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industrial tomatoe prduction

Posted by harvestman 6 (My Page) on
Sun, Aug 18, 13 at 11:47

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/17/not-all-industrial-food-is-evil/?hp

I think this is a pretty balanced article about conventional tomato growing and packing some of you might find interesting. Seems like there may be hope for sustainable, massive and inexpensive farm production.

What happened to the ability to post a link?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

The link went to a missing page,so I took the space out between the o and the d in food and found it,thanks,harvestman. Brady

Here is a link that might be useful: Not All Industrial Food Is Evil


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It was just mentioned this morning on a Sunday talk show that Italian canning companies use a resin inside of their cans containing Estrogen. Hmmmmmm


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BPA.. I avoid it like the plague, but its almost impossible to avoid. I buy my tomato juice in plastic or paste in glass jars. I also buy my sauce (i grew very few tomatoes because i got so annoyed with 100's of pounds of them at one time) in glass jars... I know JSOnline (in Milwaukee) had a very good series on BPA.


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But what about the article? Interesting or not?


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Very interesting article, i do appreciate you posting. I had no idea CA was such a big producer of canned toms. 30% of the world's canned tomatoes, 80% of the world almond crop... more stone fruits than imaginable... citrus...veggies shipped all over the country and the world.

One can only be stunned by the scale of California agriculture. While it is impressive, having the US or the world so dependent on one valley is a food security nightmare.

The near failure of the almond crop a couple years ago due to colony collapse made the risks obvious. The only thing that saved the world's almond crop was a late cold spell that slowed the blossoms long enough to get more bees from FL and elsewhere on the east coast to the almond groves. Even without global weirding, extreme weather events such as severe drought or a couple of 100-year floods could severely affect the supply of produce throughout the US.

The one thing I wonder is this: is the humus in the soil increasing or decreasing. The Central Valley is a goldmine of super-rich alluvial soils that has been mined over the last 100 years. It won't last forever. John Jeavons says globally, we have about 50 years of topsoil left at current depletion rates.

When I visited the Greek islands, I saw the devastation of short-sighted agriculture on a mediterranean climate. The islands are all terraced. The small island I was on once supported a population of 40,000 people, now down to 2,000. The springs dried up, because water (and soil) just runs down the rocky hillsides into the sea, instead of sinking in.

The orchards of the central valley will at least not blow or wash away. Fields that are tilled and farmed conventionally will loose humus every year and fields that are farmed organically will gain humus. Interestingly, some research has been done to show that farm profitability is directly proportional to the amount of humus in the soil. 0.5% higher in organic matter in the soil makes a measurable difference in profitability.

As for BPA free canned goods, as far as I know Eden Foods is the only brand that does all BPA free for all their cans. We rarely use canned tomatoes, but we buy the Eden garbanzos and other beans. You'll pay a little more, but very good quality.


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Don't get carried away with the agricultural importance of CA. The staple crops mostly come from the middle of the country, California is more the fruit and salad bowl.

Wheat, soy and corn are the primary substinence of our diets in this country.


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Here are some a fun facts (California's Agriculture):


More than 99 % of crops that are cultivated in the United States come from the Central Valley: apricots, almonds, grapes, plums, nectarines, peaches, avocadoes, olives, artichokes, raisins, kiwifruit, walnuts, figs and dates (Great Valley Center).

Since 2007 about 156 countries depend on California’s agriculture and in return they have generated $10.91 billion dollars in revenue to the state’s economy (Cornett).

The 1987-1992 droughts caused an estimated $264, 000, 000 millions of dollars of crop loss (Duane). In contrast, the 2007-2009 droughts caused an estimated $1.5 billions of dollars of loss plus an additional 40, 000 jobs were also lost (Burke).

Cornett, Richard. “California agricultural bounty”. Western Farm Press. 13 Feb. 2010.
Western Farmpress.com. Web. 24 Sept. 2010.

Duane, Paul. “Agricultural economics of the Pacific states: Some contributions of and threats to
California agriculture”. The Business Forum. 1 Dec. 2006. Bizforum.org.Web. 27 Sept.
2010.

Great Valley Center. “Productivity and diversity of California’s Agriculture, Central Valley agriculture: high productivity and diversity”. Great Valley Center. ND. Great Valley Center.org. Web. 2 Oct. 2010.


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"Producers also compete with one another, making it tough for even the most principled ones to increase worker pay. To see change, then, all workers, globally, must be paid better, so that the price of tomatoes goes up across the board.
"How does this happen? Unionization, or an increase in the minimum wage, or both."
What kind of utopian nonsense is that? Is this distant futuristic utopian vision supposed to replace any practice of principle in the real world? Wouldn't the realist prefer to buy his tomatoes locally from a farmer he trusts (and pays enough) to put principles into practice here and now?
Surely only immigrants work all the jobs described. Who here would want any of the jobs described in the article for himself or any of his loved ones?
One fundamental problem with the model of production described in the article is that it relies on a completely separate and far away class of inevitably ignorant consumers, ignorant not just of labor issues but of all the many factors that play into responsible land and water use, etc. Are those kind of consumers ever going to support anything but exploitation of workers, of farming communities, of ecosystems, of nonrenewable resources, etc.?
And as others have noted, these "not evil" tomatoes are delivered in cans lined with chemicals highly suspect of causing cancer. How many of the chemicals used in the field have similar problems? Is the system (from the big-business-financed research to the big-business-influenced elections to the revolving door between upper level regulatory management and big business ...) that we trust to know the answers to these questions and to effectively regulate practices in the field really trustworthy?


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Yes, harvestman, you are right... the staple grains are mostly grown in the midsection of the country and not much else.

The whole system is too big to fail, and yet it is going to. bigger they are, harder they fall and all of that.


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If you look at the history of the United States and Europe, post WWII, you will see the the entire life style of the modern world is linked directly with the urban and suburban migration that followed a modern agriculture that required fewer and fewer laborers in the fields.

These laborers and and former small farmers found jobs, for the most part, in rapidly expanding industry (the 20 years following the war was the largest, quickest economic expansion in mankind's history) that produced new products.

Many of these products, like washing machines, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and even processed foods, also reduced labor and further increased general human productivity and the demand for other consumer goods. Workers employed by such industries created a market for the very products they created.

To go back to small farms and less efficient food production would require a completely different economic model than what we enjoy today.

Not saying modern agriculture is sustainable (or the culture of consumption that it has triggered), only that you can't go back to the "good old days" without going back to the kind of economy that required a great deal more physical struggle and less material comfort than most of us would willingly tolerate today.

The article describes industrial food production that involves farmers interested in sustaining the productivity of their land and who use traditional crop rotation as part of their stewardship. They also produce tomatoes for under 5 pennies per pound.

I found the article somewhat inspiring at the thought of extremely efficient agricultural production not reliant on a mono-culture.


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  • Posted by glib 5.5 (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 19, 13 at 9:53

"Wheat, soy and corn are the primary substinence of our diets in this country."

Hence, widespread diseases of civilization, from acne to strokes. But even looking at tomatoes only, my mother processes 1.5 tons of tomatoes every year (very large extended family), takes two days with two helpers, and is part of family bonding. Her preserved peaches and Stanley plums are killers, too. Of course, undoable in much of the country, but society has always revolved around food and preserving a social web. I don't see much sustainability in this article. Perhaps I would be more sympathetic if the article was about sweet potatoes, but toms can be grown productively in 90% of the lower 48.


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  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 19, 13 at 10:25

Wisconsin is currently seeing a move to large dairy farms, 1000 cows or more, sometimes referred to as "CAFO," concentrated animal feeding operation. Before 1990, most of our dairy farms had smaller herds, generally less than 100 cows. One could argue that the move to larger herds is progress. It helps to keep the cost of milk down. But no one wants to live within 5 miles of a CAFO. The local water table will be compromised, because the farms use a great deal of water. The local air quality suffers, due to the huge amount of manure that is generated and concentrated in one place. Most of the people who work on these large dairy farms are not citizens of the USA. They often have no legal status, because they entered the country without passing through a controlled entry point. Despite the down side, the move to larger dairy farms is continuing. It is less expensive to produce milk that way, and dairy products are sold on a global market, so everyone has to compete for sales. It is still possible to buy milk, and other dairy products that come from smaller local farms. You might pay a little more, but the price is competitive. I'm not sure how much longer this will last, though.


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Industrial agriculture is NOT efficient, it's CHEAP.

It does not produce more yield than organic ag.

It's only cheap because of cheap oil, nitrogen, phosphate, pumping aquifers and government subsidies. The costs are outsourced to our taxes, our ecosystems and our medical system because the food is inferior quality.


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  • Posted by mrclint z10SoCal Valley (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 19, 13 at 15:44

The article doesn't speak to me or move the meter one way or the other. I don't buy canned goods and eat very little corn, soy, or wheat products. I buy mostly fresh food with a few jarred goods. I don't spend time considering whether agri-business can compete financially on any scale or for any reason. My time and money is spent growing my own food and/or supporting local produce, meat and egg vendors (as much as possible).


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mrclint, a lot of people exaggerate the dichotomy you suggested between large commodity corn/soy/wheat production and "local produce, meat and egg vendors." Lots of "local" meat and egg producers are just a local processing stop -- one might say local window dressing -- for commodity grain. Even "local" produce farms, if they're not using chemical fertilizers, commonly fertilize with soybean or corn gluten or cottonseed meal. If not directly fertilizing with those Midwest type field crop products then they're probably (or also) using manures and byproducts from animals raised on Midwestern grain. And then there's all the grain that goes to ethanol/biofuels, which is huge in significance. I think most people that think they don't depend so much on Midwestern grain don't realize which acres are really supporting them.


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>Not saying modern agriculture is sustainable (or the culture of consumption that it has triggered), only that you can't go back to the "good old days" without going back to the kind of economy that required a great deal more physical struggle and less material comfort than most of us would willingly tolerate today.

And the US population in 1940 was 132 million.

Thanks for the article, harvestman. I do find it very encouraging :).


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Yes, interesting. No doubt we need to produce more for our ever increasing world population. The trend for sure is on one road of larger bigger production. I myself see no changes in that trend anytime soon. Pressure to increase production is constant. Those who can afford it may want to buy the more traditionally produced food, but that is a luxury that few can afford. I would say the younger generations could care less. Too busy texting...


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  • Posted by mrclint z10SoCal Valley (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 19, 13 at 20:28

cousinfloyd, just because some local vendors do things a certain way doesn't mean they all do it that way. We all have the ability to do our homework before we spend our money. We can learn to talk to the people who grow/produce our food. We are not powerless, and we can change things by voting with our dollars.

NilaJones, the agri-business goal of feeding the world is not out of kindness or charity. In creating "the world will starve" boogie-man, agri-business has gotten away with giving us high-salt/fat/sugar foods that are addictive, cheap, bad for our health, and nutrient deficient. In reality starvation and hunger are political issues more than a crop production issue.


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Mr Clint, I will repeat the historical fact that the life style you enjoy is the direct result of mechanized industrial farming- no matter what you put in your own belly. Just read how mechanized farming led to population shifts to less rural areas ( in every single industrialized nation) where labor became predominantly industrial (even if we are now becoming more serviced based).

I don't know what you do for a living but chances are you'd be the one raising all your food if this change had not occurred and you'd be too tired to participate in this discussion which would have to be held in some church or bar near where you live. Computers wouldn't exist.

I grow most of the vegetables and fruit I eat and, like you, seek out boutique sources of foods like eggs that are grown on small farms. Sometimes they even use local grains. Eggs from chickens allowed free range taste much better and I spend as much as 3X as much to enjoy the difference. I also like the idea of sponsoring some happy chickens.

But it isn't at all about personal preferences for most people in the world. When congress directed that a large percentage of our corn be used for ethanol, grain prices went up all over the world, and many people at the poverty level in less developed countries are suffering terribly as a result.

I'm not interested in getting into an argument about organic verses conventional- that is not what this discussion should be about as it was not the subject of the article. Organic production can be and is often carried out on large industrialized farms as well. Such farms are where most of the worlds food comes from and it isn't just because of tax breaks and politics.


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  • Posted by mrclint z10SoCal Valley (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 19, 13 at 21:58

Harvestman, that's how we got to the cheap, high calorie, and addictive food condition we are in today. I'm talking about coming out of that model, not denying it, and certainly not spreading it to the rest of the world. We have to acknowledge it to understand it. Where you and I part ways is that I feel this model is a bad thing, an unhealthy thing. I don't spend my energy pondering its merits. I spend my time breaking away from it for the sake of the people I care about.

I work in the high-tech field, and play in the no-tech dirt. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Search: salt+fat+sugar+addiction


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Harvestman: "But it isn't at all about personal preferences for most people in the world. When congress directed that a large percentage of our corn be used for ethanol, grain prices went up all over the world, and many people at the poverty level in less developed countries are suffering terribly as a result."

Exactly. The price of a 'cheap' global food supply, is that it undermines local production and populations are at the mercy of far away corporate boards, political bodies and commodity traders - plus weather and pests. Despite it's wonders, Insecurity is a basic feature of our present system.


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@mrclint: There really is a limit to how much food can be produced in a given area, even with the most sustainable (or the most industrial) methods. The more land we devote to housing a larger population, the less we have for growing food. Or for wild spaces.

@Drew51:
>I would say the younger generations could care less. Too busy texting...

Where I live, on the west coast of the US, eating organic, growing food, preserving, natural building -- all sorts of sustainable living -- are immensely popular with the under-30 crowd.

We have a huge influx each year of young people from the rest of the US who want to live this way. (That may be why you don't see them where you live O_o.) They send me text messages about chickens and farmers' markets!


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Nila,

I myself am not really into anything you mention. I like to be efficient for the fact it's stupid to be wasteful. I know I'm not saving anything by my actions. Al Gore wastes more in one day than I could save in a lifetime.
I don't have a private jet. Some people often forget a basic rule of nature. "Energy cannot be created or destroyed." It really doesn't matter if we use a lot or a little, it's still there.
The term "saving energy" is an oxymoron,
The young people around here are more into the next new technology. The only form of chicken they know about is in the form of a nugget. My daughter can't eat anything off a bone it grosses her out. She is one of millions, good luck!
The older I get the more I realize how bad things really are. And what is needed to fix it is often demonized as evil.
Even benign objects are seen as evil, I can only laugh. I never thought I would see that. The education level of our population keeps dropping. We live in a world of spin doctors.

"The most abundant element in the universe is not hydrogen, it is stupidity" - Frank Zappa

I used to think that quote was arrogant and even silly. But as time goes on I realize Frank nailed it.


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Yuk, it is easy to imagine a utopia, but throughout our existence cycles of starvation were a regular feature- in every part of the world.

I am aware of the struggles of my great grandparents and how much easier my life has been than theirs. I'm always amused when people complain about the quality of airline food and wonder how these people could be the descendents of pioneers who crossed the continent in covered wagons, breathing dust for months and struggling just to survive their journey.

I believe in pushing for a more equitable world but I come from a century when the great idealists almost destroyed civilization by trying to devise systems not based on the motivations of greed and self interest.

The entire industrial revolution began when the English passed a law allowing people to patent their inventions. This meant that they could personally profit from the labor involved in bringing an idea to reality.
Of course agriculture is motivated by the desire for profits and those profiting play politics to enhance their profits with little concern about the people who depend on their food. But everywhere in the world where a different system was attempted productivity had dropped disasterously.


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  • Posted by mrclint z10SoCal Valley (My Page) on
    Wed, Aug 21, 13 at 11:10

Huge and highly mechanized farm operations are more utopian based than following locally grown concepts. Is there any greater idealism than feeding the entire world? As if you could! 1/3 of the world lacks potable water and basic medicine. The political will of many countries is to allow their poor people to starve or flee. Big pharma stops manufacturing/distributing life saving drugs when there is no longer a profitable market, and agri-business doesn't sell to markets that can't post a profit.

Big, small, local and remote food production all have their place and none of them can solve every problem. We are still free enough (for the moment) to choose. If you like eating out of a tin can, or in a drive-thru, or locally fresh, you are free to do so.


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  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Wed, Aug 21, 13 at 14:33

"If you like eating out of a tin can, or in a drive-thru, or locally fresh, you are free to do so."

That's just it. While I agree industrial agriculture is burning through natural resources at a pretty fast clip (just like every other industry in the developed world - including high tech) it does offer a standard of living for lots more choices.

I don't agree most people go hungry on the planet because they have bad government. Certainly that's the case for some despot rulers, but most people go hungry because they've not been able to industrialize their economies (including their agriculture) to raise their standard living out of poverty. Poverty = No freedom (not even the freedom to choose what you put in your belly).

Not at all denying problems caused by industrial agriculture (although most of the worlds environmental problems come from a planet hosting more people - by a factor of at least 10 - than can be sustained) but industrial ag does make food more affordable vs. non-mechanized farming.

For all its faults, I do appreciate the freedom of choice industrial agriculture brings. I just had a delicious lunch of homemade salsa and chips finished off with a bowl of ice cream (It's not that I don't eat my own fruit, I eat fruit all day long - peaches, pears, plums, blackberries, etc., but today I just wanted chips and salsa for lunch.) I prefer my own salsa to anything I could buy in the store, but I'm also quite thankful industrial agriculture offers me tasty corn chips I can buy in a convenient bag, as well as the ice cream I enjoyed.

So, quite right, I do enjoy the freedom afforded (at least partially) by industrial agriculture.


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  • Posted by mrclint z10SoCal Valley (My Page) on
    Wed, Aug 21, 13 at 17:30

"I don't agree most people go hungry on the planet because they have bad government."

Yeah, I never said that. My point was that agri-business can't feed the world because you need someone with money on the purchasing end. Starving people tend to not have money to buy goods. A lot of governments don't have welfare systems and don't just buy food in bulk and distribute it to the masses. Most poor people of the world have no way to move up the financial ladder to become agri-business food consumers -- YOU can blame on that on oppressive government.

Growing local is an ancient world-wide model still in use today around the globe. It isn't a utopian pipe dream.


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  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Wed, Aug 21, 13 at 18:17

"In reality starvation and hunger are political issues more than a crop production issue."

The political will of many countries is to allow their poor people to starve or flee.

It's your above comments which led me to believe you largely blamed government.

While it's true destitute peoples can't afford to buy food (any food) they stand a better chance of affording cheap industrial food, vs. more expensive labor intense food. Agribusiness 5 cent/pound tomatoes is a good example. Small labor intense producers can't touch that price.

Obviously I'm not talking about shipping our 5 cent tomatoes to Africa. I'm talking about Africa developing their own industrial base so they can produce 5 cent tomatoes (and then have the same choices in life we enjoy).

And it has nothing to do with oppressive government. China has shown us that. Fairly oppressive, yet coming from 3rd world status, will surpass our economic output w/in 20 years.


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"But everywhere in the world where a different system was attempted productivity had dropped disasterously"

I think it was Churchill who said
"Capitalism is the worst social system besides all the others".
After saving the world, Churchill was voted out of office.

Great discussion. I tend to get annoyed at us getting so righteous over minor complaints (if you consider the rest of the world). Like harvestman said about airline food. On this forum it is GMO's, contaminated compost, etc. Sure it sucks, but thank goodness these are the only problems we have,

"Yuk, it is easy to imagine a utopia, but throughout our existence cycles of starvation were a regular feature- in every part of the world. "

We tend to forget we are just animals and subject to the laws of nature no matter how much we deny it. A little fruitfly has been reminding us of that fact lately.

"A lot of governments don't have welfare systems "

Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Education is the problem, Welfare systems don't work. As evidenced in Europe. Just about every country is going broke. I used to own a restaurant, but sold it as I could not compete with welfare. So employees would opt for that instead of working. If someone is going to pay you for nothing, nothing is what you'll do. Again denying human nature.
At least working for me they would have been productive. i wish i could pay them more. I lost money the first three years and was living on peanut butter and jelly. I had to pay so many taxes to support our entitlement programs I could not pay them more. That was an eye opener. Every business in the strip mall cheated a little, they had to to survive. I could not do that either, so left the industry.
Even though I could not pay that much, it was more than i was making as owner. So keep raising that minimum wage and soon all strip malls will be vacant. If you can't beat them join them. I collected unemployment after I sold the business. I laid off myself (completely legal).


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Thanks for sharing this, harvestman. LIke you, I find it encouraging. Rominger's operation is incredibly technologically savvy. I first encountered him in Frederick Kaufman's recent book entitlted Bet the Farm, an illuminating (and alarming) investigation of the financialization of food. One interesting anecdote that I recall was how Rominger was able to dodge the 2007-2008 fertilizer price spike and turn a profit on his tomato crop when others were lucky to break even. Because he tracks an astronomical number of data points, his calculations indicated that there should be sufficient nutrients remaining in the to soil to skip the typical late season fertilizer application. Because he trusted his data, he chose to take the calculated risk of skipping the fertilizer application and preserving his profits, and it paid off. Less technologically savvy growers couldn't take that risk and so sacrificed profits rather than risk losing their crop.


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Industrial agriculture is a massive net energy loss. Period.

It requires more energy input than you get out. Period.

Wether it is oil, water, soil or phosphorous, we are farming on borrowed time.

The global industrial economy is able to sell 'cheap' goods in the same way a going-out-of-business sale can offer absurdly low prices. We are liquidating our natural resources at a faster and faster rate.

The question is, when do we want to do the accounting? Now or in 50 years when there is no more topsoil left and the oceans are unable to support fish because the pH has dropped another .10?

Not only is industrial agriculture destroying it's own resource base, it is doing so at a time where humanity is hitting the wall in terms of the ratio of population:arable land.

The UN estimates we need to increase global food production by 40% by 2050 to feed the world. Industrial farming is simply too inefficient to make that happen.

Labor intensive organic agriculture and agroforestry are clearly superior in terms of yield per acre - and yield per acre is going to be what we need.

Mark Shephard's restoration agriculture farm produces TWICE the calories and many multiples of the nutritive value of a corn field with extremely low energy inputs. And the system gets more and more productive every year.

Chestnuts are the staple crop interspersed with hazelnuts, apples, cherries, mulberries, grapes, currants, brambles, hogs, cattle, turkeys, chickens.

The video linked is an eye-opener.

Here is a link that might be useful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb_t-sVVzF0


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My hope is that visionaries like Shepard can help us to navigate our way out of this mess, but, ultimately, I'm not terribly optimistic. After all, there's too much money to be made further mucking things up (for a sobering look at where we the energy sector might be heading, for example, read this). With that in mind, I find a little solace in the possibility that technology will, at the very least, keep us a step or two ahead of impending disaster. In that vein, Rominger demonstrates that efficiency guided by technology, while in the pursuit of profits, might also slow our use of natural resources and buy us a little bit more time.


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"Labor intensive organic agriculture and agroforestry are clearly superior in terms of yield per acre "

Well if true, to make money we will move in that direction.
The labor is a huge problem though. I tend not to worry about depleting resources as the energy is still there, we just have to find a way to use it. Nothing is being destroyed, just transferred to other forms. as one cannot destroy these things. Nitrogen never goes away. It's someplace! We have a recycling problem. It should be extremely easy to fix.
We certainly know how easy it is to make top soil, I have no worries. When it's gone, we may at that time realize how important it is. I hear about losing top soil but every farmer I know is well aware of it's value. So this really confuses me? Why would you give away your life blood?
Family or industrial, farmers work both.
The title of this thread, what this thread is about is industrial farming. A quote from the article.
"...diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and, for the most part, real food not crops destined for junk food, animal feed or biofuel"

Seems like this HUGE industrial operation knows how to farm and it not inefficiant as people keep trying to convince us is impossible. Good luck competing against this method!
We have to move forward, not backward. Nobody is Amish anymore.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Thu, Aug 22, 13 at 17:24


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Yuk, I can't help but wonder if you've read much history. Do you realize the significance of industrial agriculture in the development of our current economy and indirectly our current state of overall technology?

I agree that what we are doing is very likely not sustainable, but a redirection more sustainable is a whole lot more complicated than switching over to a more "calorie efficient" form of agriculture.

It is possibly an impossible predicament to have 6 billion humans all struggling for their piece of pie on this small planet.

Coming out of WWII, it was actually the plan for Americans to be converted into super consumers to create a market for the products of a recovering Europe and Japan. How do you dial that back when people all over the globe now want to emulate the American lifestyle?

Agriculture is just one part of our impact on this planet and as Olpea said, it is as much as anything a numbers game as a method game but we aren't really cutting it on either front by my reckoning.


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Labor intensive organic agriculture and agroforestry are clearly superior in terms of yield per acre - and yield per acre is going to be what we need.

Jon Jeavons makes that argument very convincingly in his book How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. The problem is that, in terms of overall productivity measured by human labor hours, biointensive agriculture can't yet compete with commercial agriculture. In a system collapse kind of scenario, those techniques will be invaluable. Short of that, though, I can't imagine them gaining widespread traction. After all, think of all the different ways that people make money on Rominger's operation. By comparision and by design, the biointensive method requires little or no outside inputs. It's certainly superior from an ecological point of view, but where's the money to be made for anyone but the farmer?

Nobody is Amish anymore.

Don't forget about the Amish, Drew. They're still Amish, and they're a quarter million strong (and growing).


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Drew51:

"Well if true, to make money we will move in that direction."

Yup, we will.

"The labor is a huge problem though."

We have around 20% real unemployment in the US and labor is the problem?

"I tend not to worry about depleting resources as the energy is still there, we just have to find a way to use it. Nothing is being destroyed, just transferred to other forms. as one cannot destroy these things".

You're not accounting for entropy. Energy is not destroyed, but is dispersed into less-usable or even useless forms.

"Nitrogen never goes away. It's someplace! We have a recycling problem. It should be extremely easy to fix."

Agree 100%! Nitrogen, phosphorous & whatever else are ending up in oceans and waterways causing toxic algae blooms, massive fish die offs and dead zones. We've managed to take a resource and turn it into a problem. Systems design would turn that on it's head. So, we have algae blooms in delta, lets start algae farms for biofuels!

I think people, especially politicians, would do well to understand what you say - there are cycles - especially when it comes to the carbon cycle. All the hand-waving about co2, but the solution is simple: increase organic matter in the world's agricultural soils by 2% and atmospheric co2 will return to pre-industrial levels.

"We certainly know how easy it is to make top soil, I have no worries. When it's gone, we may at that time realize how important it is. I hear about losing top soil but every farmer I know is well aware of it's value. So this really confuses me? Why would you give away your life blood?"

It confuses me, too, but it's been going on for 6000 years. The world is littered with civilizations who didn't figure it out in time: Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, North Africa, Western China is the new dustbowl, I've seen Tokyo enveloped in dark clouds of Chinese dust...

Industrial farming has only been around for a century. It will have to adapt significantly to still be around in another century.

Yes, we can generate a foot of new topsoil in a few years and recharge aquifers on a similar time scale, without sacrificing yield. But that requires good design. We are headed in the opposite direction.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

Generate a foot of new top soil in a few years on millions of acres? Sounds like a good trick. As long as we are on doomsday scenarios we can bring up the few inches of top soil we loose on average every year (or some other number that I can't bring out of memory) in much of our essential farmland in the midwest, and anywhere there are periods of severe weather.

Civilizations have historically often risen and fallen on the basis of the destruction of ariable land due to erosion. It is an inborn problem with relying on annuals for food crops that require tilling the soil, thereby making it easily moved from field to stream.

You can reduce erosion with careful stewardship but even the methods of the Menonites in the midwest are inadequate for the purpose of sustainably holding onto top soil.

There is breeding work being done to produce some kind of perennial wheat, but it seems unlikely that a plant that must save significant energy to stay alive over winter could compete with annuals in general productivity. An annual can invest everything on its seeds.

This is one of the justifications for no till, herbicide saturation agriculture. Kill the plants on the field after harvest and allow their dead roots to hold onto the soil until new plants are established.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 23, 13 at 12:08

"The UN estimates we need to increase global food production by 40% by 2050 to feed the world. Industrial farming is simply too inefficient to make that happen."

Yukkuri,

That statement is one of conjecture (I'm referring to the the "inefficiency" of industrial agriculture, not the UN estimate.) Actually, industrial agriculture has a surprising history of rising productivity on many levels.

For instance, land productivity has increased steadily since the advent of industrial farming. In the 1920s wheat yields were about 13 bu/ac. Now they are above 40. The same phenomena can be seen for corn or any other row crop in the U.S.

In fruit production, 1000 bu/ac apple yields are now attainable (again many fold the productivity of pre-industrial era). It's the same story for strawberries, tomatoes, etc.

Animal productivity has a similar account. Pounds of milk per cow has increased dramatically. Pigs/Sow/Year is now above 20. A couple of generations ago it was 12.

It should go without saying labor productivity has risen dramatically since the advent of industrial ag. In the middle 1800s it took 50% of the population working in agriculture to feed the nation. Now it takes less than 1%.

My point is that, given some thought, most people will acknowledge industrialization is amazingly effective at producing abundant goods at a very cheap cost. It's interesting that some people singly deny this phenomena as it applies to agriculture. Somehow industrialization produces more abundant, cheaper goods in everything but agriculture.

It's easy to dismiss abundant cheap food, but it matters. It's the middle class and poor who most benefit from abundant cheap food (or other goods). The rich have always had plenty. They've always had slaves or workers to wash their clothes, beat their rugs, carry them on litters, work their fields, etc. It's those who are not as fortunate that now have mass produced vacuum cleaners, washing machines, cars, and abundant food they can afford. For all it's faults, these benefits are directly attributable to industrialization.

Certainly one will always be able to find examples where one type of farm can produce more per land mass than another. Scanning the data for examples like that isn't proof that it's a practical model to feed the world. In terms of productivity per land area, vertical growing in buildings would surpass Shepard's farm restoration project.

Soil erosion is a problem. As you state it has been around for 6000 years. Currently it's worse in developing nations (those that still have soil left) which have a more pre-industrial model.

"We have around 20% real unemployment in the US and labor is the problem?"

Tackling unemployment is a pretty complex issue. It's simply not that easy to put all these unemployed people to work as farm laborers. Even if you could, reducing productivity to increase employment is not a long term solution. It would be the equivalent of reducing productivity in the construction industry (by say taking away nail guns, so workers have to pound nails with hammers) so we can hire the 20% unemployed into the construction industry.

I agree with you that modern ag is burning through resources, but so is every other aspect of our modern life. People drive comfortable cars to their air conditioned offices (in careers which are completely interdependent on industrialized industries) and back to their comfortable industrialized homes, then decry our food is industrialized.

Burning through resources is not the fault of industrial ag, it's at the feet of industrialization. Obviously, we could move to de-industrialize economies, with the resulting hardship humans faced pre-industrialization (more scarcity, starvation etc.). Even so, I think agriculture should be the last industry to be de-industrialized, not the first. Food is the most basic need and it's abundance should be protected. Furthermore moving a significant percentage of the population back into food production, limits production possibilities of every other aspect of our lives. More people are "stuck" using all their time growing food to satisfy our most basic need.

I agree something will have to change. We can't continue to burn up all the resources. Additionally, at this rate of fossil fuel consumption, it will be global scorching, not global warming. To me, a much less painful solution to de-industrialization is to try to reduce the world population by lowering the birth rate. Humans are net consumers of resources. The more comfortable and secure our lives, the more resources we consume.

You mentioned food production will have to increase 40% by 2050. To me, that's the most alarming statement in your posts because it indicates the population will grow significantly by 2050. All those new consumers will need not only food, but all the other resources (oil, metals, plastics, wood, etc) along with all the added pollution common to human life.

From a biological standpoint, we are not different than bacteria in a petri dish. When the organism overfills dish, the population crashes. Our petri dish is already full, and yet according to the U.N., we'll add another 2 bil people by 2050.

This post was edited by olpea on Fri, Aug 23, 13 at 12:15


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

There's a no-till neighbor next to me. I've had erosion from his no-till field deposit topsoil 10" deep where it washes down onto my land in just one storm. And my own tilled ground came through with no noticeable erosion. The difference is that on my side of the fence 80% of my ground is in permanent pasture and only a small percentage in smaller sections on the least erodible areas is tilled. No-till isn't practical (or practicable) on the small scale I operate at, though. My impression of no-till is that it has chiefly facilitated farming on an increasingly large scale with increasingly large fields and often on land that would otherwise be considered too erodible for grain farming. Moreover huge fields devoid of grass or other breaks to slow the flow of water greatly increase erosion pressure. The advantages with regards to erosion from "no-till" are grossly exaggerated (if there are truly any net gains at all.)

I think the real alternative to no-till is permanent pasture. Permanent pasture is what built the soils of the Midwest before plows arrived. And most of the uses for Midwest grain would really be much better met in other ways: corn for fuel ethanol; grain to feed animals that are natural grazers; corn for corn syrup -- compare the soil erosion from honeybees with no-till (or any other kind of) corn; grain as a sole feed for animals that could meet most of their feed needs by scavenging and supplementing with various agricultural wastes; soybeans for fake butter... Just to say not only is no-till a bad answer, but it's a bad answer to a bad question.

And then there's the extreme fossil fuel dependency, the agricultural dependency on an agriculturally illiterate consumer society, the GMO's, the pesticides... No-till is no good in my book.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

Cuz, I know you don't think I was championing no-till agriculture- just using it to illustrate a point. I actually don't know enough about it to even attempt to formulate a strong opinion. I don't think, however, that you've provided a strong case against its efficacy- limited anecdotal observation, essentially.

The idea of it doesn't appeal to me but I'd need to see a bit of research to draw a strong conclusion.

Olpea, that was quite a thorough summary that really spells out what I was trying to communicate and more.

Unfortunately, I think that getting a political will to encourage population reduction is extremely unlikely, as it would create a great deal of economic hardship even if it is the sensible solution ultimately. We have become dependent on a continuing increase in the labor and consumer pool to assure we are cared for in our old ages and also to assure an ever expanding economy.

Also, religious fundamentalists believe that God's got our back and the more babies they can pop and train to their religion the better. The world (that is, human existence) won't end until He's good and ready to end it, as far as they are concerned.

Almost every European nation is experiencing negative population growth (probably partly because of an increasingly secular culture, but also a stagnant economy) as well as Japan, and there is extreme alarm about what this will mean to their economies. Even in the U.S. the main source of growing population is immigration, last I heard.

Interestingly, non-industrial farming requires large families to be viable. Even organic farming requires much more unskilled labor, largely filled by members of families south of our borders.

Organic farming probably encourages larger families there by providing these jobs. If you are living in poverty in Mexico but have children who can potentially go to America to perform brutish labor and then send money home- why not have lots of children. This might seem a stretch, but certainly there are hundreds of villages in Mexico that are sustaining themselves with just such money from the U. S.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 23, 13 at 23:33

"My impression of no-till is that it has chiefly facilitated farming on an increasingly large scale with increasingly large fields and often on land that would otherwise be considered too erodible for grain farming."

I can't see no till as a factor in sod busting highly erodible land. Farmers have always been free to farm their land (whether highly erodible or not). The biggest factor influencing sod busting has always been commodity prices. During a sustained period of high prices farmers tend to farm "fence row to fence row" (i.e. putting any ground they can find into production). When prices fall, they've already done the extra work to get the ground into production, so they keep farming it. Very common for boom/bust cycles.

My own personal experience w/ no till is that it vastly slows/stops soil erosion. We bought 125 acres in 1991. The ground was already in row crops. Much of the ground being cropped was classified by ASCS as "highly erodible". The erosion was obvious when we bought the place, so we immediately made the decision to move to no-till. The farmer farming the land at the time had only tillage equipment, so we found another farmer with no till equipment and rented the ground to him. I was a pig farmer at the time and had neither time nor capital to dirt farm.

Our south neighbor continued to crop his ground with tillage equipment. Over the course of a few years the neighbor's ground continued to decline (erode) whereas ours started to improve. Eventually the neighbor was forced to put his ground in pasture (yields were too poor to keep row cropping). Our soil structure and yields continued to improve.

When we first bought the property 150 bu/ac corn was the norm. I still talk to my old pig farming partner. He tells me when he rides in the combine, yields never fall below 200 (Combines have digital readouts tied in with GPS for real time yields).

Since we are speaking strictly anecdotally, here is a case where row crop farming and livestock farming working synergistically. Livestock utilizing grain from the soils, nutrients returned to the soil via manure application, soil building and yields improving, thousands of people being fed.

"Permanent pasture is what built the soils of the Midwest before plows arrived."

Much of the rich soil in the Midwest came from glacial deposits not a formation resulting from pasture. Once the Midwest prairies were established, soil erosion was fairly minimal because of the deep root structure of the prairie flora.

However natural prairie should not be confused with pasture for livestock production. The Midwest prairies were burned every year (generally by the indians, but sometimes by lightning) which kept the land clear of trees. The amount of livestock supported per acre would have been too low to classify as agriculture in any real sense.

Modern pasture has to produce more food than the needs of sparsely populated Indians. Pasture grasses have shallower root structure than prairies and the stocking rates of livestock are significantly greater. Modern pasture has more than it's fair share of soil erosion. I've seen it.

When you say 80% of your ground is in permanent pasture, you can't compare that to other livestock pasture unless you compare stocking rates. If you are simply mowing or haying your pasture, it's no comparison at all.

I've no idea why you are seeing so much erosion on your neighbors property. Some crop residues work better with no till than others.

On balance, the benefits of no till are real. It can increase water holding capacity making more water available for plant uptake, sequester carbon into the soil, increase soil biodiversity, and minimize or stop soil erosion.

According to the USDA

"No-till stores more soil carbon, which helps bind or glue soil particles together, making the first inch of topsoil two to seven times less vulnerable to the destructive force of raindrops than plowed soil."

Here is a link that might be useful: USDA - No Till Farming Improves Soil Stability


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RE: World Population

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Sat, Aug 24, 13 at 0:02

Hman,

I agree there isn't enough political will to encourage world population reduction. I just think it's a solution that would cause the least amount of pain and suffering (although still causing some suffering.)

Neither is there enough political will to de-industrialize to the point it would make a significant difference. As a world people we will probably do nothing, which may well be the end (or nearly so) of mankind within a century.

"Also, religious fundamentalists believe that God's got our back and the more babies they can pop and train to their religion the better. The world (that is, human existence) won't end until He's good and ready to end it, as far as they are concerned.

Many religious fundamentalists have large families because they believe God commands it, going back to the words, "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth." This would apply to Jews Muslims, and Christians since the words are found in the corresponding holy books. Of course the context of those words were when the human population was nil compared to what it is now.

I'm not trying to get down on anybodies religion, I'm a religious person myself and know the good in it. But from my perspective it makes me a little angry when I hear radio preachers almost commanding people to have lots of children, or making people feel guilty for planning their family. I've seen families severely struggle because they were goaded into having more children than they could support, all the while the radio preachers making fat salaries never knowing the hardship their words have caused.

If someone wants to have a big family because it gives them a huge sense of fulfillment, that's their decision. But nobody should feel like they have to have a big family to be in God's favor.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

But then, olpea, you are a possesser or that most uncommon human quality, common sense. I believe it can be a painful possession at times. Faith is the most reliable of opiats.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

Hman and Olpea,

Thank you both for your insightfulness and input on this thread. I think you guys have done a great job of analyzing the real impacts and sustainability of modern Ag practices.

I also agree with you that the continuing population growth is a the root cause of all of the growing pressure on the worlds resources. Is China the only country that has ever politically controlled population grow in recent times? It seems like they pulled it off fairly successfully.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

Great discussion all around. Appreciate everyone's viewpoints & contributions.

Kinda busy, but a couple of quick thoughts:

As others say, I don't think we are going to significantly de-industrialize any time soon - hopefully we can move quickly towards doing it smarter.

I'm not totally opposed to industry or economy of scale ...but we've got to learn to do it with more closed-loops, better designs that turn our problem 'wastes' into resources, etc. We have the know-how of how to meet our basic needs and restore ecological health. We know how to regreen the desert (Geoff Lawton) or restore degraded pasture land while grazing MORE animals (Allan Savory) -

As Olpea pointed out, the political will isn't there. So much inertia built up in this approaching-train-wreck of an economic system. How much crappier do things have to get before the growth-at-all-costs nonsense gets tossed? While the rest of the world is figuring that out that growth at all costs, I work on facing up to my own consumption, which is humbling.

I am doing my best to withdraw from 'feeding the beast', growing what I can at home, saving and sharing seed & seedlings. Buying what I can't grow from local & organic producers. Most of all, my wife and I just refuse to live a consumerist lifestyle. I laugh every time I take out the garbage because there really is so little of it. We could easily go a couple months without taking out the trash, the next step is cutting down on the recyclables.

No-till: Fukuoka did it to good effect with rice, equalling yields of his counterparts using 'green revolution' approaches. There are pockets of Japanese farmers here and there quietly using Fukuoka's method. Hopefully, I'll have the chance to visit one of these farms next time I visit Japan.

In the west, I have heard of a lot of people experimenting with no-till or perennial grains, interesting glimpses, but no stunning successes. After a few thousand years of breeding annual grains for till systems, it's not surprising that progress might take a few generations.

John Jeavon's biointensive offers small-scale grain production which builds biomass every year, but that is backyard scale - beds double dug by hand.

There are many different growing systems out there that will bring high yields without undermining future ability to produce. I don't think there are any one-size-fits-all solutions, but different for each situation.

Lastly, I have to emphasize that, despite occasional differences of opinion, I think horticulturalists and farmers, conventional or organic, are some of the best people on earth.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

I think that as clever as humans are our brains are just not designed to analyze and regulate the collective behavior of the species- we are programmed to be focused on our individual survival (and pleasure) and that of our families.

Since the late 1960's I've been immersed in the idea of reducing my own unnecessary consumption (back to the land hippie). I used to say I wouldn't even have children, but ended up with a single son (now also a grandson)- which has brought to my life depth and joy immeasurable. I do understand the desire of surrounding oneself with many children and the comfort it can bring. I come from a large family, like many baby-boomers, and love every one of my siblings.

None of my brothers or sisters (6 in all) have had more than two children- for a combination of reasons, including ecological.

Industrialized societies have produced a culture of reduced
family size even as they also inspire increasing individual consumption- the two are connected, of course. Smaller families generally lead to greater individual wealth in these societies.

There is a strong movement to make the modern tools and toys of our existence less damaging to our environment- so the combination of a strong reduction in population growth and these increasing environmental concerns in the industrialized world at least brings some hope for the survival of our species.

Population projections have been frequently recalculated downward since the '50s and I suspect this will continue as industrialization spreads.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 26, 13 at 10:24

"I am doing my best to withdraw from 'feeding the beast', growing what I can at home, saving and sharing seed & seedlings. Buying what I can't grow from local & organic producers. Most of all, my wife and I just refuse to live a consumerist lifestyle."

Yukkuri,

Even though our opinions differ, our lifestyles are probably similar in many ways.

My wife and I try to live fairly simple as well. We never have the newest and best electronic gadgets. I'm typing on a Win98 computer. It still works fine (albeit slow) so I hang on to it. My wife needed a laptop for her work, so that's a nicer machine.

I've always hated the thought of materials filling landfills so we've recycled even when it wasn't very convenient.

Applying the same philosophy to farming, I get a lot of satisfaction out of retaining and building soil and try to avoid chemical fertilizers, since fruit trees don't need much anyway. Wood chips seem to produce a lot of fertility, which is what I've used so far on my new planting. Every time a tree service brings a load of chips, I view it as a free load of fertilizer.

I've got a lot of brush I had to remove out of fence rows. I've been reluctant to burn it, even though the brush piles are ugly. I just hate the thought of all those nutrients going up in smoke.

I suspect most people on this forum sort of have the same philosophy. People grow varying degrees of their own food for various reasons. I think that's a good thing.

Growing grass to mow is a waste in my opinion. In fact, I don't even understand why people grow ornamental plants in pots. I always tell people, "If I can't eat it, I don't grow it." My wife grows ornamentals in pots (and in the yard) so she somewhat smoothes out my rough edges. She likes pretty things.

Dialogging with other people who have an interest in growing fruit is the principle reason I'm on this forum. It's easy for all to lose sight of that commonality, when discussing how best to solve the world's problems.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

Here, here! And let's all have a toast to spirited debate and mutual respect.

Thank you Yuk, Olpea, Shaz, Cuz, Drew and all for making this an enjoyable discussion.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

Just wanted to say, those processing tomato guys don't need as much hand labor as the ones in FL fo for their, "industrial" fresh market tomato crops. In FL, last I saw, all the fruit are hnd picked by men from South America. Those South Americans were hired by a Hispanic straw boss , contracted by the grower to supply the pickers. The straw boss sat on his ass in the pickup and watched his guys work their asses off all day long in the heat and humidity only to get paid piece wages. The, "industrial" part of the FL operations, or at least mechanical, was the packing houses.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

Cheers!


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

  • Posted by mrclint z10SoCal Valley (My Page) on
    Tue, Aug 27, 13 at 17:28

"...how exactly is splicing a gene more dangerous than a naturally occurring mutation which occurs in nature on a regular basis?"
The greatest danger is replacing local varieties that farmers can save the seed for the next year's crop. The GMO model requires the farmer to continue to buy new seed every year. This is economically dangerous and isn't feasible for much of the world. The model doesn't scale to a level that will end world hunger -- it will make matters worse.

What naturally occuring mutation can splice a jellyfish gene with a tomato? I could certainly list out a number of failed biological controls that had the best of intenstions, and looked good on paper.

"Why would a charitable organization whose funding has come from an entirely different sphere of the economy than Monsanto buy into their "thinking" in a manner that is nefarious"
They bought into "the world-will-starve-without-GMOs" boogieman. Why does charitable money from another sphere make it above reproach?


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

Who's stopping farmers from using their own seeds? The reason farmers stop using heirlooms is to increase their productivity and profits (not such an ugly word, is it?). The down side is the loss of a range of genetic materials and diversity but that is not Monsanto's responsibility.

I've never understood why people demonize Monsanto when all they do behave like most successful corporations. The corporate model comes with liabilities and also great benefits to all of us.

I believe the problem with corporations is they increasingly control our government and remove the teethe from the watchdog they require to assure the general public welfare is being protected. This is as much the fault of our populace as the corporations themselves, IMO.

I also believe that none of us actually knows if GMO's are an essential key to stave off massive starvation in the future. Monsanto is into them for profit, the Bill Gates foundation is into them because of their positive potential.

As far as nature not splicing a jelly fish gene to a toad stool, I fail to see how just because nature doesn't do this particular thing it's necessary dangerous but I certainly understand the concern about unintended consequences of such unprecedented genetic leaps.

I pretty much contradicted myself in the last paragraph and I might as well confess to some concern about the overall safety of GMO's in the hands of unfettered corporations.

Certainly I would like a very cautious approach to their development and release.

Mr. Clint, I grant you that concession.


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RE: industrial tomatoe prduction

I didn't actually notice that Mr. Clint had skipped threads. My comment and his last one applies to the thread about GMO's.


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