During the last couple of decades, some environmental groups have been less than kind to agriculture. They have bombarded the public with figures on soil loss, pesticide-related mishaps and alleged failed attempts at using herbicides and other crop protectors. Their figures are oftentimes unverifiable.
Technology is often labeled as the No. 1 environmental enemy by some of these groups. Food producers – farmers and ranchers – view technology as the application of knowledge. As humans, we survive by adapting the environment to our needs.
Take away technology and humans would be just like other primates – confined to tropical regions and subject to extinction due to environmental changes. To survive, mankind has changed his environment while conserving resources and continually creating new ones.
Resources are made not born. Land, ores, petroleum – the raw materials of our planet – do not inherently further human purposes.
Man determines what is useful and how to use it. Topsoil becomes a resource when a farmer prepares the soil and plants wheat seed, for example. Ores become resources when metals are extracted from them.
During the past two centuries, technology has been creating resources more rapidly than humans have been consuming them. By every measure of price and availability, resources have become more abundant.
Without science and technology today’s farmers and ranchers would be unable to feed the masses. Farmers use technology responsibly and adopt new farming methods and practices by attending training sessions and courses.
But new farm technology is expensive. It is in the best interest of farmers to use it carefully and sparingly. Misuse would add to the cost of production, which would result in an even lower return on their investment.
Farmers use agricultural chemicals only when necessary. When they use chemicals, farmers follow label directions designed for public health and safety. When a rancher uses antibiotics and other animal health products for their stock, they follow proper drug use practices. When new advances in biotechnology are discovered, farmers must abide by stringent testing and monitoring practices that ensure only safe products in the marketplace.
Food produced in the United States is safe. More than four decades of Food and Drug Administration testing has shown the majority of our fruits and vegetables have no detectable pesticide residues. This underscores that American farmers use pesticides properly. Our grain and cereal crops are among the cleanest and most wholesome in the world.
Countless laws help ensure our food is safe. Billions of dollars are spent to support food and agricultural safety and quality inspection. The private sector, combined with state and local governments, also spends billions on similar activities.
Farmers and ranchers support efforts to evaluate and enhance the current regulatory and food monitoring system. Agricultural producers want to work with all parties toward maintaining safe food, but this industry must avoid policy changes that are based solely on fear or false information.
Decisions affecting the course of agricultural production remain critically important and will have far reaching implications on our quality of life. We must be careful in determining long-term policies. Farmers and ranchers will continue to maximize their production capacity with an ever-watchful eye on food safety, quality and our environment.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.