking this project on to help create a more viable plan for agriculture and sustainable food production. Vertical farming conserves, time, space, energy, water, and oil! It is really amazing and you will see this in urban centers soon (I hope)
.-= Vertical Farms´s last blog ..Nike, U.S. State Department, Nasa and USAID-Sponsored Competition Picks Valcent as One of the Ten Best Companies in the World for a Sustainable Future =-.

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14 Asma Ijaz

Thanks, this was a great help!

This is because I am doing G.C.S.E course work and I was a bit stuck.
x x x…

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15 vidhya

hello sir……..
ur article is nice…..my parents also farmers only….doing it in small scale….economically we are not able to lift up the cultivation method….investment is more than profit….it makes disappointment to the farmers……what is the way to get profit by using modern methods…………..?is it possible?

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16 Alan

I completely agree that modern farming stinks. Farmers up here around the Prince Albert, Sask. area are turning our beautiful boreal forests into barren, windswept wastelands with their bulldozers every year, just so they can spend an extra vacation in Hawaii over the long winter as they sit. Bottom line though is that city people make up the overwhelming majority in North America, not farmers, and that gap is widening every day. We as consumers drive the market, not farmers and politicians. Until we’re willing to pay more for better food and farming practices instead of mini-mansions and SUV’s, things won’t change. Farmers care about one thing only…profits, just like the majority of city people. We bought a 1/4 section of land to keep it from the bulldozers, and are filling the 50 acres that remain in pasture with native forest trees and wildlife shrubs. Remaining 110 acres are already native forest and will not be touched, only enhanced. Take charge and do something, don’t just bemoan the problems.

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17 enas

Organic Farming Methods
A holistic approach towards growing crops, organic farming methods help apply simple and eco-friendly techniques in farming. Use of compost fertilizers, crop rotation and biological pest control, are some of the features of organic farming methods.
The farming methods that make use of the various traditional agricultural practices like minimum tillage, composting, crop rotation, biological pest control, etc. and exclude the application of synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, growth regulators and genetic modification of crop species, are included in organic farming methods. The use of modern technology in combination with organic farming practices, helps in creating a balanced and sustainable environment for crop growth. Organic farming methods take a holistic approach in growing crops rather than exploiting the available natural resources.

Organic Farming

It is a farming practice which involves the use of eco-friendly methods to grow crops and the exclusion of synthetic products such as chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. Organic farming is practiced on 32.2 million hectares of land the world over. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) carries out the tasks related to setting standards and regulation of organic farming activities worldwide.

Organic Farming Methods

The use of organic farming methods is aimed at enhancing the productivity of crops without the use of any kind of synthetic materials and adopting a sustainable approach towards farming.

Cultivation
Polyculture is an important aspect of organic farming. In the traditional form of farming, monoculture is practiced, which includes growing a single crop in a given piece of land. Though the motive behind cultivating a single crop, is to reduce costs incurred in fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, etc. However, it creates problems in the long run. The reduction in the fertility of the soil owing to the extraction of nutrients over a long period and soil erosion result from the practice of monoculture. Moreover, the pests become immune to the chemicals used for their control. Polyculture is a completely different approach towards farming as compared to monoculture. In this method of farming, a variety of crops are cultivated on a single piece of land. It helps attract different soil microbes. Some crops act as repellents to pest and this results in pest control, in an organic manner.

Fertilization
Composts are used to enhance soil fertility in organic farming methods. Green manuring too, is a nice way to add nutrients to the soil. It is the practice of growing plants with prolific leaf growth like Alfalfa, and burying them in the soil before the cultivation of the main crop. The green manuring crops add organic matter to the soil that is necessary for plant growth.

Pest Control
It is an important aspect in the growth of any crop. Organic pest control involves undertaking various activities to control pests without using chemical pesticides and insecticides. The growth of beneficial insects is encouraged by growing suitable plants which attract them. Beneficial insects are actually predators which control harmful insects. Disease resistant varieties are chosen for cultivation, in order to keep diseases at bay without having to spend money on costly pesticides. Special types of crops known as ‘companion crops’ are grown to control pests. These crops help in diverting or discouraging the growth of harmful pests. Biological pesticides such as neem extract, are useful in controlling many different pests. The practice of crop rotation helps in disturbing the reproduction cycles of pests, thereby inhibiting their growth and protecting the crops.

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