Making Hay · Beef Checkoff · EPDs · Sustainability · Creep Feeding · Selection · Replacement Heifers · Fertility · Cattle Market · Commodities vs. Beef · Letter to Drovers
"Our society is no longer self-sufficient. It depends on “just-in-time delivery.” Everyone’s lifestyle is dependent on energy and the smooth functioning of a very complex delivery infrastructure. But today, no one is close to an energy source. No one is close to a food source. Everyone, even those in agriculture, is dependent on the local grocer for his food."
Copyright 2001, Slanker Productions, Powderly, Texas
Just MANAGING to get by . . .
by Ted Slanker
Is Your Operation Sustainable?
My old Random House Dictionary provides a number of definitions for “sustain.” The ones I have in mind for this column are: “2. to bear (a burden, charge, etc.). 3. to undergo (injury, loss, etc.) without yielding. 4. to keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from giving way. 5. to keep up or keep going, as an action or process. 6. to supply with food, drink, and other necessities of life.”
My preaching (folks say I preach) about sustainable agriculture has been a laughing point with mainstream folks for some time. But like an insubordinate dolt I preach on in spite of them. The modern mainstream view is that production agriculture, as we know it, is just a forerunner of what we’ll experience in the future. The sustainable approach, which sounds old fashioned to the more modern types, appears to them to be a step back in time, something akin to using rotary telephones and party lines.
A Modern Infrastructure Failure
For me, the dichotomy of these two vastly different production approaches came clearly into focus in December 2000 as our weather deteriorated and our society’s modern infrastructure temporally crumbled and ceased to function. During the crisis in our area I was able to point out to some folks their personal vulnerability to their unsustainable practices. Most just raised an eyebrow and politely nodded their heads. For sure, they aren’t going to change their ways. They believe in the Great Society and the ability of the masses (the government) to correct all wrongs.
It was on Christmas day that our weather turned nasty. We had a terrific ice storm–freezing temperatures and five inches of rain in 48 hours. Limbs and whole trees fell everywhere and power lines were down in what must have been thousands of places. Our power was out for seven full days, and, for some, the power outage lasted much longer.
Within 24 hours after the power outages started there was a rush on the local stores for emergency supplies. The items that disappeared from the shelves first were D cell batteries, blankets, camping equipment of all kinds, kerosene and kerosene lamps, candles, bread, bottled water, milk, white gas, generators, propane heaters, chain saws, and regular gasoline at the gas stations. Many gas stations were closed, and those that were open soon ran out of gasoline. When gasoline was finally delivered, long lines formed, reminding me of the gas crisis of the early 1970s. In the days that followed the storm, all sorts of electrical connectors disappeared off the shelves. It was quite a scene.
During the month of December, before the storm, I had several opportunities to visit with folks in agriculture. I spoke at a cattleman’s meeting in Tennessee, and during the holiday period my wife and I attended a couple of get-togethers. Nearly all the folks I rubbed shoulders with at those events were in the cattle business to some degree, and some even did large-scale farming. At every occasion I made a point of asking folks if they ate what they raised. I met only two families, recent grass-fed beef converts, who put their own beef in the freezer. No one else ate their own beef. No one canned fruits and vegetables in any quantity. No one raised chickens, gathered eggs, or raised pigs. Not one of the farmers ate any of the crops he raised.
From my small sampling of folks in agriculture, 100% of them (except for the two grass-fed beefeaters) were merely cogs in the wheels of modern production agriculture. Nearly everything they raised was sold to brokers who resold the products to processors. The processors commingled the output from thousands of producers and manufactured food products that were redistributed in mass through a complex distribution infrastructure. Ironically, all of the farmers and cattlemen I met were dependent on the same food processing and distribution systems that supported the folks in town. The producers even figured they saved money because they didn’t raise and process their own food.
Fifty years ago, and certainly 100 years ago, this would not have been the case. Back then farm families were proud of their self-sufficiency. Their farms produced a wide variety of products that they processed for their own use and an abundant surplus that they sold to folks in town. Their food was fresher. Their stored foods certainly didn’t contain unhealthy hydrogenated oils. And most of their livestock products were raised on grass or mostly grass, which provided far more nutritious foodstuffs than the mass produced, grain-fed livestock products most folks eat today.
Our society is no longer self-sufficient. It depends on “just-in-time delivery.” Everyone’s lifestyle is dependent on energy and the smooth functioning of a very complex delivery infrastructure. But today, no one is close to an energy source. No one is close to a food source. Everyone, even those in agriculture, is dependent on the local grocer for his food.
This delicate, complex, and interdependent lifestyle on the home front is duplicated for producers across the entire commodity production spectrum. Farmers need big machinery, lots of energy, and massive inputs to produce a crop. Cattlemen are focused on raising a large calf at weaning, not on beef production, so they subsidize their herds with massive inputs of grain supplements and hay. Food processing and distribution is no longer a regional activity. It’s a national and international activity.
In spite of the fact that most of the processed foods Americans eat today are nutritionally deficient, everyone says that production agriculture is good for the country. They believe this because they are focused on producing cheap food, not quality food. In addition, they don’t want to raise, process, prepare, and cook food on the home front. The home front is for play and relaxation.
Threats on the Horizon
In response to warnings about the dangers of our modern interdependent society, the masses openly scoff and call the harbingers of doom pessimists and worrywarts. They believe in the system. They proudly point to how quickly the system responded to the recent weather-related calamity faced by the eastern half of the country. Businesses and the populous pulled out their checkbooks and credit cards and as the money flowed the streets were cleared, the power was restored, and the necessary staples were provided. In no time the event was just a bad memory, with most folks bragging as to who had to go the longest without power.
In response to the system’s appearance of invincibility, I want to point out that there are greater problems threatening us than a mere spat of bad weather. One, or course, is war. The world is not an entirely safe place. Our country, in spite of the efforts of the promoters of a One World Order, has numerous enemies. And to make matters worse, our nation is dependent on foreign nations for much of its sustenance. So we face a double threat on this front.
Another threat to our society is its present political structure. Founding Father John Adams summed up the beliefs of those who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by stating, “Remember, Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a Democracy that did not commit suicide.” This is true because democracies are based on mob rule, not the rule of law.
A third threat exists. It is monetary. Our nation’s money system is based on credit, not specie. During the 1900s the dollar lost 95% of its purchasing power. The fundamental structure of our nation’s financial system is now more precarious than ever before. So future purchasing power loses could be more severe in the years to come. Additionally, the businesses, the governments, and the people of this nation are in debt more today than ever before. This indebtedness coupled with a debt-backed currency creates instability in a system that demands ever greater stability and a reliance on others.
These threats make me think about the old Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Our local community was certainly not properly prepared for the bad weather that struck on Christmas day. For sure, as agricultural producers I don’t think we are prepared to weather any of the potential storms I’ve outlined. To be sustainable we must be more diversified producers of foodstuffs. We must learn how to raise and process our own food. In addition, we must embrace management practices that require fewer inputs and living conditions that don’t require as much energy. All these steps are possible. Some folks are living that way now.
Don’t you think it’s time to you asked yourself, “Is my operation sustainable?”
Copyright 2001, Slanker Productions, Powderly, Texas
Ted E. Slanker, Jr., email@example.com
R.R. 2, Box 175, Powderly, Texas 75473-9740
903-732-4653 Ofc, 903-732-4151 Fax
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