Magnus Itland (itlandm) wrote,
Magnus Itland

Ecological / organic farming

I just read an interesting little article in Norwegian on the topic of ecological food (which I believe is usually called organic food in English, or at least in American). This is food that is grown without synthetic fertilizer and without pest or weed poison. Instead, natural fertilizers are used, weeds are pulled manually or mechanically, and pests are deterred by planting certain types of plants together that repel pests, as well as using hybrid strains of cultivated and wild sorts that are naturally resistant to pests and diseases. Most customers of these products are probably vegans, but there is also some ecological milk production, at least there is here in Scandinavia.

The article questioned the morality of farming methods that give less than 60% of the crops you could have gotten from the same area, in a time where food is getting scarce.

I can see the point, but I do not agree fully. First off, making fertilizer is a very energy-demanding process. This may not be a concern here in Norway where we use hydropower, but in most of the world oil is used to get this energy. Energy - and mostly oil - is a big part of the cost in industrial agricultuer as well. By using less of the oil for making fertilizer, there will be more left to other agriculture. So the organic farms are actually helping the industrial farms by leaving more oil for them, thus making non-organic food slighly cheaper to produce. (It won't necessarily sell cheaper, or course, since there is less food overall. But that means the farmers earn more. As a farmboy I applaud this. Today the people who keep us alive earn little, and the merely decorative people live in luxury.)

Second, I am not a big fan of dumping large amounts of poison in the environment. Some of the poisons degrade quickly, others do not. Some of the stuff will probably come back to haunt us, one way or another. History shows that humans are too optimistic about things they can't actually see with the naked eye. Less toxins is a good thing.

Most important, however, is to not use organic farming as a scapegoat. At present it makes up only about 2%, and some of this is in areas that might not have been cultivated at all by industrial agriculture. Organic farming is better suited for small farms, since it is labor-intensive. WIthout the premium price on organic food, it would not have been feasible to run these small farms at all. Some of them might have been combined to form a larger famr, but at least here in Scandinavia many of them are in terrain that limits the size of contiguous arable land. As such, they come in addition to rather than instead of industrial farming. Even if not, however, 2% would not be enough to cause food crisis. Using grain for biofuel is a more important reason, and also rising prices due to high fuel costs for farmers. Don't blame organic farms for any of this. In fact, if we really have reached peak oil, organic farming may eventually become a norm until we have enough nuclear power to make up for the energy shortfall. But that is a story in itself. I notice that people still behave as if the "oil crisis" will blow over once America gets a new president. Good luck with that, kids.
Tags: economy, food, politics
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