|For the week of November 26, 2012|
Working Together for a Dynamic Agriculture
Open the food section of your favorite Sunday newspaper or visit the food and agriculture blogosphere and you occasionally get the impression that segments of agriculture are in a competitive feud with one another. It seems consumers are constantly pressured to pick a favorite. Organic versus conventional? Global market chains versus locally sourced? Traditional versus modern?
But visit with farmers who earn their livelihood working the land, as I do, and you get a much different impression. Most farmers and agribusinessmen and women have an unbridled respect for their counterparts, regardless of the region where they live, the crops they choose to grow or the production methods they embrace. Today’s farmers are sophisticated and they understand that one size doesn’t fit all. And that it will take a diverse agriculture and food system to meet the 21st century demands of a rapidly escalating global population, more sensitive and discerning wealthy consumers and increasingly strained natural resources.
When I was appointed a member of AC21, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, I didn’t plan on dispelling this misconception of a dueling agriculture industry. But along with my fellow committee members, I think we’ve made progress.
Our committee just completed a year-long discussion on ways to enhance coexistence among different production methods, specifically biotech and non-biotech crops. We tackled some challenging topics but in the end developed a set of consensus recommendations that aim to serve the interests of all segments of agriculture.
I leave it to you to read every detail of the final AC21 report. In brief, our recommendations centered on the history of successful coexistence in identity-preserved agriculture where there is a market-based price premium for maintaining the integrity and purity of a crop; the potential to implement education and outreach initiatives to improve stewardship and neighbor-to-neighbor coexistence; and whether or not there is a need to help some farmers manage risk through a new insurance-type product.
I’m optimistic the AC21 recommendations can improve the way farmers work together because they reflect a diversity and mutual respect embodied in our committee’s membership.
For my part, there are two core principles I believe are worth keeping in mind as we work together to strive for a dynamic agriculture industry that continues to respond to consumer preferences while maintaining our role and reputation as the most productive source of affordable, high-quality agriculture products in the world.
The first principle is choice.
Farmers should have the freedom and ability to pursue their own best interest when determining what safe and environmentally sound cropping methods to adopt.
The second principle is innovation – in markets and technology.
The growth of our industry depends on maintaining and improving access to new input technologies, including biotechnology, while preserving and enhancing the marketability of farmers’ products in domestic and foreign markets. This requires a science-based regulatory framework that is appropriately rigorous as well as efficient and predictable. Then, farmers and agribusiness can be free to identify and pursue consumer-driven, value-added market opportunities for which our industry is so well-known.
Barry Bushue is the owner of a family nursery, berry, and flowering basket farm in Oregon and serves as vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.