Doc’s Blog

How Many Will Starve? 

In 1971, then US Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz1 uttered these unsympathetic words: “Before we go back to organic agriculture in this country, somebody must decide which 50 million Americans we are going to let starve or go hungry.”

 In almost 70 years, things have not changed much.  A new study from the UK’s Cranfield University repeats basically the same old tune when it says, “Organic practices can reduce climate pollution produced directly from farming – which would be fantastic if they didn’t also require more land to produce the same amount of food.”

  While the  study acknowledged the benefits of organic farmin their basic premise seem to be that because of the alleged lower yield of organic crops more land is needed to feed the world’s burgeoning population.

Here are some statements from the articles: 2,3

  • The switch to 100% organic practices would require 1.5 times more land to make up for the declines. 
  • Organic farming produces more climate pollution than conventional practices (ONLY) when the additional land required is taken into account. Note; I added the above ‘ONLY’ to clarify the meaning of the sentence. 
  • Organic farms tend to produce less food than non-organic ones. The big problem, for both crops and livestock, is that these practices end up requiring a lot more land to produce the same amount of food. 
  • Some earlier studies determined that organic farming yields are between 5% and 34% lower than those from conventional agriculture, depending on the specific crops and practices. A 2017 Nature Communications study estimated that switching to organic farming would increase land use by only 16%.
  • Some sources cite an average 20 per cent lower yield for organic crops compared to conventional crops.

The conclusion of this report is predicated on the assumption that conventional crown crops out yield organic crops and that conventional crops have the same nutrient density as organic.crops. 

There seems to be a lot of ambiguity about land needs and crop yields in the above statements. I believe the ‘so called’ difference in yield would disappear if nutritive value per acre were compared.

Earl Butz, the folks at UK, and many others, all make the same mistake.  They They apparently believe all crops, organic or conventional, have equal nutrition.   If yields were measured in nutritive value per acre rather than pounds, bushels or tons per acre it would be a more accurate picture of productivity.

For example, conventionally grown corn (maize) will frequently test  1 to 3 percent lower in protein than organic corn (a 20% reduction in nutrients). Chemically grown corn tends to retain moisture at harvest and needs to be artificially dried, further reducing its digestible protein — and burning a lot of fossil fuels to provide the heat.   In this example, allowing for a 20% reduction in yield, the organic corn still provides more nutrition per acre. I believe this same concept can be applied to many, but probably not all, of our crops. 

 I know of no research that havs addressed this issue so I don’t have any study to quote, but I do know this — animals know the difference between nutrient rich food and look-alike but not so nutritious food. Deer will walk past miles of convention corn to feast on organic corn.   The same is true of any domestic animal if it escapes confinement and seeks out nutritious sustenance.  I have seen hogs starve themselves for two or three days in protest to being switched from organic feeds to convention. 

We bemoan the fact of soil depletion but tend to overlook the fact that nutritive value of crops has also declined especially the mineral content.  This is apparent in animal feeding. Back in the day when we were still almost all organic, a basic mineral mix for animals was equal parts salt, ground limestone, and steamed bone meal.  It was adequate for most situations as the corps and soils were still highly mineralized.  Not so today, as livestock now need well-balanced mineral supplementation.  Many innovative livestock owners have opted to take advantage of their animal’s nutritional wisdom by providing self-select or cafeteria style mineral programs. 

1 I do not like the term organic..   It has so many different meanings and connotations it is almost useless.It is even more ridiculous  when used in terms such as,  “Certified Organic Hydroponically Grown Lettuce.”   Sheesh! Give me a break.

 2 https://www.technologyreview.com/s/614605/sorryorganic-farming-is-actually-worse-for-climate-change/

3 https://www.newscientist.com/article/2220659-going-fully-organic-would-raise-greenhouse-gas-emissions/

Get Bigger or Get Out?

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s remark at a town hall meeting at the recent World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI. did not go over well with the farming community and for good reason given the ongoing decline in family farms and especially dairy farms.  He said, "In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.”

 I believe he is correct in his assessment of the history nd current status of agriculture in our country today. but that does not mean it is acceptable in this time of environmental pollution and climate concerns. 

Secretary Purdue is obviously ignoring the fact that getting bigger in the livestock industry is always associated with greater environmental damage.  It’s one thing to build a bigger factory, or a bigger grocery store, but quite another to assemble thousands of cow into one small areae.    If you want to see what can happen when 13000 cows are assembled in one place, check out — http://www.dochollidaysblog.com/docs-blog/an-environmental-disaster.html     

Back in the day,  a family scale dairy farm —40 to 50 cows — was a financially viable, self-sustaining unit with very little impact on the environment. Beef, swine, and poultry raising operation were similarly small scale with minimal impact on nature.

The end of WWII brought many changes.   “Economy of scale”” was the byword of the times and the hue and cry from   bankers and university  economists was  to “get bigger or get out.”.   Several interlocking trends began to take place;

  • Wartime production of munitions changed to production of agriculture fertilizers and toxic herbicides and insecticides.  Instead of tanks, airplanes, and jeeps, tractors and farm machinery could now be buitl paving the way for larger and larger farming operations.  
  • Intensive farming resulted in soil depletion with a concurrent decline in the nutritional value of crops and ultimately in diminished animal health. 
  • The stress associated with confined animal feeding operations —CAFO’s — also had negative effects on animal health and productivity.
  • Feeding continuous antibiotic attenuated some of the disease problems in CAFO’s but resulted in the rise of  antibiotic resistant bacteria deadly to humans.   

These trends are still operational today and, unless dealt with, will continue to control how our food is grown and what we will have to eat. 

Consider this; small family farms have relatively little effects on the environment. Conversely large mega-dairies  and CAFO’s produce a tremendous amount of environtal pollution — but they do not have to pay for it.  There would be no profit in mega livestock operations if the owners had to pay the bill for environmental damage.

 Our environment and our small family farms would be better served if Sec. Purdue would enforce the Organic Standards Law and also take steps to limit the monstrous size of CAFO’s and mega-dairies. 

I don’t look for anything like that to happen until the politicians take their hands out of the pockets of the Ag-Industry.  Don’t hold your breath!

“I dunno, I guess there’s sumthin in it they need.”

In the early 1960s, shortly after I began a vet practice in Missouri, I was called to treat a sick animal on a hill country farm NW of town.  The owner, Glenn, had called me several times in the past, so I was somewhat familiar with Glenn and his operation.  This time, as I was getting ready to leave, he said, “If you have time, I’d like to show you something interesting.” I said “Sure”, and we climbed into his 4WD pickup and drove up into the hills on the back side of his farm.  We came to a ravine or coulee several yards wide, and with almost perpendicular walls, you could easily see the different layer that made up the soil profile. Several cows were in the gully and some were licking at one of the layers. Glenn pointed out that this layer had been stripped out to the depth of a cow’s tongue. 

Glenn said that every spring, when he first turned out his herd they would all congregate in this gully and lick on one narrow layer of the clay walls. They would occasionally visit the gully during the grazing season.  The exposed layer did not look much different than the rest or the walls but 0bviously had a great appeal to the cattle.

As this was several years before I encountered the concept of self select minerals, I was at a loss to understand what I was seeing. I asked Glenn, “Why do you suppose they do that?” He answered, “I dunno, I guess there’s sumthin in it they need.”  

haven2

Looking back, that’s a pretty good explanation and still valid today when someone asks, “Why do animals eat what they do?’. All our nutritional knowledge is no match for the nutritional wisdom of our animals. 

I never did find out the ingredient the cattle were after.  It could have been a layer with a high level of an essential mineral or more probably it was a particular type of clay similar to bentonite, attapulgite or montmorillonite clay. It is not uncommon for cattle or horses to eat plain dirt (probably for its clay content) to alleviate digestive problems.  Many different types of clay have a long history of use in humans and animals. Some of the effects and benefits follow: 

  • Clays physically bind to acids and toxic substances in the stomach and digestive tract. 
  • Clays provide a source of silica, essential to all body tissues. 
  • Clays absorb heavy metals. 
  • Clays detoxify by reducing mineral imbalances.  
  • Clays bind aflatoxins, mold and fungal toxins, de-wormers, and antibiotics.
  • Clays have antidiarrheal properties and may work by adsorbing the diarrheal pathogen. 

If you do not have a source of clay on your farm, I suggest you provide some clay products for your animals.  The health benefits may surprise you.   

For a natural, nutritional clay product,

check out  “MOP”  from 

Advanced Biological Concepts -

https://www.abcplus.biz/Organic_Dairy_Specialty_MOP

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