For the week of Feb. 8, 2016

Adaption and evolution

By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau

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 pesticides to reduce infestation. Their figures are oftentimes unverifiable.

Technology has often been labeled 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 man would be just like other primates – confined to tropical regions and subject to extinction due to environmental changes. To survive and progress, we must wisely use the environment, conserve resources and continually produce new food and fiber.

Some would argue that resources are made not born and I agree. Land, ores, petroleum – the raw materials of our planet – are not inherent resources. They do not inherently further human purposes.

Man determines what is useful and how to use it. Topsoil becomes a resource when a farmer tills 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 outside of the agricultural industry. Farmers use technology responsibly. They constantly learn new farming methods and practices by attending training sessions and courses. Using minimum and no-till farming practices and incorporating grass waterways and buffer strips, farmers have improved water quality and increased wildlife habitat.

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.

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.

Countless laws help ensure our food is safe. Billions of dollars are spent annually to support food and agricultural safety and quality inspection. The private sector, along with state and local governments spend additional 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 and our society must avoid policy changes that are based solely on fear or false information.

Decisions affecting the future course of agricultural production are critically important and will have far- reaching impacts on our quality of life. We must be careful in determining long-term policies. Farmers and ranchers must continue to maximize their production capacity with an ever-watchful eye on food safety, quality and the environment.

So by all means let’s have this conversation about food safety and public health. But let’s be sure this conversation is complete, fair and factual.

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.