Concerning the discussion downblog, one reader writes in to suggest that, in addition to converting the ethanol-producing land to the growth of crops that are, you know, edible, we might also plow under our abandoned Walmarts and shopping malls. Short answer: Yes. We. Should.
Another sends in this, which was linked in the comments thread on the H&R post that got me started on all of this. (If I weren’t already reading 4,500 blog posts a month, I’d have seen it earlier.) The author, who is affiliated with my own home institution, cites a bunch of studies that found organic methods to be at least as productive as industrial ones – all very helpful, but unfortunately one-sided in its own way. I’m all for being skeptical of the party line, but dismissing scads of scientific research as nothing more than the propaganda of “agribusiness conglomerates and their supporters” seems a bit of a reach to me. The research that he does cite goes a long way, though, to showing that talk of starving half the world’s population through organic farming is a bunch of hyperbolic horseshit.
And speaking of horseshit:
Animal manure is not in short supply by any means. EPA estimates indicate that US livestock operations generate one billion tons of manure per year; most of this is not utilized in agriculture, instead it leaches nitrogen and phosphorus into our waterways, thus threatening wetlands and river systems and in many cases drinking water supplies. Organic agriculture, and especially small diversified farms, could allow us to once again couple livestock production to crop production, thus cycling this valuable byproduct back into the soil and eliminating costly environmental degradation.
The emphasis on small-scale family farms has the potential to revitalize rural areas and their economies. Counter to the widely held belief that industrial agriculture is more efficient and productive, small farms produce far more per acre than large farms. Industrial agriculture relies heavily on monocultures, the planting of a single crop throughout the farm, because they simplify management and allow the use of heavy machinery. Larger farms in the third world also tend to grow export luxury crops instead of providing staple foods to their growing population. Small farmers, especially in the Third World have integrated farming systems where they plant a variety of crops maximizing the use of their land.
Etcetera. In short, there are at least two sides to every story, and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Ron Bailey of all people should be willing to be skeptical of the received wisdom.