Des Moines, Iowa – Jim McCarthy thrives on change. An early “change” in his life was to shed his “towny” roots, and concentrate his studies on becoming a farm manager. The changes in the 51-year-old Irishman’s life have stacked up since he took his first job as a farm manager in 1981. His adaptation to change, and championing change that farmers need to farm efficiently led to his selection as the newest winner of the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award.
McCarthy’s interest in agriculture currently covers three continents…Europe, South America and North America. It’s frustrating for McCarthy that he can’t use biotechnology-based crops in his farming operation in Ireland. “The environmental benefit of GM (genetically modified) crops is staggering,” he said, as he made comparisons between the farm operations he’s involved with in Ireland and Argentina.
He says wildlife numbers are much higher in the South America farm operation because fewer pesticides are used because of Bt traits in the crops. “We’re not using huge amounts of organophosphates, so the food chain is not being interrupted for the wildlife,” he said.
He says the tillage and pest control trips he needs to make in his fields in Ireland take five times more fuel (30 liters/hectare) than is needed on the fields in Argentina (6 liters/hectare). There is little difference in the types of crops grown in the two farming operations. In Ireland, wheat, canola, peas and oats are raised. In Argentina, it’s wheat, soybeans, corn, and full-season soybeans.
In addition, McCarthy noted that the use of Roundup Ready® crops allows the Argentina farm operation to take advantage of no-till. “We’ll not be able to control erosion in Ireland until we can choose GM crops,” he said.
The lack of GM technology affects livestock farmers, too, McCarthy said. He says the wheat he grows in Ireland is for the feed trade, but the cost of protein for poultry and hog farmers in the country makes it difficult for those farmers to compete with lower-cost poultry and pork being shipped into the country. “If you are a commodity producer, you only compete on price…conventional agriculture in Europe is very expensive.”
“These issues that are holding back Europe’s farmers are based on politics, not on science,” he said in frustration.
In North America, McCarthy is one of a group of farmers that invested in a grass-based dairy in southern Missouri. It is one more example of the opportunities he sees in agriculture if you’re open to change.
McCarthy received the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award on Oct. 14, 2009 in Des Moines, IA, USA, following a roundtable of international farmers from six continents.
McCarthy participated in the Global Roundtable in 2007 and 2008. During those meetings he challenged university researchers in Europe to speak up about the science that is being withheld from the continent’s farmers solely for political reasons. He also advised African farmers at the conference to look after their self-interests when considering information and technology about agriculture.
“Africa looks to Europe for the lead on food issues because of its proximity, but Europe is wealthy in comparison to Africa and they only spend a small percentage of their dollars on food. Africa needs to take its own lead because of the high percentage of their income that must go to food,” he said.
“It’s a time of great change in agriculture. We’re seeing more investment dollars coming in; people want to be involved because it is such an exciting time. There is more demand than supply, and demand will continue to grow.”
McCarthy encouraged farmers who are held back in their productive capacity to “keep speaking up for farmers, be vocal.”
The Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award was established in 2007 in honor of Dean Kleckner, the chairman of Truth About Trade and Technology. The award will be given out annually in conjunction with the World Food Prize. The first winner of the award was Rosalie Ellasus of the Philippines, and the 2008 winner was Jeff Bidstrup of Australia.