Attendees of the Future for Food Conference that took place last week at Georgetown University were in for the royal treatment when Prince Charles took the stage.
Just days after being a part of one of the most extravagant, tax-payer funded spectacles that the world has seen as of late, the Prince brought with him news that apparently, the United States—a country that supports its own population and supplies much of the rest of the world’s food and fiber—needs to rethink its spending and is fast approaching a time when it will shoulder the blame for food shortages and hunger riots.
Prince Charles, heir apparent to arguably the most subsidized family in the world, urged the United States to take a look at our agricultural system—a system that remains productive and successful despite a struggling economy—and eliminate the funding that it has left, in the name of environmental sustainability.
“Sustainability,” the Prince explained in his opening, means “keeping something going continuously,” a definition that he credited to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Well, according to U.S. history, there is nothing that has kept going quite as continuously as our domestic agricultural practices. Unless of course you count our independence from other countries. But then again, those two things really go hand in hand.
The United States produces the cheapest, safest, and most abundant food supply in the world. This is because our farmers expand their production with tremendous innovation such as soil sampling, variable rate application, and yield monitoring, and protect their crops with safe, regulated, and approved inputs to fight the constant emergence of new weeds that threaten to kill the food supply.
During his speech, Prince Charles claimed “The more I talk with people about this issue, the more I realize how vague the general picture remains of the perilous state we are in.”
Funny, because the more we hear the arguments about needing to replace modern agriculture with organic production alone, the more we realize how vague the plan of action is that will transform these small, individual farms, into operations that will feed a growing population with demand that will rise by seventy per cent between now and 2050.
“We all remember the failure of last year’s wheat harvest in Russia and droughts in China,” the Prince reminded his audience.
Yes, we do, which is why it is so important to be able to rely on our own domestic food supply, rather than having to succumb to the whims of foreign countries, hostile markets, and unpredictable weather patterns. As long as American farmers are able to feed and clothe their fellow Americans, we will maintain a level of national security and wellbeing that we can be confident in.
“Here in the U.S.,” Prince Charles continued, “I am told, four out of every ten bushels of corn are now grown to fuel motor vehicles.”
Perhaps the Prince shouldn’t believe everything he is told. While it’s true that about 40 percent of US corn is shipped to ethanol plants, what most people don’t realize is that these plants produce more than just ethanol.
On average, every bushel of corn that enters an ethanol production facility produces about 2.8 gallons of ethanol in addition to 17.5 pounds of high-quality livestock feed known as distillers grain (DDGS). Each kernel of corn lends its starch to the production of ethanol, while everything else—protein, fiber and oils—goes toward livestock rations, creating a highly efficient, highly sustainable dual production system.
Because of this dual production, a more accurate statement would be that about 28 percent of US corn is used to produce ethanol. Contrary to what a foreign prince may think, there is enough corn to meet the needs for both feed and fuel now, and well into the future.
So how exactly does Prince Charles propose that we “wean ourselves off of our dependency [to diesel fuel]”without the use of domestic, renewable fuels like ethanol?
And yet, almost in the same breath, Prince Charles went on to say that a person who lives on a typical Western diet, is, “in effect, consuming nearly a U.S. gallon of diesel every day… you start to see how uncomfortable the future could become if we do not wean ourselves off our dependency.”
So how exactly does he propose that we do this without the use of domestic, renewable fuels like ethanol?
We could go on and on about the problems that lie beneath the Prince’s polished proposal. But we don’t have to, because the fact is that a proposal is nothing without a plan to back it up.
As for America’s farmers, they have worked hard over the years to make sure that they are operating at the most efficient and most sustainable capacity possible. Here are a few of the facts:
- The current farm bill provides more than $54 billion in conservation cost-sharing incentives to protect and enhance water, air, and soil quality; to prevent erosion; and to conserve natural resources.
- Nearly 46 percent of land in the United States is farm or ranch land, and agricultural land provides habitat for 75 percent of the nation’s wildlife.
- Precision farming practices boost crop yields and reduce waste by using satellite mapping and computers to match seed, fertilizer, and crop protection applications to local soil conditions.
- Domestic, renewable, plant-based fuels have a smaller environmental footprint and a larger net energy gain than petroleum-based fuels and increase our nation’s economic and energy security. The farm bill provides $1.1 billion for renewable energy incentives.
- Since the early 1930s, federal farm programs have contained provisions that help farmers protect wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas.
- U.S. farmers are the most efficient and productive in the world—averaging 154 bushels on every acre planted to corn vs. the world’s average of 68, with similar statistics translating to other staple crops of all kinds.
Perhaps if the Prince had sought help from his “fellow” farmers, he could have learned a thing or two about this country’s true environmentalists.
“…Americans have more food choices and spend less of their disposable income on food than practically anyone else on Earth,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, in a Letter to the Editor following the Prince’s speech.
“Americans are living longer than ever; part of that progress must be attributed to the quality and safety of our food production system. Family-owned farms make up more than 97 percent of our nation’s farms, and there is plenty of room… We also want to make sure that food choices are preserved for Americans who want to make the most of their food dollars.”
Mr. Stallman is right. This should not be a controversy, but a partnership. Organic production can and is working side by side with larger scale farms, to give Americans every option, but at the end of the day, starving families want food on their tables—not options.
Those remaining “larger scale” farms are only 210,000 strong—a thin green line between security and dependence; prosperity and disaster.
Prince Charles closed by calling upon his audience to remember the words of one of America’s founding fathers and our first president to “Raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair…”
Well, we would argue that when it comes to agriculture, we have since not only risen, but also set the standard to which others might look:
“It will not be doubted that with reference either to individual or national welfare agriculture is of primary importance. In proportion as nations advance in population and other circumstances of maturity this truth becomes more apparent, and renders the cultivation of the soil more and more an object of public patronage. Institutions for promoting it grow up, supported by the public purse; and to what object can it be dedicated with greater propriety?”
That was also George Washington.
If the Prince of Wales is going to ask us to look to our forefathers for words of wisdom, perhaps he should consider reflecting on them himself.