Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Agchat - Practical Sustainability

I've mentioned this before, but I log into #Agchat from time to time on Twitter to discuss ag issues.  This past Tuesday (July 13) the topic was Sustainability in Ag.  I thought this could be an interesting discussion - especially if the sustainability of Ag water was discussed.  To offer this as a topic, I shot in the following question (not knowing if it would be used by the moderator or not):  "How important is water resource sustainability to your Ag operation?  If it is, how much control do you have over the issue?"

Anyway, the discussion began with question 1:  "Begin by defining ‘sustainable farming’ and ‘un-sustainable farming’ (with examples)."  The discussion that followed had me scratching my head more often than not.  Right off the bat several of the participants offered:  "..our citrus crop in CA uses 76% less water than conventionally grown citrus & produces 5X more fruit per acre"  and  "Citrus crop uses dense plantings and newer technology" and  "sustainability = producing more with less" and "switching our corn/soys to 20" rows has increased yields and increased use of each acre".  

First of all, I'm pretty sure these folks' definition of sustainability was geared more toward sustaining their own farm/operation than toward sustaining their input resources - like irrigation water.  Simply stated, anytime production yields increase, consumptive water use increases - regardless of how much more or less water you physically apply to the crop.  More often than not the newer technologies transfer the inefficient (non-consumptive) water application to consumptive crop use - hence you don't have to pump as much, but actually use more (demonstrated by the increased yields).  If everyone did this, how can we hope to achieve sustainable water use as our water use continues to increase?

To be fair, there were some good responses too.  One said:  "Regardless of your definition, future impacts must be considered."  I think this participant was seeing the broader picture - at least I hope he or she was.

My question did get posed, but the discussion was ... well, polite.  Responses were:  "is vital to sustainability of life" and "Very important & controlled" and "My friends do a great water training on how to install drip".   Not at all what I was hoping for.

This is when I posed the following discussion point:  "What happens if you have a series of individually sustainable farms, but collectively they are unsustainable?"  It seemed like everyone was focused on what sustainability was for their farm, but refused to consider that collectively they could be having a very unsustainable impact - not so much from what they do to the land, air, water, etc., but certainly from what they take from the land, air and water.  My question was not discussed or even acknowledged.  What do you think?  Was it too cryptic?  Too close to home?

All in all, it was a lively discussion, as it almost always is, but I'm thinking Twitter is simply too limited a venue to seriously discuss any topic - especially in a 2-hour session.  This is where I think Google Wave could do a much better job.

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