What Would Happen If Farmers All Switched to Organic Crops?

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It's nice to see someone in the Bush administration defending science. The New York Times  is running an interview with biologist Nina Federoff, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences member and science advisor to the secretary of state. Federoff strongly defends biotech crops from their anti-science detractors:

There's almost no food that isn't genetically modified. Genetic modification is the basis of all evolution.

Things change because our planet is subjected to a lot of radiation, which causes DNA damage, which gets repaired, but results in mutations, which create a ready mixture of plants that people can choose from to improve agriculture.

In the last century, as we learned more about genes, we were able to devise ways of accelerating evolution.

So a lot of modern plant strains were created by applying chemicals or radiation to cause mutations that improved the crop. That's how plant breeding was done in the 20th century. The paradox is that now that we've invented techniques that introduce just one gene without disturbing the rest, some people think that's terrible.

http://www.jtrue.com/cartoons/art/low/free_range_tofu.jpg

Federoff notes that organic farming is not sustainable:  

If we put more land under cultivation to feed the world's growing population, we're going to pull down the remaining forests.

And if that happens, it will contribute tremendously to desertification. The more we can grow on already cultivated land, the better. Europe, North America, Australia, Japan — we've been extremely successful in applying science to agriculture and we can afford to say, "Let's go natural." But there's collateral damage.

What kind of collateral damage? How about famine?

If everybody switched to organic farming, we couldn't support the earth's current population — maybe half.

Whole interview here.  

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  1. “There’s almost no food that isn’t genetically modified.”

    True, depending on your meaning and use of the phrase “genetically modified”.

  2. Sounds like a bunch of hyperbole to me.

    “If we put more land under cultivation to feed the world’s growing population, we’re going to pull down the remaining forests.”

    The remaining forests? Uuhh, OK.

    I think most “organic” people are concerned with herbicides and pesticides on the food and going into the ground than with genetic modification. At least that’s why my family eats organic.

    Growing vegetables in your back yard is easy enough.

  3. “If everybody switched to organic farming, we couldn’t support the earth’s current population – maybe half.”

    For certain greens, thats a feature not a bug.

  4. Although GM crops can’t, by definition, produce organic food, they could make it much easier to produce food using organic growing methods. That can only be a good thing. Given the right crops, we could feed the whole world using such practices, and that would mean a lot less energy, a lot less pesticide, a lot less herbicide…

  5. Growing vegetables in your back yard is easy enough.

    What if you don’t have a back yard? Do you produce all the food you need?

  6. True, depending on your meaning and use of the phrase “genetically modified”.

    It doesn’t depend on anyone’s definition. It’s a simple fact. Note the fundamental difference between maize and teosinte. Those are genetic changes. Unknown genetic changes.

    I think most “organic” people are concerned with herbicides and pesticides on the food and going into the ground than with genetic modification.

    That’s not my observation. “Organic” is a lifestyle choice made by people with a sketchy scientific education. GMO is bad. Irradiation is bad. People are bad. The next time you buy your organic mac and cheese, check the box. You will most likely find a giant No GMO label.

  7. Seems like an unsupported claim given the current state of knowledge.

    The science I have seen is equivocal on the efficiency of “organic” methods. Some seem to be more efficient than large monocrop methods, some seem close to equal, some seem less efficient.

    So the devil is in the details.

    “For certain greens, thats a feature not a bug.”

    Yeah, darn those lazy genocidal hippies.
    They are so darn anti-life.
    Bastards.

    [yawn]

  8. What if you don’t have a back yard? Do you produce all the food you need?

    What if you have squirrels that eat all the fcking blackberries and peaches?

    Fcking squirrels.

  9. True, depending on your meaning and use of the phrase “genetically modified”.

    It doesn’t depend on anyone’s definition. It’s a simple fact. Note the fundamental difference between maize and teosinte. Those are genetic changes. Unknown genetic changes.

    “Modified” typically carries the implication that something was changed for a purpose. The usage here implies instead that any mutation is a modification, whether or not it was intentional.

    So, yes, it does depend upon what is meant by “genetically modified.”

  10. What if you have squirrels that eat all the fucking blackberries and peaches?

    That’s what .22s, pellet guns, and cats are for.

  11. Easy. Eat the squirrels.

  12. Mmmm, free range, peach-fed squirrel…..

  13. Organic free range peach-fed squirrel.

    Getcha popcorn machines!

  14. If we changed from eating cows to eating dogs, we’d be better off. Then if we stopped eating pigs, we’d be even better off. Overfishing must stop, we have to use corn for food instead of fuel, and we can replace cotton with hemp for its lower water and herbicidal usage.

    Saving the planet is easy, unless you’re a dog.

  15. What if you don’t have a back yard? Do you produce all the food you need?

    If you don’t have a backyard then go to the store and get organic food.

    That’s not my observation.

    OK, well it’s the main reason my family and a few of our friends eat mostly organic, with our sketchy science backgrounds and all. That organic popcorn tastes like shit though.

  16. I tend to choose organic food because it tastes better and supports local farmers. I guess that makes me a hippie, but so be it. I’d rather support a guy I know instead of a giant factory farm. I now return you to your regularly scheudled sucking of Archer Daniels Midland cock.

  17. If you don’t have a backyard then go to the store and get organic food.

    Wow, you really want me to eat organic food. How about you refrain from telling me what to eat, and stick to yourself?

  18. But… but… but…

    Organic farming is clean. It’s natural, it’s holistic, it’s pure, it’s moral, it makes me feel good and it makes Gaea feel good.

    Peace, Love and Bobby Sherman.

  19. How about you stop asking me what to do if I don’t have a garden and mind your own business?

  20. Uh, Max, to whom was that comment directed?

  21. …or a back yard….

  22. I was using the generic you, Brian. I now see where your excellent grasp of logic comes from. You go ahead and keep applying that to organic vs. non-organic.

  23. Rather than “genically modified” which describes every living thing on the planet, let’s go with “genteticall engineered”. That only desrebes 95% (SWAG) of human caloric intake.

    Wheat, rice, spuds, chicken, pigss, almost all produce etc. Genetically engineered. Why get upset because we’re getting better at it?

  24. Consequences are a bitch, aren’t they?

  25. I prefer genetically modified food, myself. The creepier or more surreal, the better.

  26. I tend to choose organic food because it tastes better and supports local farmers.

    “organic” and “local” are not the same. The “organic” peaches being sold at my local farmers market came from south america not from bob down the road. Why? Because I live in fucking minnesota – ever tried growing peaches in January in -10 degree weather? Also – “Bob” owns a massive factory farm that pumps more into the local economy that a 100 small farms. And produces more food, more efficiently.

    Also I whenever I hear someone say “taste better” I roll my eyes. Most people can’t tell the difference between organic and non-organic produce or meat.

  27. “True, depending on your meaning and use of the phrase “genetically modified”.”

    “It doesn’t depend on anyone’s definition. It’s a simple fact. Note the fundamental difference between maize and teosinte. Those are genetic changes. Unknown genetic changes.”

    Actually, it does depend on the definition. Clearly, you’re using the phrase “genetically modified in its broad sense. Most people using the phrase are referring only to organisms modified by molecular biology techniques, not organisms modified by selective breeding of crops, like corn from teosinte, or crop bananas from wild bananas, etc. In this sense, silver queen corn: not “genetically modified”; BT corn: “genetically modified”.

    Ron and his favorite quote-givers like to conflate the two senses of the phrase.

  28. From a review of Vaclav Smil’s Enriching the Earth:
    The greatest catastrophe that the human race could face this century is not global warming but a global conversion to ‘organic’ farming – an estimated 2 billion people would perish.

    Fewer than Federoff suggests, but still a substantial number. Whole review here.

  29. an estimated 2 billion people would perish.

    Cripes Ron, are you trying to prove you are a hack?

    The little “fewer than he suggests” comment doesn’t get you off the hook for spreading hyperbole rather than information.

  30. I was using the generic you, Brian. I now see where your excellent grasp of logic comes from. You go ahead and keep applying that to organic vs. non-organic.

    I was, too. Maybe you need to brush up on your comprehension skills fucktard.

  31. innominate: But why should the anti-biotechies be allowed to confuse the issue by pretending that genetic modification is some new strange occult and dangerous process? Hundreds of crop varieties genetically modified by random mutation by means of radiation and chemicals have not proven to be dangerous to either health or the environment. There is no scientific evidence that crops enhanced by means of modern molecular biology are deleterious to health or the environment. The anti-biotechies and organickers need to stop lying about the “dangers” of current biotech crops.

  32. Most people can’t tell the difference between organic and non-organic produce or meat.

    I will agree wholeheartedly with the “produce” portion of that statement. There really are some phenomenal organic pig products, though.

  33. I now see where your excellent grasp of logic comes from.

    Really? Is that because you did the same thing I did? You really are amazing, I’ll give you that.

  34. Why get upset because we’re getting better at it?

    Because the scope of the changes and larger, and because they take place faster, than under the traditional cross-breeding that humans have been doing for millenia.

    In theory, this could mean a much more significant unintended consequence (for example, an anti-insect trait that kills the local pollinators) gets distributed across the ecosystem and across the world a lot faster.

    Which would seem to militate for a reliable testing regime for new crops, rather than a ban on the practice.

  35. Neu: So you don’t believe Federoff and Emsley? Got any data? Maybe a book? Alternative information about the nitrogen cycle? Talk to any ag economists? Very persuasive.

  36. joe: Faster and more comprehensive changes than the hundreds of crops produced using chemical and radiation mutation cited above.

  37. You really are amazing, I’ll give you that.

    Thanks, I appreciate it.

    Can you please explain how

    How about you stop asking me what to do if I don’t have a garden and mind your own business?

    applies to me asking what to do if someone (using the generic you) doesn’t have the space for a garden?

  38. joe: Faster and more comprehensive changes than the hundreds of crops produced using chemical and radiation mutation cited above.

    Yes, obviously. It used to take several generations to make the leaves of certain crops a little bigger. Now, an organization like Monsanto can introduce an anti-fungal or anti-insect gene from an entirely different kingdom into a plant’s genetic sequence and that trait, wholly unknown within the species until then, will show up in the next generation.

    Am I supposed to be scared of the words “chemical” and “radiation?” You’ve got the wrong environmentalist.

  39. Neu: So you don’t believe Federoff and Emsley? Got any data? Maybe a book? Alternative information about the nitrogen cycle? Talk to any ag economists? Very persuasive.

    Why should I do your job for you Ron?

    The point is that you are framing this as an either/or debate and inappropriately squaring those who advocate sustainable agriculture against those using genetic engineering to change current ag. practices.

    The hack comment comes from the fact that you have picked the side you want to win in a competition between methods and are using hyperbole to discredit the other side…all the while admitting that it is hyperbole.

    Why pick out the quote you did if you find his estimate to be overly pessimistic?

    My guess is because you know most people will not bother to read the book and will simply remember the number…and the implied message: organic farming is a very bad idea that will kill billions of people.

    Propaganda is distinct from journalism.

    Like I said above, the science on this issue is equivocal. To pretend it has been decided is ridiculous.

    Unless you are advocating a partisan position that does not care about the science.

  40. If genetic changes brought about by radiation and chemicals brought about desired traits as fast as genetic modification, and if the changes were as substantial as those that could achieved through that process, why would it have been invented?

    Just how long do you think you’d have to dose broccoli before it took on the anti-frost characteristics of a halibut, anyway?

  41. I meant back yard, which is why I added it after that. See, here’s how it went…

    ME: Growing vegetables in your back yard is easy enough.

    (SPECIFIC) YOU: What if you don’t have a back yard? Do you produce all the food you need?

    ME: If you don’t have a backyard then go to the store and get organic food. (see, it was generic you – and where specific you starts being a total dick)

    (SPECIFIC) YOU: Wow, you really want me to eat organic food. How about you refrain from telling me what to eat, and stick to yourself?

    ME: How about you stop asking me what to do if I don’t have a garden (…or a back yard….) and mind your own business?

    I was just reciprocating the personal attack.

  42. See Ron, what the partisan hacks do is they pick something scary to say about the other side…and repeat it over and over again, whether or not it is true or supported by the science.

    So,

    “Genetic engineering will turn all our squash into inedible plastic, and kill off all the good insects” is set up against “organic farming will kill 2 billion people.”

    Both statements are unsupportable based on the science. You have chosen to repeat one to refute the other.

    That’s what a hack would do.

  43. One thing with Reason, it represents big corporate interests. That means big agri-business. That’s why Reason pimps mass unskilled immigration.

    “Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies—all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food,” she said.

  44. (SPECIFIC) YOU: What if you don’t have a back yard? Do you produce all the food you need?

    BZZZZZZT

    Sorry buddy, the first you was not a specific you. It was “what if (a person) doesn’t have a back yard?” The second you was a specific, as I was asking what you did when you didn’t have enough produce.

    ME: If you don’t have a backyard then go to the store and get organic food.

    Yes, a generic you as well, where you want everyone to go get organic food–which includes me, thereby begetting my response of

    (SPECIFIC) YOU: Wow, you really want me to eat organic food. How about you refrain from telling me what to eat, and stick to yourself?

    So your statement of

    ME: How about you stop asking me what to do if I don’t have a garden (…or a back yard….) and mind your own business?

    is fully based on your inability to see that my very first “you” was generic.

    So asking you not to tell me what to eat is a personal attack? You are both thin-skinned and unable to discern well between generic and specific “you”.

  45. True William, it’s getting nauseating.

  46. William R,

    Thanks for posting those studies…but I must admit I don’t follow your “mass unskilled immigration comment.”

    How are these issues tied together at all?
    Organic farms use human labor as much or more than industrial farms. No?

  47. Neu, go farm organic. With the money saved on fertilizers coupled with equal or better yields, you’ll kick indy farmers and ADMs ass in no time. Just don’t forget us little guys when you make it big. Please wave to us from your solar poweered limo.

  48. I try to primarily eat organic food becuase the silicon based foods are too tough.

  49. Yes, a generic you as well, where you want everyone to go get organic food–which includes me, thereby begetting my response of

    There’s where you fucked up – I never said or implied everyone like you assumed I did. So, then you (apparently) mistakenly attacked me with How about you refrain from telling me what to eat, and stick to yourself? when I was using the same “you” you were using.

  50. Reliance on cheap labor hurts U.S. agricultural productivity because it removes the incentive to mechanize.

  51. “Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies—all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food,” she said.

    You quote that to support your position? Really?

    Fucking corporations, sitting in their big corporation buildings, being all corporationy…

  52. JsubD,

    Sorry, I have done my time on the farm.
    It ain’t the life for me.

    And, in case you didn’t notice, I said that the science was equivocal…I have not claimed that organic farming has greater yields…just that it has yet to be determined if it can equal current methods.

    Good to see that you have picked a side, however.

    Again I see that you are on the side of centrally planned and produced rather than distributed and diverse production.

    I find that odd in a libertarian.

    ;^)

  53. So, then you (apparently) mistakenly attacked me with How about you refrain from telling me what to eat, and stick to yourself? when I was using the same “you” you were using.

    It’s so cute that you consider me asking you not to tell me what to eat to be an attack. If I ask you not to punch me, did I just commit assault on you?

  54. William R,

    And mechanized organic farming would be more productive than organic farming using cheap available labor? Is that your point?

    Which would be more efficient if you calculate energy usage into the mix? Does a large harvesting machine have a smaller environmental footprint than a group of human harvesters? Is mechanized farming more sustainable (the point to organic farming, I believe)?

    Just asking.

  55. “All organic” vs. “all industrial” is a pointless argument anyway.

    The point of organic agriculture, as far as I’m concerned, is to pioneer methods that are low-energy, low-pollution, and environmentally more sustainable overall, so that they can be adopted by the mainstream agricultural producers. If it can be shown that potato farmers can get rid of 90% of their insecticides through some smarter methods, and that practice gets mainstreamed, that is an enormous force for good. If getting that last 10% out of the system would mean clearing large amounts of woodlands, nobody’s going to demand that.

    You see a lot of asserted-compassion for poor farmers in the developing world. News flash: your typical subsistence farmer, or one just a little above that level, isn’t going to be buying barrels of insecticide for his crops, even if he wanted to. On the other hand, the growing expertise of the organic-farming movement is producing practices that such a farmer can adopt, and increase his well-being. And oh btw, his kids and grandkids are going to have better soil when their turn comes.

  56. Ron, I don’t have a problem with GMO per se, but I dislike the semantic tactics of argumentation that conflate two fundamentally different processes.

  57. YOU: What if you don’t have a car to get you to work?

    ME: Then (you) take the bus.

    YOU: Hey, don’t fucking tell me what to do man!

  58. robc,

    I try to primarily eat organic food because the silicon based foods are too tough.

    I always knew deep down inside that you were a carbon-based bigot.

  59. the innominate one,

    Ron, I don’t have a problem with GMO per se, but I dislike the semantic tactics of argumentation that conflate two fundamentally different processes.

    Seconded.

  60. Again I see that you are on the side of centrally planned and produced rather than distributed and diverse production.

    You see that where? Perhaps my proposal that farmers be forced by law to apply pesticides and fertilizers? Perhaps my support for taxation of organic producers to “level the playing field”? Perhaps my belief that I know soooo much more about the best way to get improved yields than all of those people who only do it for a fucking living?

    Or perhaps you are merely vocalizing via your excretory system?

  61. JsubD,

    Or maybe I was just busting your balls.

  62. Then it’s D.
    😉

  63. Ron,

    Maybe you show stop posting this kind of stuff until you guys get a handle on the sock puppet chorus. The ADM/illegal immigration obsessed asswipe is clearly the same person under, by my count, four different names. This site obviously came to the attention of some internet hippie crusader cuntrag, and he thinks trolling and insults will bring us to the light. (Until proven wrong, I will blame The Utne Reader.)

    Pointing this out will probably get me accused of being a Monsanto employee again, but so be it. I bet a lot of photographic archivists are secretly plants of the agribusiness KKKonspiracy.

  64. More ball busting:

    JsubD,

    The majority of people who farm know do it this way, therefore it must be the most efficient way to do it. If the alternative you advocate is better then these experts will recognize its advantages and it will win in the market place.

    Try this in the political arena.

    The majority supports the current non-libertarian system of government. If the alternative you advocate is better, then society will recognize this and it will win in the market place.

    There is no need to advocate for the alternative approach. Somehow its advantages will just emerge.

  65. that is “who farm now”

  66. YOU: Hey, don’t fucking tell me what to do man!

    And this is an attack how? Note that I also did not use fucking, but you felt you had to add it to ramp up the aggression you perceive.

    By the way, by arguing with you, am I bullying you by your question = attack logic? I’m just curious.

  67. Would hippies smoke GM marijuana?

  68. Millions Against Monsanto Campaign

    And here is Ron Bailey pimping for Monsanto.

  69. Bingo, they don’t seem to be too worried about organic farming practices when it comes to hydroponic BC bud.

    Hey, stranger, stop using my computer and typing about subjects I have no personal knowledge or experience with! Stop it, I say, or I shall thrash you soundly! What is that, Budweiser served at Boston College?

  70. Epi,

    How does the over-lapping demos of “everybody should live in a city/urban area for the environment” and “grow stuff in the backyard like we’ve never heard of the division of labor concept” reconcile themselves?

    Extra-large balconies, perhaps? A complete ignorance of economies of scale?

  71. Lol, SugarFree.

    I like the people who think they are being environmentalists because they demand large lot sizes in subdivisions being built.

    That way, everybody has a twelve foot strip of trees between their yards. You know. It preserves habitat.

  72. What if you don’t have a back yard?

    If you don’t have a backyard then go to the store and get organic food.

    Wow, you really want me to eat organic food. How about you refrain from telling me what to eat, and stick to yourself?

    Sounds to me like an attack of the bi-polar sort. Maybe you were attacking yourself? Decided you didn’t want your question answered?

  73. Bingo and joe,

    While not done in the lab by scaring labcoat guys with clipboards, almost all marijuana not scraped out of ditch in Mexico is heavily GMO’ed and not slowly over a few generations. There are a bunch of underground techniques to mutate seeds and roll the genetic dice.

  74. NutraSweet, you (SPECIFIC YOU) use this word reconcile. Why would they need to do that? It’s about how you (GENERIC YOU) feel, not about reality.

  75. Maybe you were attacking yourself?

    I’d joke that this must be what I was doing, except that your statement makes no sense.

    You are obsessed with an imaginary attack.

  76. everybody has a twelve foot strip of trees between their yards

    Hey! Those Bradford Pears are the only thing standing between the future and total environmental devastation!

    Seriously though, unless you are prepared to invest hundreds of hours and have a large yard, you are better off economically and sanity-wise just going to the farmer’s market. The best thing to grow in the backyard for a cost/taste/ease profit is herbs and tomatoes.

    And I have and support small lots because mowing grass is the most pointless activity known to man.

  77. While not done in the lab by scaring labcoat guys with clipboards, almost all marijuana not scraped out of ditch in Mexico is heavily GMO’ed and not slowly over a few generations. There are a bunch of underground techniques to mutate seeds and roll the genetic dice.

    Fuck the bears in Montana – THIS is where federal research dollars shou….Hey, I told you not to use the keyboard! How’d you get back in here?!?

  78. The best thing to grow in the backyard for a cost/taste/ease profit is herbs and tomatoes.

    Depends on the her…HEY! That’s it, I’m calling the police!

  79. joe,

    The best way to keep him out is to push a rolled up towel up to the crack under the door.

  80. Or exhale through a drier sheet stuffed into a paper towel tube.

  81. Millions Against Monsanto Campaign

    Who fucking cares? Millions read their horoscope. Millions believe the Bible is literally true. Collecting millions of dumbasses in a world of billions just ain’t that friggin’ impressive.

    Feel free to farm anyway you desire and feel free to eat food from any producer you wish. I am against false advertising/labelling so lack of access to organic food ain’t my fault. If it’s better, the market will sort it out. If it’s merely a niche market for aging hippies, the market will figure that out as well.

  82. Or exhale through a drier sheet stuffed into a paper towel tube.

    That is pointed directly at your cat’s ears. Cats like MJ. A lot.

  83. The majority of people who farm know do it this way, therefore it must be the most efficient way to do it. If the alternative you advocate is better then these experts will recognize its advantages and it will win in the market place.

    No. If a better, more efficient method of production appears it will eventually be adopted due to market forces. But you know how that works. The whole capitalist economies out produce socialist/command economies thingee. You know why that works, too.

  84. JsubD,

    If it’s better, the market will sort it out.

    What role does information, misinformation, and preconception play in the market?

    Serious question.

    Do you believe that there is anything like an attractor state in complex systems?

    In other words, do systems get in ruts that work to maintain a current local state even if there is a more efficient state that could be reached if the system were to break out of the rut?

    Does it take energy to do that?
    Or will the information be distributed by some invisible mechanism other than human dialog about the advantages and disadvantages of doing things differently?

    Does this require that the conversation include accurate information?

    Can bias or misinformation warp the market and degrade its results?

  85. I warned you kids of the dangers of genetically modified marijuana using colchicine back in the 1970s.

  86. J sub D | August 19, 2008, 1:38pm | #

    If it’s merely a niche market for aging hippies, the market will figure that out as well.

    It’s growing by double digits yearly. So it’s not a niche market. Bailey represents the big guys. I have no problem with that. Organic farming is saving the family farm The people Bailey represents want to see the family farm be a thing of the past. A little truth in advertising would be nice!

  87. Pet rock sales are growing by double digits! They are not a niche market!

  88. The best thing to grow in the backyard for a cost/taste/ease profit is herbs and tomatoes.

    You left out hops.

  89. robc,

    As long as hops don’t get your dogs shot because of a stupid neighbor thinking you have a ill-disguised marijuana growing operation.

  90. William R,

    I am still interested in your reasoning regarding mechanized farming as it relates to organic farming and immigration.

    Current practices seem pretty mechanized, particularly the closer you get to “the big guys.”

  91. William R: Try these FAQs on organic farming from Nature.

  92. NM,

    In other words, do systems get in ruts that work to maintain a current local state even if there is a more efficient state that could be reached if the system were to break out of the rut?

    I think annealing is a better metaphor than attractors. To cross threads (dont cross the threads), boom/bust cycles lead to economic annealing. 🙂 The busts break us out of ruts and allow the economy to find a better, more efficient state.

  93. Maize: The original GM crop!

  94. Be careful NM, he’ll start suggesting speech therapists are also part of the KKKonspiracy.

    By the way, you guys are cruel. If you have a lisp you can’t say the word “lisp.” I’d be like me having to tell people I have diabetes by successfully releasing sugar molecules off of my red blood cells.

  95. Hops, robc?

    Props, robc. That’s pretty cool.

  96. robc,

    You are referring to this idea perhaps?

    http://mathworld.wolfram.com/SimulatedAnnealing.html

    I think both attractor states in the system are a pretty good metaphor for current practices.

    We could talk about market inertia as well.

  97. joe,

    Im not growing any yet, Im considering planting some next year. The price is getting outrageous. By the time I have some, the crisis will be over and the price back to reasonable. But I could make some cool harvest ales.

    BTW, this is a good point as any to brag a bit: I took 2 first places in homebrewing at the KY state fair (going on right now, at a Louisville near you). I won the english pale ale and german wheat/rye categories with my ESB and Hefeweizen respectively.

  98. NM,

    Without clicking on the link, yeah. Although I was referring to the actual physical process that simulated annealing, um, err, simulates.

  99. From the nature article, regarding the problem of nitrogen problem and meat production…

    This takes land out of commercial production, reducing the overall yield of a plot over time. Although some legumes are edible, the most efficient nitrogen-fixers, such as clover, are not.

    Cows don’t eat clover?
    Can’t the nitrogen fixing plants also be used to feed the meat producing animals? Isn’t it all about balancing production so that each step is counter-balanced according to benefits and costs?

    I wonder.

  100. William R,

    Could that effect, perhaps, be due to the tomato being picked at closer to peak ripeness?

    Any thoughts on the mechanical organic farming question?

  101. Neu: Cross posted from Gingrich blog above:

    Neu: Finally, inflating organic farming versus drilling industrial farming of GM products is a false partisan dichotomy. Why not do both?

    Way, way ahead of you. See my 2002 column in which I argue for combining relevant organic and biotech techniques to create a truly sustainable agriculture:

    The Swiss researchers did find some true benefits from organic farming, including greater water retention by the soil and a higher presence of beneficial insects. Unfortunately, they did not test their organic systems against the newest form of conventional agriculture, no-till farming combined with genetically enhanced crops. This uses much less energy and less pesticides than the old-fashioned systems examined by the Swiss scientists.

    Since no-till farmers don’t plow, their tractors use less fuel. Also, since weed control is achieved using environmentally benign herbicides instead of mechanical removal through plowing, even more fuel is saved. Finally, no-till farmers use less insecticide, since genetically enhanced crops can protect themselves against pests. Against all this, organic farming’s 19 percent energy advantage would likely disappear.

    No-till farming matches several other advantages of organic agriculture as well. Both methods offer improved soil structure, more water retention, greatly reduced soil erosion, less pesticide and fertilizer runoff, and a higher presence of beneficial insects. Although organic farmers refuse to see it, switching to genetically enhanced crops would go a long way toward accomplishing their avowed goals of restoring their land and helping the natural environment.

    One final argument often offered by organic enthusiasts is that organic farming is more profitable. Of course, the reason organic foods command a premium at supermarkets is that so many consumers have been bamboozled into thinking that they are somehow superior. If organic farming became widespread, that premium would dissipate and take its higher profitability with it.

    Now if only the organickers would stop their purely ideological campaign against biotech.

  102. William R.

    If “organic” is taking the world by storm, I’m sure I’ll start seeing it dominate the shelf space at the local supermarket.

    I see my light come shining
    From the west unto the east.
    Any day now, any day now,
    I shall be released.*

    * From pesticide and fertilizer poisoned agricultural products.

  103. While the farmer’s market has some very nice produce, the organic section of the local grocery stores and food co-op contains some of the saddest fucking examples of “organic” food ever. The apples look like they were shat out of a worm’s ass. The lemons are tiny and taste metallic. Yes, this is anecdotal, but it’s a marketing problem.

    Also, there is a lot of convenient confusion of locovore, organic production, and GMO foods. While they overlap, they are all not the same. They only reason to deliberately confuse them is “food as politics.”

    Do libertarians want to make local food illegal? Do libertarians want to make “organic” production of food mandatory? Do libertarians want to control what you eat? Food politics didn’t start with us.

  104. Neu,

    I recognize the long and storied history of research and education in improving agriculteral yields. The dumbass ideas that emerged from academia failed in the market and are discarded, forgotten. The good ones are regularly used by the good folks that grow food. This ain’t gonna change with organic farming practices.

    Take the family 5,000 acres and go organic. You’ll make more, less, or the same amount as your neighbors. They will notice and respond accordingly. Farmers ain’t stupid, nor are they 100% averse to risk. Granted, they have poor fashion sense, but pigs and vegetables don’t seem to mind.

  105. The paradox is that it’s precisely this scientific gaming of crop production that allowed runaway population growth to begin with.

    Attrition, here we come.

  106. Just follow the money behind William, folks. No surprises there.

  107. If I were robc, I’d plant the hope.

    1. He’s obviously good enough at brewing that it’s worth it to get the hops just right someday.

    2. This probably will not be the last time prices rise in his life.

  108. Er, hops.

    Not an Obama thread.

  109. If everyone would just plant hope in their backyards, America could be independent of foreign emotions of aspiration by 2027.

  110. Cross posted and elaborated response to Ron’s cross posted response.

    Neu Mejican | August 19, 2008, 2:25pm | #
    Now if only the organickers would stop their purely ideological campaign against biotech.

    Now please go back to bashing Gingrich.

    You started so well Ron, and then had to get in that little partisan dig.

    Organickers?
    Really?

    Dogmatic thinking should always be criticized, but you are too quick to lump a whole movement under the flag of the zealots.

    It gives your arguments a partisan sheen that detracts from their power.

    If you had posted the above idea regarding a combination of GM and organic, or pointed out the false dichotomy inherent in your headline, or pointed out that the interview you link to has a series of unsupported statements, or pointed out that the current research is equivocal on the efficiency question, you would have looked less like a hack from the beginning.

    But, the little partisan dig at the “organickers” makes me think you can’t see past the us vs. them dimension of this issue.

  111. JsubD,

    Like I alluded to above…I have worked on farm and know farmers. I am not sure I agree with your assessment of how quickly innovations spread in the community.

    For most farms, a wrong choice can lead to disaster, so while they are not 100% risk aversive, they are a pretty conservative lot. Mix that with misinformation from sources like Ron and William R and you lower the chances that a better way to do things will be adopted without active advocacy by more objective sources.

    What is unfortunate is that dogmatists on both sides prefer to spread misinformation rather having an honest debate.

    The “market forces” you think are gonna handle all of this include accurate information getting to the producers and consumers. Partisan hacks degrade the efficiency of that process.

  112. joe,

    1a. There are problems with getting the hops “just right”. Not being able to analyize the hops and get the alpha acid % is a big problem with homegrown hops. Vital knowledge for bittering. However, its far less important for late addition aroma hops and dry hopping, so there is that.

    1b. KY’s climate isnt the best for growing hops. They will grow, but I think its too humid to really kick ass.

    2. The price rise this time was mainly due to a confluence of weird events the last few years. One, frickin ethanol. Some hop farmers switched to corn. Also, some bad seasons in both US and Europe hop regions. Also, also, at least 1 huge fire that destroyed a big chunk of hops last year. Hops have gone up about 500% over the last 2 years. Makes oil seem pedestrian. And there have been shortages in many varieties. Things are looking better though, this year weather cooperated, no major disasters so far, and more farmers have switched to hop farming due to the price increase – unfortunately, it takes about 3 seasons to get the vines up to full production.

    All that said, I may plant a few rhizomes if I can figure out where to run them.

  113. [joke that may lead to a visit from secret service self-censored]

  114. Like I alluded to above…I have worked on farm and know farmers. I am not sure I agree with your assessment of how quickly innovations spread in the community.

    I don’t believe I ever contended that it’s a rapid process. Rather that in a free market, it’s an inevitable one. I may have contended that governmental interference would be counterproductive to increasing crop yields though. The argument, which AFAIK you haven’t made, this time they’ll get it right, sways me not at all.

    What is unfortunate is that dogmatists on both sides prefer to spread misinformation rather having an honest debate.

    I’m a rational environmentalist who gives a rat’s ass about the poverty stricken underdeveeloped world. Preacher, choir, you know.

  115. Why can’t you have GMO organic crops, again? I thought organic had mostly to do with how you grow (what fertilizers/techniques you use), rather than what you grow.

    Absent, of course, an arbitrary definition that only randomly mutated organisms can be deemed “organic.”

  116. JsubD,

    Environmental harms, like economic harms, burden the poor more than the wealthy. Solutions for environmental problems benefit the poor more than the wealthy.

    Environmental harms, interestingly, on balance, result more from the the activities of the wealthy than the poor. And, as a result, costs for environmental solutions will need to be born more by the wealthy than by the poor.

    But…solutions to environmental harms exist that end up benefiting both the wealthy and the poor. Economically and otherwise.

    But, I forget, you know THE TRUTH about environmentalists and their hate for the poor.

  117. I may have contended that governmental interference would be counterproductive to increasing crop yields though. The argument, which AFAIK you haven’t made, this time they’ll get it right, sways me not at all.

    As far as I know current government policy on farming pushes the status quo and according to recent statements made by the government’s representative on the issue (and quoted by Ron Bailey of Reason magazine), changes to that status quo will result in BILLIONS OF PEOPLE STARVING.

    I wonder who has a largely lobby pushing their agenda, industrial farming, GM crop developers, or the organic foods industry.

    Really.
    I wonder.

  118. ACK

    Largely = larger.

  119. One thing with Reason, it represents big corporate interests. That means big agri-business. That’s why Reason pimps mass unskilled immigration.

    You forgot about the gun industry. Anyway, can I get drink out of this?

  120. Now, an organization like Monsanto can introduce an anti-fungal or anti-insect gene from an entirely different kingdom into a plant’s genetic sequence and that trait, wholly unknown within the species until then, will show up in the next generation.

    To be fair, and organization like Harvard or Texas A&M can do the same.

    Singling out Monsanto makes the argument smack of “evil corporations!” rather than a scientific one.

  121. News flash: your typical subsistence farmer, or one just a little above that level, isn’t going to be buying barrels of insecticide for his crops, even if he wanted to.

    No shit. It’s not about pesticides and fertilizers, it’s about GE crops that need much less of that stuff.

    But the GE crops are protected by IP royalties, so it basically comes down to which way the farmer wants to get ass-fucked – lower yields, fertilizer-and-pesticide bills, or IP royalty payments.

  122. Russ2000,

    Which is why organic farming methods make the most sense in the developing world, imho. They can get higher yields than traditional farming methods, don’t need the fertilizer, and don’t involve IP royalty payments.

    The estimates that I have seen for Africa would be a tripling of agricultural production by adopting organic farming methods appropriate to each region. Even if this is a lower yield than GM crops, the investment in organic farming is an investment of labor and knowledge rather than capital investments for chemicals or high-tech seed purchases.

    Now, of course, I see no problem using organic methods with GM crops, but when GM crops are designed as part of a pesticide/seed pair, then they cannot be grown “organic” and they come with additional costs not associated with traditional seeds.

  123. In a country where a sizable majority of adults believe in God and astrology, the skepticism about genetically modified foods is hardly surprising. Americans are scientifically illiterate fat fucks living on borrowed money and nationalist fantasies.

  124. Growing vegetables in your back yard is easy enough.

    As long as you have one. And as long as the one you have is big enough. And live in a climate conducive to such activity. And have the time and patience to do it.

  125. I think most “organic” people are concerned with herbicides and pesticides on the food and going into the ground than with genetic modification.

    Funny, so are pro-GM folks. You know, making resistant crops and stuff. Just a passing thought.

  126. I now return you to your regularly scheudled sucking of Archer Daniels Midland cock.

    Bah, that’s the domain of Democrats and Republicans.

    Since the 2000 election cycle, ADM has given more than $3 million in political contributions: $1.2 million to Democrats and $1.85 million to Republicans. These donations may have helped sustain a multitude of government subsidies to ADM, including ethanol tax credits, tariffs against foreign ethanol competitors, and federally mandated ethanol additive standards.

  127. “If everybody switched to organic farming, we couldn’t support the earth’s current population – maybe half.”

    I’ve seen such statements many times, and invariably they turn out to be snap generalizations made, on little reflection, by people with little concrete knowledge of organic techniques. It’s one of those things the people in the agribusiness/USDA/research complex like to repeat that “just ain’t so.” I’ve heard such bald assertions from, among others, an agribusiness professor and an agricultural extension agent. In response, I asked “Are you seriously saying the world couldn’t feed itself on the same amount of land using intensive raised-bed techniques, careful rainwater conservation, composting and green manuring?” The answer: “Oh, you mean like in Japan? Well, I guess the world might not starve if that kind of thing was widely adopted.”

    Such party line statements typically assume a continuation of the same kind of inefficient and land-wasteful row-cropping used by conventional large-scale, mechanized, chemical farming–just without the chemicals.

    In fact, soil-intensive cultivation on small plots (IOW, adoption of the kind of technique that’s specifically suited to organic farming) is actually more productive per acre than large-scale row cropping on the American pattern. It produces less per unit of *labor*, but a labor shortage really isn’t the problem in the Third World; in fact the slums of the Third World are filled with former peasant subsistence farmers who were evicted from the land against their will. People who would have been better off being allowed to produce *any* food on their own land are now unable to buy the food produced by cash crop agribusiness at *any* price, because they’re living in tin-roof shantytowns with no source of income. Any form of farming that produces more per acre and puts them back on the land is a net plus.

    The kinds of blanket assertions Federoff makes are based on an intellectually dishonest comparison that assumes organic farmers *don’t* adopt the best available techniques. In fact there are avaiable techniques for increasing organic output far beyond the prevailing model of traditional peasant farming. The techniques developed by Rodale and Bromfield in the mid-20th century were a radical improvement on the typical pre-chemical techniques of fifty years before; and the intensive raised bed farming of John Jeavons is a quantum increase on that. Jeavons, using double-digging in raised beds, composts all agricultural and human waste, and used leguminous cover crops to increase soil fertility, can produce a subsistence diet for one person on 4000 sq. ft.–one tenth of an acre. I see no evidence whatever that

    So there are actually two *alternative* models for increasing food output beyond the present techniques prevailing among peasant subsistence farmers. One of them, the path not taken, leaves peasants on their land and involves increasing productivity through careful conservation of soil and rainwater. The second, which involves mass peasant evictions and the large-scale use of chemicals affordable only by rich agribusiness interests and subsidized irrigation inputs provided preferentially by the state to big operators, has crowded out the first.

  128. Russ and Neu, Since when do organic crops not need fertilizer? I don’t know if it was mentioned above, but there simply isn’t enough poop in the world to fertilize enough organic crops to feed 8-10b people, let alone enough land to do it.
    The Michigan study is non-composted BS. The lead author is an anthropologist, not an agronomist. And the entire study is based on modeling. REAL experience over the last 50 years says that organic yields are 40-50% lower than conventional ag. End of story.
    “the investment in organic farming is an investment of labor…” And you think this is a good thing?! Remember the next time you buy a bag of organic lettuce that the growers in CA got an exemption on the hand weeding ban. Of course, hand weeding is ergonomically disastrous for farm workers. Perhaps you owe them a pat on their sore backs;(

  129. “There’s almost no food that isn’t genetically modified.”

    I’m trying not to lose faith in science, but it’s getting increasingly harder, when you hear that brilliant maverick biologist in the Bush administration pours out a kind of the shit quoted.

    Strangely enough, Ron buys it… Or it’s just his agenda.

  130. LorenE,

    Since when do organic crops not need fertilizer?

    They don’t need chemical fertilizers.
    Sorry if I gave you the impression I believed otherwise. (Let’s avoid a discussion of what “chemical” means in that sentence).

    The Michigan study is non-composted BS. The lead author is an anthropologist, not an agronomist. And the entire study is based on modeling. REAL experience over the last 50 years says that organic yields are 40-50% lower than conventional ag. End of story.

    Sorry, I already distrust your judgment/objectivity on this subject.

    People who see things as black and white are not to be trusted…

    END OF STORY

    And you think this is a good thing?! Remember the next time you buy a bag of organic lettuce that the growers in CA got an exemption on the hand weeding ban. Of course, hand weeding is ergonomically disastrous for farm workers. Perhaps you owe them a pat on their sore backs;(

    Yes, I think that a poor farmer being able to profit from his labor without significant up front capital investment is a good thing.

    Ergonomically disastrous though it may be.

  131. I don’t know if it was mentioned above, but there simply isn’t enough poop in the world to fertilize enough organic crops to feed 8-10b people, let alone enough land to do it.

    [citation needed]

  132. Kevin Carson,

    Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

    You are gonna make some heads explode around here.

    So there are actually two *alternative* models for increasing food output beyond the present techniques prevailing among peasant subsistence farmers. One of them, the path not taken, leaves peasants on their land and involves increasing productivity through careful conservation of soil and rainwater. The second, which involves mass peasant evictions and the large-scale use of chemicals affordable only by rich agribusiness interests and subsidized irrigation inputs provided preferentially by the state to big operators, has crowded out the first.

    You said that way better than I did.
    I do think, however, that there is much work to do to demonstrate the effectiveness of this claim.

  133. Thanks, Neu Mejican. And *of course* organic crops need fertiliser. But there’s this thing called “nitrogen fixing bacteria”….

  134. Oh, where to begin,
    “The Michigan study is non-composted BS…”
    “Sorry, I already distrust your judgment/objectivity on this subject.”
    I’m sure you do. Of course this study has been thoroughly debunked. What they claimed were organic yields weren’t…quite…well, organic. So the data was, shall we say, skewed in your favor. But you BELIEVE it, right. Stacked up against the lower yields we continue to see in the real world, your conclusion doesn’t exactly come off as objective.
    “People who see things as black and white are not to be trusted…” OK let’s see. GM is bad, “chemical” fertilizer is bad, fungicides are bad, insecticides (man-made) are bad, herbicides are bad and multi-national companies that make money are devils incarnate. And I’M seeing the world in black and white?
    Check out the Center for Global Food Issues for more about the worldwide manure shortage. I’m sure you’ll love these guys!

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