Anti-science revolution could cut grain production

You don’t hear the agriculture boom theory repeated as often anymore. You know, the one where farmers live happily ever after with grain prices that never sink below the cost of production? 


For most of the last decade, at nearly every gathering of farmers someone would trot out the theory that the future had to be bright for agriculture.


With a growing world population and untold millions of people with more money to spend on food, grain prices would never again languish at unprofitable levels.


As farmers, we never tired of hearing this story, and the people selling us inputs and equipment also loved the commentary.


Agriculture has certainly gone through an unprecedented boom as evidenced by the dramatic rise in farmland values. 


But is the boom over? Land prices are no longer increasing as rapidly, and the commodity price outlook is no longer bullish. 


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India’s huge appetite for our pulse crops seems to be waning, and analysts wonder if China will start to liquidate its huge grain stockpiles. On the production side of the equation, countries such as Russia are capturing market share for wheat, flax and other commodities. 


While the grain economy is still humming along quite nicely here in Canada, it’s a different story south of the border where farmland prices have been in decline for several years. Corn, soybean and wheat prices are below breakeven for many producers.


If not for the value of the Canadian dollar, we’d be in much the same boat. While the exchange rate has increased input costs, particularly on new farm equipment, it also increases the dollars generated for all of our exports.


What does the future hold? If you believe the rabid climate change activists, weather anomalies should be cutting into world grain production, but that isn’t happening. While there are the usual droughts and floods in various regions each year, a bad crop one place is more than offset by big crops elsewhere. 


One of the factors in the grain price boom was the huge increase in ethanol production, but few expect significant growth in ethanol production.


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However, a new factor is now in play. Let’s call it the anti-science revolution. As an example, Europe seems determined to ban gly-phosate. When this happens, it will also tighten the maximum residue limit on any grain it imports, which will affect production practices in many other countries. 


Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and it’s also one of the safest. Unfortunately, science seldom triumphs over emotion these days. Expect many commonly used crop protection products to be lost because of an overabundance of caution on the part of regulators.


Meanwhile, the onslaught of public opinion against genetically modified crops shows no sign of lessening. While new technologies such as gene editing hold great potential, it isn’t yet clear whether this approach will be deemed acceptable by the general public.


Science has traditionally come to the rescue, increasing production to feed a growing world population. The anti-science revolution may be a factor that provides underlying support to grain prices over the long term.


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Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

  • Happy Farmer

    Kevin, you got it right. But every time a good article like yours is written it seems like there are thousands of anti something or others ready to pounce. I am beginning to seriously wonder of farmers and the farming community has made a drastic mistake trying to engage the public.

    Happy farming, at least we have enough to do to keep us from bellyaching all the time!

    • Bruce

      The billions upon billions upon billions of dollars the grain farming industry has received from the taxpayers of Canada. Gives these people, the public, every right not to like certain chemicals on products they buy, or GMO foods.

      • Happy Farmer

        I agree that everyone has the right to buy and eat to their preferences. But when those choices appear to be based on something other than science (as this article points out), it becomes very frustrating for farmers.
        If farmers have received billions of dollars as you claim, have you ever stopped to think of how it has benefitted you? Hint, the lowest priced food in the world is one huge benefit to you.
        Here is a question for you and others – Are you willing to pay farmers whatever it cost them to produce what you want?

        • Bruce

          But the European science says round up is no good. I am a farmer so I have received payments from the taxpayers also. One ad hoc payment was like $3,000,000,000.00 alone. I had friends visit other countries in Asia. Your can buy a meal there for half the price in Canada.

        • Harold

          You are asking a ridicules question. The answer is; the consumer has no choice. Furthermore, If you read your damn Canadian Charter Article 2, everyone has the guaranteed Right to buy and eat what they so choose and regardless of your agreement or opinion.
          If farmers received billions, have you ever stopped to think of where your money came from? Hint; the consumer.
          Where is your evidence that consumers are not basing their purchases upon science? Do you have a new definition of the word science? Are you claiming that Canadians do not study?
          Is an article and author in a newspaper your fact base? Do you think that throwing the word science in the direction that is most pleasing to you somehow brings legitimacy your claims?

          • Happy Farmer

            In response to “the anti science crowd”. It is Richard saying they are anti science. Not me. As I said, if they are not using science, then what are they using? Maybe you can enlighten me?

          • Harold

            You would have to know each of the “they” individually to confirm whether or not their opinions are science based and in which avenue of science they have knowledge of or are engaged in. To use blanket terms for – all – is irresponsible and non fact. You do not have evidence that sciences are not being applied to any of the publics decision making processes. There are also many family’s who have professionals who live amongst them and they seek advice at home. Do Canada’s professionals live on some separate island elsewhere or do they go to work coming from Canadian homes? At home do these professionals have community influence? I don’t believe that you have considered this fact and it is the industry standard for you to ignore this fact. Further, would you suggest to me that a survey is concrete proof of my entire knowledge base and my public and family influence? No reasonable person would, yet people heed these ridicules surveys as though they were some form of gospel; house flies – to you know what – and little regard for what they have landed upon. It is the bedding of industry and government and their propaganda and influence. .
            That being said, Science is broken into many fragments and each scientist is a master of one study but none are the masters of all sciences; it is not humanly possible. This is a fundamental basic that escapes most in the public in their stupid pursuits of finding “peer reviews”. Separate from this, are you aware of a accredited thing called political science; Is it not science? Can it ever be realistically called “junk” science? By whom? I know that when I hear the terms “Junk science” or “debunking” that I am listing to someone with a load of BS to deliver. Science can be inappropriately placed by deceivers but the ill-placed science is not Junk or debunked. Debunking occurs within the walls of that science thread as it moves deeper and forward and it does not create any in-fighting, but the term itself is not accurate. In other words, you don’t debunk an apple by removing its skin for a deeper examination unless you want to call the “peeler” technology a “debunker”. Using the same example, political science is not my science or your science or anyone else’s science; It is science period. The same is said for all avenues in science. What we a seeing today is a departure from science and it is now transformed into corporate and political scientism and it is there where the artificial fighting exists. In contrast, no one goes to war over a math quiz or math problem and science is the same. The “war” is the covering of lies and deception; scientism
            You have asked me to enlighten you and I cannot. You must do it for yourself.

  • richard

    Kevin the anti science crowd is simply trying to educate the pro stupidity crowd that its not good optics to drench peoples food at harvest with glyphosate. People don’t want persistent systemic antibiotics in their cheerios…..I know its hard to imagine??? How can people be so opposed to unadulterated ignorance?

    • Happy Farmer

      “Anti-science crowd” – Where are they getting their information, emotions? (or repetitious statements)? That would make them just as stupid as the other crowd you mentioned.

      Yes, I agree we should not desiccate crops with glyphosate. But a total ban on it is not warranted.

      • Harold

        Do you have evidence that an “anti-science crowd” actually exists or is it just flavourful to call them that from out of thin air? It seems to me that the term anti-science is used over and over again in repetition by your chosen industry and you want to argue about repetition? The term science means; the study of. Anti-science can be interpreted as “no-of”. It is “no-of” because you cant place a negative on a forward motion at the same time. You either study (verb) or you do not study. One not studying is idle and is not in a condition of backwards motion. therefore, you cannot anti-study or anti-science.(anti-verb) I guess in your repetition you have lost sight of the basic facts and are proving the Article correct.
        To play the game, Is this so called “anti-science crowd” removing text books from the classrooms? Is that what they are doing?. Are they capable of anti–learning the learned someone? What do you replace a learned fact with? empty space? I do know that an empty space in the mind causes high emotions.
        Let me further play a game and offer you this. I get my information from me. From me, my information to you is that I will not consume glyphosate. I just don’t “feel” like it – is all. That is all I know and nothing more. Do you have a problem with that, because if you do, read Article 2 of your damn Canadian Charter and argue with that. By the way, it says nothing about anti science there that would licence yours or the industries disrespect. Now add the others who feel the same as me who also really don’t want the industries imposed “education”. What are you looking at? Do you realize that no one in Canada is required to pass an industry sponsored IQ test to become a respected Canadian? Do you realize that no Canadian is obligated to take any “peer review” in science seriously? Does any of this sit well with you or does freedom realy trouble you?

  • Bruce

    Yes, how true Richard. Subsidizing the overproduction of commodities.

    • Happy Farmer

      Overproduction, hmm. My bins are empty every year at a price that makes a profit. Just saying!

      • richard

        …..Overproduction is why grain prices have been on a steady decline in real dollars since 1917 (Les Henry, Grainews 2013)….Ironically grow more get less is the rationale for global grain subsidies….and for the fear of scarcity, and for the forty percent of food produced that never reaches the table, and for an entire generation who have made gluttony fashionable…. and for the cheap food paradigm as symbols of progress….when theyre all actually symptoms of “progress”… a degenerative disease afflicting the Western world.

  • Happy Farmer

    Wow!!

    • ed

      No kidding, right.

  • Happy Farmer

    CWB did not help either!!

    Best solution imho – no government involvement in ag ever. But it would be impossible to do that now in Canada seeing as the Us and European governments subsidize their farmers even more heavily.