Is All Farming Good?
By Kim Vail, Executive Director
Published March 1, 2016
What an amazing place Sonoma County is, and we are fortunate enough to be able to it call home. We are blessed with a Mediterranean micro climate allowing local agriculture to produce an abundance and diversity of fresh food, in some cases nearly all year. This is certainly a treasured asset we have inherited and from which we will continue to derive benefits.
The manner or methods in which farming and ranching delivers the choices in food products consumers are increasingly asking for is also diverse. But is all farming good? There are all kinds of labels applied to food systems today including modern, conventional, organic, large, local, vertical, small and sustainable.
There are also several information sources to help inform consumers about these various methods, at times even to favor one method over others. At the extreme, some information can lead proponents to seek to curtail or even ban a particular method. Differentiation is good so long as it explains the attributes and does not convey misperceptions or mistruths so easily embraced by today’s consumers.
Consumers need to understand their decisions may come at a cost. For example, eliminating the use of genetically modified organisms can have tremendous environmental impacts in the form of increased water use, pesticides and herbicides, and decreased productivity. It is important to share that all farming is good and the advances being built into these systems are going to help develop products which improve crop and animal health, boost the nutritional value of farm products and make agriculture more productive and efficient. It will take all kinds of farming and farmers to feed our growing population projected to reach 9 billion globally by 2050 – from small to large, organic to conventional, from Midwestern wheat fields to vertical farming in urban warehouses. Overall, food production will need to double.
We are limited by the supply of our natural resources and will need to provide more food using fewer resources while doing so wisely and sustainably. The good news is it is already happening and technology is key. Precision agriculture is the general term, and it includes some exciting tools such as unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), global positioning systems, sensors and even thermal imaging which increases production and at the same time minimizes inputs like crop protectants, antibiotics and fertilizer.
Precision inputs save money and reduce environmental impacts. Drip irrigation is conserving water in vineyards. Drones can survey and potentially spray crops safer. Orchards with insect infestation can use sensors to identify which trees need to be sprayed versus the entire orchard.
Additional tools that should be in every farmer and rancher’s toolbox are transparency and an authentic voice, promoting a common goal and single intention of ensuring the consumer all farmers and farming practices are safe and science-based. Supporting these practices helps to limit doubt about the safety of food production. There is enough misconception and misunderstanding coming at consumers from several angles.
Every organization’s goal should be fostering a sense of security for consumers while providing them with access to all of the information they need in order to develop their own opinions.