Introduction: Repetition seems the only way to get the message across
August 11, 2011
By Ralph Pearce
When I write about ignorance and media laziness, I realize that I sound like a broken record.
When I write about ignorance and media laziness, I realize that I sound like a broken record. But that is because many in the
media, including The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s and countless radio and television reports, have become a chorus of broken records. It seems that the “issue of the year” is how North American farmers grow such substantial amounts of corn, only to turn so much of it (I have read citations as high as 40 percent) into ethanol. Then comes the rub, essentially a cry, “Think of how many poor and starving people could be fed with all of that corn!”
Think of what these journalists, activists and spin doctors could accomplish if they knew a little bit more about agriculture.
The leap in logic in the “all that corn” camp is that farmers should ignore supply-and-demand economics, turn their grain corn fields into sweet corn or food-grade corn, regardless of climatic challenges, market oversupply, or any other economic fallout, for that matter.
From a farm media perspective, the subject of agriculture in Canada is well covered in a variety of publications, from east to west. Yet in the eyes of too many people in our society, a field of grain corn is really just sweet corn, “if it’s harvested early enough.” Well, folks, the two are not the same. Grain corn is just that; it can be used to feed cattle, processed into ethanol or refined into corn syrup, cornstarch or corn oil. And contrary to the recent meanderings of one doctor from Barrie, Ontario, “all that corn,” on its own, will not feed hungry stomachs (unless it comes in the form of beef, chicken or even pork). Chew a handful of grain corn and you wind up with little more than a mouthful of grits and wax.
Or too intellectually lazy?
We continue to struggle with such overwhelming ignorance where farming is concerned. It is as though society has suffered an enormous concussion, to the extent where philanthropy is valued ahead of economy. “Stop increasing the size of farms; cherish the Family Farm! Go back to the days of hand-feeding chickens and plowing fields behind a team of oxen!”
Well, we can go back to those days, provided the average consumer is willing to pay $20+ per pound for chicken or $15 for a four-quart basket of tomatoes.
We cannot, and should not, try to go smaller, any more than we can demand our media outlets return to profitless daily and weekly newspapers; if there is no financial reward for such a business, then it cannot exist. Ontario growers plant grain corn because it is a commodity that yields a reasonable return (finally) for the knowledge, effort and quality of the harvested crop. Perhaps the doctor in Barrie volunteers his time in a distant war-torn nation or the columnist in Toronto organizes charitable gatherings for the homeless. But most doctors have a six-figure net income, and few professional columnists are willing to return to writing with a quill.
Why should farmers be expected to spurn technology and work without fair remuneration for the jobs they do, oh so well?