It’s Thanksgiving week here in the U.S. A big part of our focus this Thursday will be on food and one would hope we would take some time to express our gratitude for all we have. A natural extension of this is to be thankful to our farmers for their tireless efforts to make sure we have plenty to eat.
But not so fast. Instead of celebrating what we have, there continues to be a loud contingent of complainers, critics and detractors of agriculture who prefer to attack our system of agriculture than to offer a simple “thank you.” Many of those who attack agriculture are firmly rooted in academia and can’t tell a weed from a soybean. Yet, they do not hesitate to tell us what’s wrong with agriculture.
In its October 2014 issue, Agri Marketing magazine summarized a recent report entitled, “An Illiberal Education” and subtitled, “10 critical lessons about the state of food-system education in American colleges and universities.” You can find the full report at www.truthinfood.com.
Two points from the report pretty much said it all for me.
- Activist professors academically bully students into accepting their views of agriculture and the U.S. food system
- Politically motivated professor can critically deconstruct the food system to gain rapid peer acceptance and then catapult their findings using the university brand.
Why do they work so hard to degrade agriculture and our food system? Because they can. Have you ever noticed that it’s much easier to not believe in something than it is to believe in something? And it’s easier attacking then defending?
The report addresses this as well. It says, “There is hesitancy among agricultural academicians to openly lobby for agriculture and our modern food system.” That’s not to say that some really great professors and researchers at universities with strong ag programs aren’t making a case for our highly efficient agricultural practices. But who are they talking to? Those who want to tear down agriculture are screaming at the top of their lungs to anybody within earshot. And we in the media spread it around like it must be true.
So it was absolutely refreshing to hear from a professor who simply says, to the consternation of his students, “Buying organic and local aren’t the key because they won’t be at enough scale to be at the center of the problem.” He’s a proponent of our food system, according to an article that appeared in the Nov. 20 issue on Forbes.com, “Meet a Data Scientist Who's Helped Revolutionize Agriculture.”
He’s Prof. David Lobell, who says, a lot of his students are puzzled when they get to his Stanford University classroom and hear him advocate for the food industrial complex. He’s also a 2013 MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient who uses data to investigate the impact of climate change on crop production.
About his teaching, the Forbes article quotes Prof. Lobell: “The students are very interested in the topic and they’ve got very critical thinking, but when I give talks to general audiences the questions are sometimes from people with agendas, such as, ‘Aren’t you perpetuating the current system?’ and ‘Shouldn’t we all be farmers?’”
He says, “The basic challenge of the next 30 years is how do you make the most of current land and labor, and maximize yield with those resources.”
This sounds vaguely familiar. I think I’ve heard farmers, equipment dealers and manufacturers repeating this very same thing for the past decade or so. Maybe we need to stop talking to each other and start speaking with those who are easily swayed by emotional arguments with no basis in fact. The misuse of so-called “facts and figures” to support personal agendas is nothing new. For the most recent example, check what Jonathan Gruber, the MIT professor who helped craft Obamacare, said about “the stupidity of the American voter” that helped get the healthcare bill passed.
All of that aside, each one of us in agriculture should continually remind all of America how Happy Thanksgivings come about.