We hear a lot — and it's usually scathing — about “industrial agriculture.”
But as author Miriam Horn, who works for the Environmental Defense Fund, points out in a piece for PBS NewsHour, some of these “Big Ag” folks are at the forefront of conservation and sustainability:
Justin Knopf farms 4,500 acres in central Kansas, producing wheat, soy, sorghum and alfalfa for national and global markets, using synthetic pesticides, fertilizer and GMOs.
Justin uses his residues, cover crops and rotations as his first line of defense against pests: preventing weeds from gaining a foothold and confusing insects. But he still needs to “burn down” those cover crops to enable planting and to beat back tenacious weeds. For both, he turns to Roundup, an infamous synthetic herbicid
Most organic farmers make the opposite choice: avoiding chemical herbicides by tilling. But most soil microbiologists believe that causes greater ecological harm. “If you till to avoid herbicides, you do massive damage to soil microbiology,” says Justin’s mentor, Kansas State soil microbiologist Charles Rice. If herbicide, used judiciously, “allows you to leave the soil intact, it is a net environmental positive. We have fields that have been in continuous no-till for 22 years, using herbicides, with ever more microbial diversity and life.”
Dr. Ray Ward, a legendary soil scientist who runs a private testing lab in Nebraska, has charted a steady microbial renaissance in Justin’s soils: in total mass, diversity and vigor. Justin’s soil carbon, depleted to near zero by generations of plowing, is now more than halfway to the 4 percent carbon levels in native prairie soils. With another decade or two of no-till, says Rice, Justin will close that gap.
The most important point the writer makes, though, is this:
There are, in short, no simple, perfect, universal answers. Agriculture can’t be formulaic or dogmatic because, as Justin says, “diverse ecosystems require diverse practices.” He sees, for instance, “crops and geographies and family circumstances where no-till is not the right solution,” including in very cool and poorly drained soils where under thick residues the soil can never dry or warm enough to germinate seeds.
Justin is not an outlier, but part of a large and growing movement across the heartland states: not just to minimize the damage done by large-scale food production, but to use big, intensified agriculture as itself a path to restoring soil life and a stable climate.
We must move away from the "big is bad, pesticides equal poison, GMOs only benefit the chem companies" mode of thinking. If we are to feed more people — and if Hawaii has a prayer of attaining any degree of food self-sufficiency — we have to evaluate all tools and choose the best option for each situation.
Beware the extremists — those who see everything in black in white, who tell you that various forms of agriculture cannot co-exist, who proclaim this is healthy and that is toxic. They're either woefully misinformed, or have some financial incentive (like Center for Food Safety and Hawaii SEED) in maintaining their dug-in position.
Speaking of extremists, Councilman Gary Hooser is suddenly making like he's Mr. Middle Path, Councilman Collaborative. Huh? Since when?
It started when Jose Bulatao sent out this call to Councilmembers and others, including me:
I'm trying to get others to become a part of a concerted effort to focus with due diligence, our roles and responsibilities in why it is important to "malama aina." I truly believe that this is something for ALL of us to focus upon! We cannot continue to lay the responsibility at the feet of "others", so to speak, when "we" have have been party to the use of chemical derivatives to get rid of weeds and insects, ourselves. So, what I'm really trying to do is to establish avenues of communication when and where we can begin to dialogue with one another respectfully and honestly to do what is "pono" (the right thing) which is OUR shared responsibility. Pointing fingers at one another can only go so far. Finding solutions and being a part of that collaborative endeavor is what needs to be done.
Anti-GMO activist and KKCR host Jimmy Trujillo quickly spoke up, offering to host Bulatao on the radio, hold island-wide "town hall public forum type of meetings."
Uh,I think we've all got a very good sense of where the KKCR crowd is coming from, and they're hardly the crew to be at the helm of any sort of "respectful" and "honest" communication process.
Then Hooser chimed in:
Count me in Mr. B! Anyway that I can help, just let me know and I will be there. It would seem that if we could all get in the same room together, great and positive things could happen.
That's quite a statement from a man who has flat-out refused to even visit a seed farm, yet spins outrageous tales about their practices; who introduced and pushed Bill 2491 in a manner that was intended to be divisive and polarizing; who continues to deliberately lie and deceive, uttering blatantly false claims like “they're suing for the right to spray poisons around schools.”
I'm not sure how many people, at this point, would be willing to get in a room with Hooser, much less believe he could create anything “great” or “positive” — save for his disappearance from public life.
Kauai — and Hawaii — desperately needs to heal from the trauma inflicted by the anti-GMO, anti-ag movement.
But as I told Mr. B:
When you start the process with some of the original finger pointers, it may discourage participation by the broad group of people you seem to wish to reach. And then you'll be trying to conduct this process within the same echo chamber that currently exists.
It may be best to wait until after the elections before trying to launch any sort of consensus-building process. And a sincere "sorry" from some of the most egregious offenders wouldn't hurt.