The Gen-Z kids have a new saying: “Trust vibes not words.”
I’m a little older so I still believe in the plain meaning of ordinary words. In an exchange on our Global Farmer Network one of our network farmers spoke of “our wonderful network”.
I monitor most of our global farmer interactions and when A.D. Alvarez used this word, a thought flashed through my mind: This is the year that our group really started to gel as an international organization devoted to amplifying the voices of farmers as we promote trade, technology, sustainability, economic growth, and food security.
“Wonderful” is an old word in the English language, and its definition is clear and simple: capable of arousing awe, astonishment, and admiration.
A.D. grows corn in the Camotes, a group of small islands within the island nation of the Philippines. He offered his observation on WhatsApp, the messaging service—and immediately connected with me in Minnesota as well as other GFN farmers all over the world, from Australia to Nigeria to Portugal to Brazil.
The ability to exchange information instantly and across borders is itself a thing of wonder, enabling an ancient habit of farmers to enter our age of marvelous communication. We’re lifelong learners who always have relied on knowledge transfer, sharing everything from practical advice to worldly wisdom.
That’s what I gained a few weeks ago from Jim Wilson, a farmer in Scotland. He wrote a column about soil, mentioning the importance of healthy soil chemistry and the innovations of precision agriculture. Two of his sentences made a special impression on me: “Live as though you are going to die tomorrow. Farm as though you are going to live forever.”
After reading that, I conveyed Wilson’s words right away to my young partner on my own farm in the United States. It captures our philosophy of producing food for the people of today and making sure we can continue to produce it for the people of tomorrow. It reflects my Grandfather’s admonition to take care of your soil and it will take care of you.
And tomorrow includes a lot of people. As Gurjeet Singh Mann of India pointed out in November, we now live on a planet with more than 8 billion. Before the century ends, according to demographers, the population will surpass 10 billion.
To meet this challenge, farmers will need access to the best technology. In Africa, that includes basic mechanization, as Kaahwa Jean Rwamukaga recently wrote. It also requires the full acceptance of GMOs, which have revolutionized agriculture everywhere they’re permitted.
That’s why I was so encouraged by Kenya’s decision in October to permit their commercialization. “It will help … Kenya’s farmers grow more food than ever before,” wrote Gilbert arap Bor. “By making food more abundant, it will lower prices for consumers” as well as improve conservation and biodiversity.
Even farmers in developed nations need new technologies, as Terry Wanzek of North Dakota wrote in June, when he called for the introduction of GMO wheat in the US—a major commodity that has yet to benefit from the full promise of genetic innovation.
Rejecting technology can have tragic consequences, as V. Ravichandran revealed this summer in a bracing account of a man-made disaster in Sri Lanka, where a national directive to force all farmers to take up organic farming led to agricultural and economic catastrophe. “Forcing every farmer in an entire country to [reject] synthetic fertilizers and crop-protection devices,” he wrote, “is an exercise in lunacy.”
Farmers need officials to promote sane public policies, especially free trade, which allows food to flow around the world. Tariffs impose costs on everyone, as Tim Burrack of Iowa showed early in the year, when he revealed that America’s pre-pandemic trade wars had cost U.S. farmers $27 billion.
The data proves once again that there are no winners in trade wars.
Real wars are even worse—and throughout 2022, we’ve read the reports from Ukraine by GFN member Kornelius Kees Huizinga, who grows crops in a combat zone following Russia’s invasion of his country. For his heroic effort to produce food in the most trying of circumstances, and continuing to raise the global concerns of rising food insecurity as another impact of Russia’s aggression, he was recognized with the GFN’s Kleckner Award for Global Farm Leadership. Kees brings new context to food security and resilience.
Resilient is a good word describing Kees and a good vibe for farmers everywhere.