Farmer vs. ‘Agri-Intellectuals’


The New York Times / Idea of the Day
August 12, 2009

Today’s idea: Despite what the “agri-intellectuals” say, a farmer writes, “we have to farm ‘industrially’ to feed the world,” and modern methods are less destructive than those the critics are urging.

Food | Close readers of The Times will be familiar with the work of Michael Pollan, the magazine contributor (here, here, and here), author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and prominent critic of modern agribusiness and its methods.

Now read “The Omnivore’s Delusion” in The American by Blake Hurst, who has worked his family’s Missouri spread for more than 30 years. In this detailed riposte, Hurst argues that the “reality is messier” than idealistic, non-farming critics would have it.

Much of his argument comes down to: beware the law of unintended agricultural consequences. Farming without herbicides means more tilling and more erosion. Let turkeys roam outside and they’re prone to attack by weasels, or drowning by their own upturned beaks in downpours. Freeing massive hogs from confinement crates means they sometimes crush their piglets to death, or eat them right after they’re born.

“Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin,” Hurst writes, “and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother …”

The piece also gets into the use of manure as a natural fertilizer. In reading both sides, the reader will have to decide who, if anyone, is figuratively doing the spreading. [The American]

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