lundi 14 avril 2014

14- Farming methods -1- traditional and conventional

I 'll try to explain the different production methods used in agriculture. Currently there are, in food markets, organic production, and the rest, grouped under the generic name of "conventional production."
However, the organic production is divided into at least two options: organic farming and biodynamic farming. For his part, conventional agriculture is divided into at least three options: traditional farming, integrated farming and conventional farming.

Why do not we know all this? Because the mode of product distribution. Wholesalers, such as supermarkets, can not or do not want to have more than two lines of products, because it would complicate their distribution and communication, and this may increase costs in storage and in stores. They limit the number of types of products on the shelves to organic products (without distinction) and conventional products (without distinction either). Yet there are large differences between production methods.
I 'll try to explain it simply.
I planned to do it in three posts. The first one, today, about conventional farming, the second on organic farming , and the third on what I call the third way, the integrated farming.

This is the mode of production to the origin of all forms of current agriculture. It is based on a mainly subsistence and artisanal farming. This remains the most common mode of production in parts of the world where modernity has not radically changed lifestyles.
Until the late 19th century, it was the only mode of production on a global scale, with only some local and social variations.

How can we characterize it?
By oral and practical tradition, by a lack of scientific knowledge, but a great knowledge of the interrelationships and natural rhythms, based on observation and tradition.
It can also be characterized by the main use of animal traction and manual labor and little mechanization or rudimentary. For a long time this form of agriculture has been used in large farms, but from a feudal or slave mode. Today it has become a small structures and family economy way of farming.

In many parts of the world where this mode of production remains the main one, it is a fragile farming, because very dependent on weather conditions. It is assisted by many NGO missions whose objectives are often open wells to limit dependence on climate, and train farmers in more precise production techniques to help improve yields by better agronomic practices (avoid burning, for example, or managing crop rotations, or learn to limit the effects of erosion, or better manage irrigation and water resources) .

The initial objective of this type of production is to feed the group, the working of a micro human society around agriculture as the main activity. It allows the development of many crafts (weaving, metalwork, pottery...). This activity generates little income, except what can be sold on direct local markets.
Traditionnal farming is close to a biological or even biodynamic production, but not by philosophy , if not by obligation. However, there is generally no refusal of treatment or chemistry, but a more difficult access to the most modern techniques.

This type of agriculture often commits a number of errors that leads to production losses and even loss of agricultural area:
-     -     Plowing and cultivation methods (irrigation, fertilization, burning remnants) promoting soil erosion, degradation and loss of fertility,
-      -     Global Crop Management based on technical promoting vegetative imbalances, causing many correction needs, and Plant Nutrition (nutritional imbalances worsen phytosanitary problems).
-      -      Little or no environmental concerns
-      -      Little or no reasoning of water management.

Veterinarians often turn to vaccinate or treat herds to avoid the risk of epidemics, but crops are almost entirely subject to weather conditions. It must be said that a so artisanal and poor is not attractive for supplies compañies, and they make little effort to help a type of agriculture unaccustomed to invest or spend money for supplies.
In some areas, cooperatives are implemented in order to help these farmers to dominate, develop and market their products. They can be used as a relay between suppliers and farmers.

However, this secular social structure became weak in relation to the ambitions of not always scrupulous food companies. These farmers are easy targets for commercial companies looking to sell products of all kinds, or to develop large production structures that can greatly disrupt social functioning of these areas.

These upgrades of traditional rural areas are not necessarily bad if properly organized and thought, and eventually they can be very helpful in reducing the fragility, and the economic and social dependence , but provided do not leave out the foundations of cultural and social local human organization.
To conclude, I just would note that, in industrialized countries, farmers eager to go back to a traditional agriculture, generally do not orient to this track, but almost always choose organic farming.

It is just the current state of agriculture in general, that is to say, the evolution of traditional agriculture after gradually adapting all modernization techniques whemever they are available.
Actually, there is not one form of conventional agriculture, but an infinite number of variants, which are all based on this principle. The original purpose is to improve the productive results in reducing the cost, and the hardship and risks at work, like all human activities have always done.
The word conventional does not mean anything in this case, but under that name is generally refered agriculture using all the modern available techniques (mechanization, irrigation, fertilization, pest control, use of advanced telecommunication means such as GPS to do a more accurate work).

Between the most "primitive" traditional agriculture, I describe first, and the most modern conventional agriculture, there are many variations, all cataloged "conventional production," although they are often very different from each other.

All techniques aim to make efficient production with high yields and minimizing waste.
This has been very criticized and the productivist orientation continues to be criticized, but it important to look at it with hindsight.
Farmers are not generally doing anything without control. They manage their farms as businessmen, with a precise calculation of costs and reasoned investment. They use, in the agricultural context, the same modes of reasoning that are used in any industrial or service undertaking.

As with any activity, there has been abuse, but it is less and less the case, as the business economy does not allow so. Fertilizer inputs are calculated as accurately as possible, the treatments are made ​​with more and  more accurate and efficient machines, to avoid the risk of product loss and waste of any kind (any wasted product is lost money for the company).
Again, production protocols are becoming the norm in most companies, to control the quality of work and ensure that interventions whatsoever, have been properly reasoned beforehand (process control decision).
Marketing structures can not now afford to sale an insufficiently controlled product. Recent food scandals of all types endanger many professions that revolve around food, because of a few dishonest or incompetent persons. These protocols aim to avoid that, and to confirm the great majority of people who work well, offering a guarantee and traceability that did not exist until now.
Again, this is not the first time that I say, and it will not be the last time, agriculture has operated for several years an internal revolution that completely changes the situation.

While there is still progress to be made, I affirm that conventional agriculture is today managed by good professional farmers, controlled by effective and exacting administrations and private organizations. This makes it an efficient agriculture, safe, and more and more respectful of the environment and health.
Rumors and fears peddled and maintained by some pressure groups are now false, and are primarily aimed at diverting consumer of his habits by creating an artificial and unjustified need.

It is regrettate that conventional farming is the subject of a so virulent smear campaign, by groups who do not need to ask if they will be able to have enough to eat tomorrow (it is a concern of full stomach), whereas this type of agriculture represents the food production of more than 90% of humanity.

The next chapter of this series will concern organic farming.

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