Feeding the World

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170222105236.htm

‘Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world’s growing population.’

This truism has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture. New research suggests that production likely will need to increase between 25 percent and 70 percent to meet 2050 food demand.

Undocumented Immigrant Labor

According to USDA over 50% of farm labor in America is provided by undocumented immigrants.

Think about it…over 50% of our agricultural economy operates illegally.

This has obviously come to the forefront recently over President Trump’s new immigrant policies.

We are a nation of immigrants.

BUT, we are also a nation of laws.

If I am asked to obey the law, then I expect to be competing and living with folks whom also obey the law.

The psychological damage that we have done to our agricultural economy by not addressing the issue of undocumented (illegal) immigrants is enormous.

As an aside, I find a great irony in organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s emphasis on international agricultural development at the same time our American agricultural economy is built on workers without a voice.

We need to solve this problem. If we do not, we will become the plutocracy that is already on the horizon.

The Rights of Animals

I’ve been reviewing a draft of some new Rhode Island animal treatment regulations.

….also been listening to some talks/lectures on human rights and civil law.

…also, through a series of events ‘beyond my control’, I’ve experienced some grotesque abuse of civil law (in my opinion).

My conclusion is that animals have been in trouble for some time, and animal ‘regulations’ are not going to help much.

In certain specific examples, animal regulations certainly might halt an abuser, but the broader problem is  – in the animal husbandry industry – the generally accepted approaches for the care of animals is driven by a human need to profit more than the common sense of animal care.

What animals need are not ‘rights’… but proper care. Proper care will only result from religiously sound beliefs about animals.

Fake News, Internet and Communication Tech Companies, and American Society

This post diverges from agriculture and food…but not really

…and excuse the following generalizations (there are good folk in all the places I criticize).

Apple’s CEO made a recent statement on Fake News.

Article on the Statement

Apple has more historical credibility here than the others…but…

He states the need to create methods to ‘find’ fake news without stepping on freedom of speech.

Excuse my frankness, but if Google and Facebook and Twitter and all these other social media entities had – in the beginning – collaborated with publishers and newspapers (rather than intellectually and economically demeaning them for a buck to be the hot new technology) …this entire episode would not have happened….

AND Facebook and Google and Twitter..etc. would today have had a much better business model.

Watch what happens now….

It’s a huge mess…I disagree with Cook that it is going away quickly…will NOT go away without better business models for Internet companies. The advertising model has all the integrity …and ‘spendability’…of a wooden nickel.

I’d even suggest Google is only marginally on firm financial ground.

Facebook, Twitter…even certain aspects of Amazon….are in the bulls-eye of the coming information reformation.

The peripheral companies like Yahoo are already seeing their ephemeral balance sheets crash.

Google and others (like Bezos and Musk) also constantly scramble to get into other businesses…I wonder if this is just ‘expansionist’ capital… or fear of the fragility of the core business financial model?

I was, for 20 + years, in publishing …loved it and was extremely good professionally (information graphics and descriptive communications at the most sophisticated and intelligent levels of the industry….sorry for the ‘personal back-slapping’…but I was pretty darn successful).

In 1994 I left the field because I no longer saw a route to practicing with an ethic similar to my practice at The University of Chicago Press and Scientific American. Fortunately The University of Chicago Press is still robust (do not know about Scientific American).

In many ways the industries of publishing and journalism (and the integrity of those industries) were ‘stolen’ by the Internet’s ephemeral models.

Our society had also…for the previous 30 years (60s through 80s) evolved a culture and law of hyper-individualism….where personal rights in law supercede the rights of family, community.

It is also the period where ‘individual rights’, ‘rights to aggregate’ and  ‘rights to be corporate’ superceded traditional ideals of justice for all….even superceded BASIC rights enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. We now have an entire set of inane laws that are fundamentally and profoundly contradictory.

We are now seeing the results of the changes in law and culture from the 60s to the present:

  1. We have a PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES who has built a career (since the 60s) on the manipulation of information/communication for his own “individual’ gain (and his need for attention). He does not see any moral, ethical, or cultural connection/contradiction with his severely dishonest actions. I am not a psychiatrist and do not know what his diagnosis would be…but am certain he is not healthy.
  2. We have forty years of law based upon the idea that an individual is more important than a community or a family. The political dialogue seldom even acknowledges the complexity of the laws created…the ultimate absurdity being the public discussion and laws related to abortion, sexual rights, etc.
  3. We have forty years of financial corporations and financial professionals whose goal is the personal acquisition of money (not wealth in the traditional sense). Not that America was ever without sin (remember the American Indian, the African slave)…but we originally created law – with our country’s formation – meant to alleviate oppression, respect one another, and allow for the pursuit of happiness (I would have used the word ‘health’ rather than ‘happiness’…but the intentions were sterling). Those formation documents are simple, straightforward, understandable, and consistent with my understanding of human behavior.
  4. We have also created an agriculture economy based upon the aggregation of ownership and money at the expense of farming integrity…an agriculture that has deteriorated the fundamental means of production (the soil and the reproduction of animals) based upon someone’s or some corporation’s ‘individual rights’.
  5. We have created food that reflects the aggregation of money by debasing ingredients and quality of raw materials.

Fortunately, a more and more robust sector of our society sees the problem, understands the problem, and has some pretty spectacular start-up suggestions on how to reform our culture.

A subset of that group also has amazingly high moral, ethical, and religious values at a young age – remarkable in our current economy.

They are going to need a strong stomach and sturdy limbs…prophetic action will be resisted.

 

The Ergonomics of Specialty Farming

Farming is hard physical work….particularly the planting and harvesting of vegetable crops.

Given we are developing an investment fund that will own both farm and value-added production facilities, I’ve begun thinking how we might diversify any given farmer’s work – diversify it in a manner that is healthier for the farmer and increases productivity.

Thinking of this opens a number of business structure questions:

How can a farmer own parts of diverse enterprises? (Co-op, Shareholder, etc.).

How to analyze improvements in farm and food enterprise operations that result from diversifying work and tasks?

How to manage such a structure?

What are the farming opportunities and limitations?

We will put together some financial models for this for investor conversations.

A Failure of Diagnosis

I’ve just started reading parts of Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic.

Early on he uses the phrase ‘a failure of diagnosis.’

American agriculture suffers from a serious ‘failure of diagnosis.’

In previous posts I’ve mentioned two approaches we hope will improve the ability to diagnose a specific agriculture in a specific place (…and, by the way, I think one of the most serious failures in agriculture is the tendency to generalize solutions/landscapes/ecologies).

There is a third leg to our agro-ecological ‘stool’….and it is the most tentative (much work needs to be done…but a good start). It is an ever evolving list of agro-ecological practices.

The outline to date:

    • Area I: Improving the physical, chemical and biological conditions of soil.
      • Compost Practices (Composition and chemically/biologically specific practices and their application) including vermiculture
      • Mulching Practices (Composition and chemically/biologically specific practices and their application)
      • Manure Practices (Composition, and animal specific manure practices including amendments/methods)
      • Bionutrient Practices (Bionutrient practices including amendments/methods)
    • Area II: Managing nutrients
      • Practices that ensure minimalization of non-point source runoff from nutrient application
      • Practices that ensure protection of air quality
      • Practices for row arrangement that aid both nutrient management and other productivity enhancements
      • Practices for crop rotation that aid nutrient management and enhance productivity
    • Area III: Managing weeds and pests
      • Practices creating native plant communities and wildlife habitat consistent with site ecology
      • Practices that enhance accessibility, quantity, and quality of forage
      • Practices of integrated pest management
    • Area IV: Managing water
      • Structures for water control
      • Practices for stormwater runoff control
      • Practices for irrigation, microirrigation
      • Practices for water harvesting
    • Area V: Managing farm infrastructure
      • Practices for vegetative barriers
      • Practices for vegetative treated areas
      • Practices for tree and shrub establishment
      • Practices for obstruction removal
      • Practices for land clearing
      • Practices for waste recycling
      • Practices for seasonal high tunnels for crops
      • Practices for fencing
      • Practices for hedgerows
    • Area VI: Managing farm energy uses
      • Practices that reduce on-farm energy use
      • Practices that improve the efficiency of on-farm energy use

The initial work was done in a partnership with USDA NRCS as an effort to improve the conservation practice definitions and payments for specialty farmers. We have taken it a good bit further at this point to evolve both a plan for a demonstration farm as well as a training curriculum.

 

Losers

I consider Wendell Berry a prophet.

Penguin Books has recently published a new collection of his essays (do not see a contents…but think them all previously published???).

It is titled The World-Ending Fire.

He often refers to our present economy as being built on combustion and toxins…so the title is aptly put.

In an interview related to the book’s publication he was asked about his opinion on the recent election of Donald Trump as our American President.

His response was…it didn’t matter if it was Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump….either way he (Wendell Berry) was a loser.

I am personally in the same sinking boat….and over the past few years a number of folks have (very definitely) called me a loser.

Wendell has, for a long time, had both of his feet solidly planted in the compassion based, soil conserving, community building loser class.

I, for a similarly long time, had both my ‘moral’ feet in his space. It is just I had one economic foot  in the ‘combustion and toxin’ economy.

Over the past few years I’ve liquidated the ‘combustion and toxin’ assets to work with younger folks on another economy.

Now – at this point – I diverge a bit from Mr. Berry.

I’ve had a great deal more day-to-day business experience than he, so I see an opportunity to change the economy…and change it pretty rapidly in food enterprises.

Even think I know how to do it!

The previous post on An Enterprise Ethic starts to publish some of the work over the past three years that has helped solidify my reputation as a loser.

An Enterprise Ethic

I have a personal affection for small business.

My life experience indicates that once organizations exceed a certain ‘people size’ they begin to lose quality rapidly (without extremely intelligent and diligent management).

It is very parallel to Wes Jackson’s ‘Eyes to Acres’.

Over the past two years I’ve attempted to define an ethic that might enable more intelligence in small business organizations (and, by the way, I see a tremendous number of small businesses that I think run extremely intelligently and carefully within our current financial and tax structure). My purpose is not to criticize wonderful small businesses. My purpose is to propose a method of organization, management, and financial operation that is more democratic, compassionate, and responsive than the current financial and tax structure in America.

The legal and ownership structure would:

  • De-emphasize property  – which appears to be shallowly materialistic and static in our current financial system – and replace it with dynamic ‘living’ partner accounts.
  • Manage partner accounts through a democratic process and evaluate partner accounts on a periodic (quarterly/semi-annual?) basis for labor inputs, performance measures, and partner financial inputs/outputs.
  • Include performance measures determined for each partner (and any consideration of new partners) on a periodic basis (performance expectations for the coming period). Those performance measures would/could include labor expectations, financial expectations, business development expectations based upon the partner’s expertise and role within the enterprise.
  • Through periodic partner meetings, would reach consensus on current partner account value, partner expectations over the next period, and partner compensation over the next period.
  • Periodic partner meetings would also determine any financing or external agreements necessary for the effective operation of the enterprise – including a compensation methodology.
  • The total of all partner accounts would be equivalent to the sum of the Fund’s cash and liquid assets plus the appraised value of non-liquid assets.
  • All workers within the enterprise are partners – partner accounts would vary depending on the extent of involvement, financial inputs, etc.

I do not think this is necessarily unusual corporate language for partnerships…I do think it is unusual in application…because it becomes complex.

The value of confronting the difficulties is that it creates morally responsible, religiously sound, sustainable organizations.