Given the fact that there has been a vital shift in the amount of knowledge consumers are demanding from agriculture, as well as a focus on the "how" of food production, I believe we need to adress the question: Can the ProFood movement co-exist with "conventional" agriculture? In short, I say yes, of course it can!
The first thing we need to do is divorce the connection between industrial agriculture and conventional agriculture. This may be a difficult task given the history of agriculture, but it is imperative we, as a society, make this happen. I work in agriculture, obviously, but do not farm. I spend a great deal of time with farmers and respect what they do and why they do it. There is a 100% garauntee that the family farms (of ALL sizes) that I work with are good stewards of the environment, focus on the welfare of their animals, and take very seriously the notion that "we are feeding the world". For this, we should all be thankful and provide our support for farmers. Now, are there some bad apples (no pun intended) out there? Absolutely! I reject the idea that these bad apples are the norm. Maybe that is my tendency as an eternal optimist coming out? So be it then! By lumping all these "conventional" farmers together with the current definition of industrial farming, we are doing a dis-service to the very many hard working farming families across our country. The vast majority of conventional farmers ARE NOT growing as much as they can with total dis-regard to the soil and the natural resources Mother Nature has blessed us with.
So back to the orginal question and my position of Yes. The ProFood movement is compromised of very educated consumers. In our country, change can only take place if it is driven by the consumer; the essence of a free market system. We in agriculture can, and should engage in this movement. To be frank, ProFood can learn from farmers who have been growing our food for many years. There is no amount of researching and education that can replace the knowledge of experience. Another reason we in agriculture need to engage is so we can propogate the innovations and technological advancements that have been made in production agriculture. These advancements have led to reduced chemical use, sustainable processes, and reduced water use, to name a few. Is this not a stepping stone in the ProFood ideals?
It is my position that conventional and sustainble will ultimately converge; once the economics become viable, and they are not now. By design, sustainable agriculture is closely related to organic methodologies. The tenents of organic growing require a shift in the labor required to produce crops. Technology is adopted on a limited basis in organic agriculture. Couple this with the fact that our population shows zero signs of decreasing. To the contrary, we have had rapid expansion in our population. I am not convinced that ProFood can sustain this rapid expansion; at least not in it's current form. On that note, it should be noted that conventional agriculture will also have to adapt, and has been for many years.
There is room for all types of farmers in the agricultural space. Each has a place and provides the food we require to sustain life. As we continue to engage in fruitful conversation about the growing of our food, it would do us all good to remember that a "conventional" farmer should not be associated with the negative connotaions of "industrial" agriculture. It is due to their hard work and determination that our country has flourished. We are all looking for better ways to produce our food.
Please stay tuned for more in depth posts touching on the agri-supply chain.