Sustainable food solutions exist outside local, organic movements

Whoops, I think I just ruffled the feathers of some locavores out there, but I think there is a point to that statement. And so does Brad Copenhaven when he wrote his opinion piece for the Collegiate Times.

I stumbled upon this piece through the College Aggies Online site and found it to be a thought-provoking read. The writer suggests that more efficient food production can be more sustainable.

Here is an excerpt explaining this point:

Take, for example, grass-finished beef. Today’s locavore activists (local-eating advocates) would have us all believe that a steer or heifer finished completely on local pasture is more environmentally sustainable and natural. Why? They claim that it takes less energy for the cattle to stay on pasture for their entire lives than it takes to grow and harvest corn to finish conventionally-raised cattle and that these cattle release large amounts of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

However, cattle finished entirely on grass have lower growth rates and take longer to get to maturity. Grazing animals have additional energy requirements and actually release more methane than those finished on a grain based diet. In another recent study, Capper found that on a pound-by-pound basis, each pound of beef produced today by conventional methods uses less feed, less land, less water and less fossil fuel energy than beef produced by methods used in the 1970s.

Also, locavores often cite a product’s food miles, or the distance it travels from its place of production to your plate, as a way to determine its sustainability. It seems to make sense that food produced closer to home results in less energy usage and lower greenhouse gas emissions because it doesn’t have to be transported hundreds or thousands of miles.

However, this type of thought fails to take into account the difference in energy usage between production methods. When the fact that conventional production typically uses less energy per unit produced is taken into account, the idea of “food miles” may not be the best measure for the sustainability of the food we eat.

There are still many issues, such as pesticide, fertilizer, antibiotic, growth hormone usage and food economic that deserve our attention.

via Sustainable food solutions exist outside local, organic movements – CollegiateTimes.com.

I know there are people with opinions on both sides of the issue. It is hard to approach this subject with an open mind if you are involved with food production. In my opinion Agriculture Producers have no reason to be anything but sustainable in their practices. With good management skills, why would we be involved in production practices that would jeopardize tomorrow’s production?

What are your thoughts on the topic? Come on, I know you have an opinion, otherwise you would not have read this far.

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10 Comments

  1. This is a good article. Sometimes we are so hung up on sustainable and green we go off the deep end. Glad to see some of these stats. I love “Buy Local” and see people do so, but we need to remember everyone is in this to produce food economically, make a decent living, and, hopefully, help feed a hungry world. We need to increase production, efficiency, etc., to do that and that includes finding ways to do it better. There are too many people in this world to feed for all of us to return to the methods we used a hundred years or more ago. Diversity is great. So are all the ‘niche markets’. But we can’t afford to trash those who do things differently than we do. So whether we pasture our cattle or feed them grain, or fertilize our crops or not, should depend on what is best for our situation and producing the best we can.

  2. It all gets back to what is “sustainable” and who gets to decide. When facts are left out you can make anything look the way you want it to.

  3. Seems every sector of agricluture is guilty of painting the broad brush all each other. Agriculture is not black and white. Agriculture is all shades in between.

    We have farmers who have grass finished beef ready in 13-15months to grade Prime 🙂 See: http://twitpic.com/2zvtfy

    This beef traveled only 7 miles from pasture to plate….

    1. Yes Amy every situation is different and much too often people try to use one situation as an example for all of production ag.

      Sounds like some good local beef to eat. Where was this beef raised?

  4. On my recent trip to Australia I learned a lot about grass fed beef. In their systems beef that will stay in Australia comes into a feedlot at 15-18 months of age and then will be fed for another 70 days, a huge difference that what happens in the U.S. I don’t think we could ever be a major player in feeding the world if this is how our system worked. I have a post on my blog, if you are interested in learning more. Just search Australia.

    1. The time line is a little different from here in the US. Many calves come into our yard from a stocker operation where they were on grazing pastures. We buy very few cattle that have been on a feeding program or very recently weaned.

  5. Hello! I think Ryan is correct that we need and love all the different farmers and ranchers and their ways of going. I am so encouraged by the local buyers that have found my little farm by way of the website Local Harvest! With this new supply of local, intelligent, caring and fun customers, who gladly pay a price that covers the costs, I can re-stock and run my farm. I have been living on our small farm for 35 years but when I started there were no farmers markets, and not much to encourage folks to go to the farm for their food. I guess we were to good at convincing everyone that what was grown on our places was at their store fast, clean, and cheap! We couldn’t operate well trying to compete with store prices. Now with the public behind us we are encouraged to try again to have a small operation that can sustain not only agriculture businesses in our valley but the connection between the town folks and the country folks, and the ability to save this land, views, small businesses and life styles that in the, not so distant past, forced the conversion of all this into pavement and crowded cities.
    So I guess I am very happy that the two sides, growers and consumers, have come together and hope to live side by side from now on!

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