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prAGmatic: How Sustainable Intensification Feeds The World

Vegans, paleos, vegetarians, pescatarians. All have beliefs about the right way to eat food.

Vegans, paleos, vegetarians, pescatarians. All have beliefs about the right way to eat food.

Organic, agroecology, regenerative, and conventional all sound like farming denominations professing they know the way to grow food.

Who is correct? What is right? The answer is no one and everyone.

Homo sapiens are not homogeneous And neither are farms.

While Hippocrates (440 BC) is attributed to the saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” today modern genomics is showing that what might be the right food for one person may be different for another. This is leading to a new field of study called “nutrigenomics” where science is looking at how food affects genes and how a person’s genes affect their response to food. In other words, there is no one right food; it depends…

At the farm level, there has been a morphing of agrarianism where now there are camps professing that this or that ideology is the right way to farm, when in fact, farming is highly nuanced and is affected by environmental, economic, social and cultural influences. In other words, there is no one right way to farm; it depends…

Welcome to prAGmatic, a column that will look at how sustainable intensification will feed the world. In this column, I will explore the intersection between farming and food with an effort to create pragmatic discussions on how farms will feed our human population today and in the future.

After listening to the guests at a fancy restaurant explain to the waiter what they will and will not tolerate on their plate and arguing about what food religion is the truth, the light and the way, I like to ask, “in spite of your belief about what is the right food and is the right way to produce food, can we all agree that so long as we have humans on the planet, agriculture must be infinitely sustainable?”

Generally, the dinner guests agree. Then I ask the next question, “What makes agriculture infinitely sustainable?

Well, then the table goes quiet because they all have to do something they have not done for a long time and that is…think.

Eventually, someone will say “soil”. Correct, healthy soil is key to agriculture sustainability.

Then someone will say “water”. Great! Yes. Agriculture uses 70% of the freshwater consumed on the planet. I guess that makes sense. I mean, using water to produce food is important.

Someone will eventually bring up climate change (farmers often refer to this as weather) and yes, agriculture does have an impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But unlike many industries that just emit GHGs, agriculture has a huge roll to play in not only the reduction of GHG’s but through soil sequestration, the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil as organic matter.

Usually, the table forgets the most important issue in ensuring agriculture is infinitely sustainable and that is profit! For without profit, farms are not viable. And without viability, you have no sustainability. So while there are plenty of armchair farmers who can profess they have the answers, many times those answers are based in ideology that will drive a farmer into bankruptcy … that’s not sustainable.

If you know of a business that has been around for a hundred year or more (e.g Kraft Foods, Kellogg’s, Hudson Bay, Harley Davidson, John Deere), that will seem like a pretty sustainable business. A 100-plus-year-old business would be one where the management has had to adapt, evolve, and change. To learn, unlearn and re-learn is something that our farmers have been doing for generations. And this adaptability is what has made many Century farms. Those farms who have been around for a hundred years or more. To me that is pretty sustainable.

There is one more thing that farms have that most businesses do not have and that is LOVE. Farmers love their land, their livestock and most dream of passing the farm onto the next generation. This love is often overlooked or misunderstood when we talk about agriculture and how farmers work to ensure their farms and families are sustainable.

Through this column I will explore modern farming and attempt to provide some clarity as to why we do what we do on the farm. Welcome to prAGmatic, how sustainable intensification will feed the planet.

Robert Saik is a professional agrologist and certified agriculture consultant. He is an author of FOOD 5.0 and The Agriculture Manifesto and CEO, of AGvisorPRO an app that connects those seeking agriculture advice with experts who provide answers. You can reach Rob by downloading and connecting to him on AGvisorPRO.