Sad example of how deeply ingrained the suspicion of modern agriculture is

I just finished reading an article “Lessons of the Victorian data revolution”    I would not advise the average person to read it, it’s pretty heavy on the “look what we can do with data” outlook, and I’m not sure that appeals to many of you.   But it’s also very well balanced, talking about the inability of data to replace human knowledge and experience.  That’s a concept that makes a lot of sense.  Even in the precision ag field I work, where we have massive amounts of data sets on individual fields, the concept that we can often learn more about that fields characteristics by visiting with someone who’s farmed it many years ago is very valid.  So I agree with the premise of the article strongly.  However, the author proceeds to make this comment:

” In the 20th century the prestige of the scientific toolkit was used to justify disasters like the collectivization of agriculture, as technocrats around the world wielded numbers to take power away from “inefficient” smallholders. Those figures were mostly proven bogus by reality, as plans with no knowledge of conditions on the ground failed when confronted with the wildly variable conditions of soil, weather and pests that farmers had spent a lifetime learning to cope with.”

WOW!  I really don’t know exactly what the author means by “collectivization of agriculture” I’m only hoping he’s referring to what happened in Russia and many of the communist states.  To me though, that represents the failures of socialism, and not some misuse of data and science.  We use and increasingly rely on a ton of data and science when we go out to grow a crop or care for an animal.  That certainly does not invalidate in any way the knowledge and experience gained by the individual farmer on the ground.  I don’t know, after re-reading this a few times, I’m hoping that the author and I may be in more agreement than I first thought, but trying to reduce the necessary science involved in modern agriculture today can be a very scary proposition to me.


5 responses to this post.

  1. I’m not sure what they mean… Can you find one of the authors online?


  2. Posted by stephen nally on May 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    A lot of the “science” is produced by the seed/fertilizer/pesticide companies eg Monsanto. They are not objective observers therefore it can’t be considered real science. In fact their hijacking of agriculture could be regarded as a failure of capitalism.

    Of course real science is of benefit in agriculture and any other area you care to name. But then there is the question of granularity for want of a better term. Sure drenching fields in fertilizer, pesticides and GMO’s may increase that field’s productivity. But is good for the wider environment? Is it even good for the long term productivity of that field? If you are a non organic farmer, are you happy in your heart of hearts with the amount of pesticide exposure you are experiencing?


    • Stephen,

      Thanks for your comments. I would suggest that there is a very strong agricultural research system in the United States that has provided tremendous sound basic science to agriculture. Like many things in government, funding is a tremendous challenge today, but I personally know several of the individuals involved in both the Kansas State and University of Nebraska research systems and I think it is quite dishonest to blanket question their integrity or purpose behind what they do.

      I do not agree that “drenching fields in fertilizer, pesticides, or GMO’s” is good for my farming operation. And I think the vast majority of farmers, who realize their most significant and most precious asset is the ground the farm would agree. I do believe that proper use of such inputs is part of the system that allows and my fellow farmers to help feed/clothe and even fuel the world in the most sustainable manner possible.

      Thanks again for your reply, even if we don’t see things exactly the same


      • Posted by stephen nally on May 24, 2011 at 11:57 am

        Hi Darrin,

        I don’t mean to question the integrity of you or your friends, and I apologize for giving that impression. The reason I replied to your blog is that you come across as honorable and well intentioned.

        This is a huge subject and I am happy to debate it forever. But to make one point:-

        “I would suggest that there is a very strong agricultural research system in the United States that has provided tremendous sound basic science to agriculture.”

        That is true. But sustainability is not a priority for the research system. That should change. I bet many of your researcher friends would agree. But can they get funding for sustainability research? Probably not.

        Keep on blogging,


  3. Posted by yoscratch on June 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    “drenching fields in fertilizer, pesticides and GMO’s may increase that field’s productivity.”

    Better to sit there quiet and have everyone think you are stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.


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