Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama's Rural Policy.

For anyone who hasn't read the agricultural policy for the new US government it is quite interesting... Now really people why wouldn't you have read the rural policy? It is REALLY interesting...

That said… I’m torn… Natalie Imbruglia style… It appears that there is a lot of “utopian” view of small country markets direct selling to consumers or direct supplying supermarkets in these policies - "gettting back to the roots" - which is just not possible with our current populations. It is a very populist view to have a "weekend getaway" or "build a vegie patch to feed the family".

I think grow what you can, but buy the rest is a good option for many. There is also a trend recently reported in the “do it for me” culture. So people - far wealthier than I - who pay gardeners to develop and tend a vegetable garden in their yard. They can pick their produce and “feel good” but never tended the garden. Very strange!

Let Steph's rant begin...

One of the reasons small family run farms in the US are still in existence is due to the substanital subsidies offered to farmers. I agree with the comments made by a number of commentators that, in opposition to common thinking, family run farms are not being smothered by the larger commercial operators. The larger farms, in a lot of cases, started out as small ones and became more and more productive - requiring fewer and fewer operators, so the poorer operators leave. No different to a restaurant strip where you have competing operators - the poorer operators have to get out as they can't compete. Farms are a business like every other and if you are not competitive you will exit the industry. Develop a niche, increase productivity or get out.

This is what the Green Revolution was all about - producing more on the same land. I am not saying whether this is good or bad, however put simply if we want to feed the masses (and don't get me started about the large amounts of food grade staples going into biofuels) we need to produce more. Small operators simply don't get the production levels needed to sustain the ever increasing populations.

Another thing… I cannot believe that the US doesn't already have Country of Origin labelling in place. In Australia all imported fresh produce - fish, meat and fruit / vegetables etc all have country of origin labelling to allow consumers to make the choice. Sometimes the only option you have - due to seasonality of produce - is to opt for the imported alternative. I have to admit last night I was shopping for lemons and I could not purchase Australian grown lemons much to my disgust. I had to purchase the US imported option and the quality was quite bad really. However, at least I knew the origin of the product and made an informed purchase.

As far as seafood is concerned I never purchase imported seafood - my theory is that I live in a country surrounded by water... Why the hell would I purchase seafood sourced from overseas? In some cases with meat labelling it even goes as far as processor - so with chicken I can select which chicken processor I purchase from. I always try to buy from the company I used to work for as I know their operating standards inside and out!

I have a couple of issues with the grow organic, buy local campaign. I agree, buy local and organic where possible, but for me it is more about the opportunity to purchase from the farmer - it is a relationship decision. I also look at it from an input basis - this took less inputs to grow. Less fertilizer, less chemicals and better for the soil - so, in theory, the land will be handed on in a better condition. The health, quality and taste never really enter into the equation. I have read mountains of scientific, sociological and public interest documents and there is very little evidence to convinve me that organic has many - if any - health implications. I think my decision to purchase organic - and I don't all the time due to the fact that financially it costs significantly more - has more to do with fingerprint on the environment than a personal health implication.

I do believe that the "buy local" is a really important factor. Purchasing locally you are purchasing seasonally - whatever is in season and available. To me this is an important part of lifecycles and living how nature intended us to. I try, try, try to only eat what is in season.

Another aspect that I don’t quite understand is the renewed push by the US government to encourage young farmers onto the land. Come on... The US has had the some of the best agricultural education programming for generations. The 4-H and Future Farmers of America programs has been replicated internationally and it is all about putting young people in touch with the rural communities and farming practices.

The dream of an idealised rural life is far from reality of getting up at dawn to milk cows / check on livestock etc. Farming is freakin' hard work and most young Gen Y's opt for a more transferrable profession that gives a more balanced lifestyle and family balance. It is no wonder that my graduating class in 1997 was approximately 30 across plant and animal industry majors. My degree has since been dissolved due to a lack of students in successive years.

The industry needs bodies - agreed - but industries also needs to question why people haven't chosen it as a career; it needs to adjust its practices and mentality to make it more inviting option to new entrants. That is both financially and socially. The dairy industry is one such example - instead of buying a farm, which is nearly impossible for a young farmer, there should be options to co-farm, rent or similar type of thing. It is about changing the mind set of older generations on "this is how we farm".

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