Thursday, March 10, 2005

Farming and conservation

The most recent FoodNews e-newsletter points to a Minneapolis Star Tribune interview with Professor Richard A. Levins about the impact of farming policy [in Minnesota] on biodiversity and conservation. Not quite slash and burn but not exactly well planned.
Q: Certain farmers today who own land that traditionally has been untillable, can -- through the use of chemicals and genetically modified crops -- plant that land with the reasonable expectation it will be profitable relatively quickly, assuming that government support payments are made. This puts at risk some of the relatively few remaining unbroken wild lands we have.

A: Correct. What we have are situations that sometimes make sense for individuals but might not make any sense at all in the larger picture. That individual farmer you speak of, expanding his or her production of grain crops, today is not competing so much with a neighbor as with a farmer, say, in South America. The only way that battle can be won is by being the absolute lowest-cost producer in the world, which -- by the way -- is unlikely for an American farmer, or by depending on continued government supports -- which is also appearing to be less and less likely. Unfortunately, that farmer oftentimes does not have the option of government supports to use the land in ways that would meet some of our environmental goals. That's where the problem lies.


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