Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Something Hopeful?

As we all know, there's a blizzard of information and opinion out there on the interweb (thank you Brett Butt). This little blog is one more snowflake. But there is something amazing to be able to sit out here in rural PEI and have access to stuff from all over the world. I remember how excited Peter Gzowski was when he first got on the interweb, like a kid in the candy store.

It means you come across hopeful stories like this one:

Here's the full report:

Essentially the report says that smart farming practices (traditional practices really) can do a lot more to increase yields, and protect the environment  in poor, undernourished, developing countries, than transferring what we do here in the developed world. The term being used is agro-ecology.

"GENEVA – Small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by
using ecological methods, a new UN report* shows. Based on an extensive review of the recent
scientific literature, the study calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a way to
boost food production and improve the situation of the poorest."

This is the part I like the best:
“Knowledge came to replace pesticides and fertilizers."

A growing concern for me covering farming on PEI over the last decade was the loss of  experienced independent advice for farmers here because of government cutbacks. One of the first farmers I ever talked to here in the early '80's said there were three people he listened to: his priest, his banker, and his potato inspector.  (Given that we've just come through International Women's Day, I admit I was remiss about not asking him about his wife's advice). . The banker and the priest (and hopefully his wife) may still hold sway, but federal food inspectors now are seen more as the enemy than a friend.  When they do get to a farm, it's usually because there's a problem, and now CFIA inspectors have to be specialists at everything, from fish plants to dairies. The kind of on-going, trusted advice from the old "potato inspector" is long gone.

What's worse is that the advice farmers do get now usually comes from fertilizer and farm chemical sales people. Now these company representatives are just doing their job, and some are quite knowledgeable, but the bottom line is they want to move product.

It's not all negative. There's growing interest in  "nutrient management", and  "integrated pest management" that get farmers to think first, before firing up the tractor. Both mean doing soil tests, or bug counts before taking any action. That's smart.

Some of this involves patience and trust. A researcher once told me that he was trying to convince potato growers to use a safer soil bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis or BT to control potato beetles. It attacks the beetles when they're first born as larvae, and is very effective, but the timing of the spray has to be just right.  The researcher said farmers had grown used to seeing beetles, spraying, and then hearing the crackle of dead  beetle bodies walking up and down the rows. Spraying BT, and having to wait ten days or so to know everything is alright, was just too difficult.

Farmers have extraordinary investments to  protect every summer, and the urge for certainty is understandable. Weather in itself throws enough curve balls for the average person, and the growing occurrence of "extreme weather events" just adds to the anxiety.   But let's leave room for thinking and experience, and knowledgeable independent advice wherever farmers can get it, even off the interweb.

No comments:

Post a Comment