A bad summer for science
The corn, soybeans and tobacco look pretty good on the home farm, but it’s been an otherwise bad summer for things like civility, politics and science.
Let’s just skip over the obvious examples of where civility and politics are falling short and get right to science.
Nationally, this summer the U.S. Congress passed a bill requiring mandatory labeling of food ingredients that come from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A law passed in tiny Vermont caused a huge potential headache for the farm and food industries.
Here is where I could try to work in the old line about never wanting to see sausage or laws being made, but this was something else. This was one of those compromises that left those supporting the bill holding their nose. Remember compromise? That thing people claim they want, until it comes served up in its true form?
The unintended consequences of labeling a scientifically-proven safe technology remain to be seen.
In the Midwest, another battle is brewing over a scientifically-safe technology used by dairy farmers. Instead of in a capitol building, this attack on science is taking place in the private marketplace.
It has received scant attention, but some dairy processors are notifying farmers that they will no longer accept milk from cows given rBST (bovine somatotropin) to boost their milk production.
It seems like a replay of the 1990s: fighting over rBST while a Clinton vies for the White House. Kidding aside, the timing couldn’t be worse for dairy farmers who want to keep using this management tool.
A global glut of dairy products makes for an awkward backdrop of why this technology is needed. Secondly, this issue is not a mandate handed down by a regulator or politician. This is the marketplace telling the farmer to produce a commodity a certain way or look for another buyer.
It ought to make farmers see that changes to how they farm are as likely to come from the private sector as the public one.
Finally, there is another anti-science, knee-jerk reaction taking place throughout Wisconsin. It’s banning the spreading of manure during the winter. Every county (Bayfield, Green, Kewaunee, Wood, am I leaving anyone out?) seems to fall for this.
These bans are ripped from the same playbook that is carted around to every county that is debating the expansion or building of large livestock farms. What seems to get lost is the reality that the largest livestock farms have manure storage facilities to get them through the winter months. The smallest ones do not.
It’s time someone calls out these bans for being anti-small-farm.
Ironically, the very people who propose such bans usually claim to support small farms. They must not realize that by penalizing small farms they are encouraging the large-scale agriculture they so loudly oppose.
They must not know the average beef herd in Wisconsin is just 18 animals.
They must not have read the UW-Discovery Farms’ 2013 report that found manure spreading bans should be established on field conditions and not a calendar.
GMOs, rBST and manure spreading bans are three examples of emotion winning out over science. The issues facing agriculture are complex. Perhaps too complex for a society with an attention span just long enough for Twitter and bumper stickers.
Our society’s institutions are weathering an unprecedented storm. I have little doubt that the summer of 2016 will be an infamous chapter in the history books.
I also wonder if this will be remembered as the time when the hinges began to come off the once rock solid institution of science. I worry what that will mean down on the farm.