Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Which came first, GM foods or big farms?

My father was a farmer. He now makes way more money renting it out than he ever did farming it.

He was on the tail end of the revolution to big farms that happened in the 1980s. Today I visited the farmer who is renting most of my dad's land with my brother and kids.

People wonder why we have GM foods...and I'm not sure which came first, GM or big farms. But what I do know was that the old way of farming wasn't sustainable from a "making enough money to support your family" point of view (my dad quit when my mom was laid off...most years he brought home less than $500). This lead to consolidation into much larger farms--like several thousand acres (my dad had a thousand acres, and that wasn't enough).

But how do you actually care for thousands of acres? The answer...bigger and bigger implements and GM crops. There is no way you're going to weed 5,000 acres with you and two farm hands, you need something you can spray on once and be done. The harvesters we saw today could accomplish in two hours what used to take my dad all day to do.

The cost is just staggering, too. A new combine (which you'd use for less than a month a year) costs $500,000. Add a couple of tractors, trucks, and a sprayer and you're looking at several millions of dollars of capital...without any land. There is no way someone could just "decide" to be a farmer--it is just too expensive.

It's hard to know what to think. Farmers need to make enough to support their families, but is high throughput farming really the answer? We've joined a CSA this year in an attempt to support local farming, but is that the answer?

It reminds me of doing science--high throughput, several million dollars of equipment to really be productive...what will happen to this small family farmer?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I'm officially department chair...

...at least by the pile of file folders I needed to make room for in my office! July 1 was my official start date. Ugh, if I hadn't agreed to do this several years ago, I definitely wouldn't be!