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HUNTIN' DAYLIGHT -- TEACHING AND PREACHING NON-SUSTAINABILITY

by: Wes Ishmael

"In many ways, USDA's People's Garden is the nation's demonstration plot, showing how small steps can mean important gains in mitigating global warming and producing a safe, sustainable and nutritious food supply," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The garden concepts we're teaching this summer can be your contribution to providing healthy food, air, and water for people and communities across the country."

If you're unfamiliar with it, this euphemistically named plot of ground at USDA headquarters is actually 1,250 ft. sq. of pavement torn up and reclaimed for Mother Nature; it adjoins 625 ft. sq. of existing space previously sown with plants of the decorative variety.

Don't worry about the price, they've had contractors do it all, and are also hiring someone to tend the garden.

At the ground-breaking in February Vilsack explained how bounty from the People's Garden will symbolize all that is healthful and nutritious, and that the produce will be donated to area food banks.

“And it will be organic-not using any fertilizers or pesticides,” Vilsack proclaimed.

Unequal Representation

Like giving a laying hen the freedom to run rather than keeping her cooped up in a cage, this organic stuff always sounds so innocent, eco-friendly and downright courteous. Unfortunately, it also spells disaster.

In the case of those free-roaming hens, which California voters liberated with the passage of Proposition 2 last fall, they're lots more likely to get and spread diseases, be smothered and what-not. Science proves it.

In the case of organics, widespread adoption would mean a global hunger catastrophe. Science and decades of practical experience proves that, too.

“If we had achieved only the per acre production of 1960, to meet today's food demand we would have had to plow an additional 15-20 million more square miles of land,” explained Alex Avery at last fall's Beef Quality Summit. He's Director of Research and Education with the Center for Global Food Issues at Hudson Institute

More important, as horrible as world hunger is today it would be worse if the U.S. had embraced organic production decades ago. Without the use of technology the industry could not have achieved progress like this:

• Without technological improvements, the U.S. cattle herd required to produce the 2004 beef supply would nearly double to 180 million head, which would have major implications on land use and animal waste issues

• To provide additional pasture and feed grains, that 180 million head of cattle would require additional land area equal to the combined acreage of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Kansas

• U.S. beef production on a per-head basis has increased by more than 80% making the U.S. the most efficient beef producer in the world

• While decreasing resource use, producers have increased total beef production from 13.2 billion lbs. to 27 billion lbs.

That comes from a study in 2004 conducted by Thomas Elam, President of Strategic Directions in Carmel, IN and Rodney Preston, Thornton Professor Emeritus, Texas Tech University. The study is called, Fifty Years of Pharmaceutical Technology and its Impact on the Beef We Provide to Consumers. You can find it at www.beeftechnologies.com.

“The world faces the largest humanitarian food challenge in its history,” Avery said. “Over the next 40 years world food demand will at least double, and we have little new farm lands with which to meet that demand. We really have only more productive farming methods to use on our existing farm lands.”

Production enhancing methods include the things we usually think of such as hybrid plant genetics for crops and implants for cattle. That's before you consider an emerging array of genomics and genomics-based technologies we haven't heard much about yet.

As for the anticipated demand growth, part of it stems from the growing world population—currently 6.8 billion and expected to peak in 2050 at 8.5-9.5 billion. Though formidable, Avery explained much of the explosion in food demand will come from expanding global wealth, which translates into more people having the wherewithal to buy more food and support richer diets.

That's tough to imagine in the current economic climate, but just think of how much expanding international wealth contributed to last year's commodity bubble.

All of that wealth, and there's still so many hungry people in the world because of a lack of money and infrastructure. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates there are 963 million hungry people in the world, most in developing nations.

“Notwithstanding the problems of intensive agriculture, I often ask the critics of modern agriculture what the world would have been like without the technological advances that have occurred, largely during the past 40 years. In particular, we must also realize that world population has grown from 2.8 to 6 billion people over the past 50 years.”

That's what Norman Borlaug said in a 2001 speech given at Tuskegee University. At 95 years of age Borlaug is still an active professor emeritus at Texas A&M University. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his efforts in developing and teaching high-yield, high-conservation agricultural techniques to developing countries. Those efforts have saved countless numbers.

Yet, here is USDA preening over an organic garden they apparently believe exemplifies a solution, rather than the archaic problem that it is.

Of course, this is the same government that has shelled out more money in the last year than it paid for a slug of wars and massive government programs combined, including: the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the Race to the Moon, the S&L Crisis, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Invasion of Iraq, the New Deal and NASA.

Barry L. Ritholtz says that. He's CEO and Director of Equity Research for Fusion IQ, an online quantitative research firm. He's also author of the recently published book, Bailout Nation (http://bailoutnation.net).

Ritholtz says the combined inflation-adjusted price tag for these events was $3.92 trillion. He goes on to explain that dollars committed by the U.S. government to the bailout and other fiascos from March 2008 to March 2009 is a staggering $4.6 trillion—almost $1 trillion more than America spent on World War II.

Nice to know there's still time to putter in the garden.

You can find out more about the fascinating and inspirational Norman Borlaug at www.high yieldconservation.org

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