INFORMATION-BASED FARMING

Toby Bradshaw toby at milton.u.washington.edu
Fri Sep 11 13:37:16 EST 1992


>Stuart Brown: In article <1992Sep11.162916.3759 at ccu.umanitoba.ca>
>lot. 
>
>For example, some of the first genetically engineered plants that will
>become commercially available will be herbicide resistant varieties.  This is
>clearly a contentious issue between the pragmatists and the Social Justice
>types. These resistant varietites will be sold at a premium price in a package
>with the herbicide that they resist.  The net effect will be a slight increase
>in yield with a higher net input cost (big research dollars must be recovered
>from profits).  Very large scale farmers will achieve some benefit from the
>economy of scale while smaller farmers will either benefit less from the input
>to yield ratio, or else forgo the yield increase and avoid the engineered seed.

I'm afraid I don't understand how two farmers, one with small acreage
and one with large, paying the same price for the same seed and
capable of delivering the same herbicide, differentially benefit
from genetically modified seed.  If the farmer is too poor to
afford the up-front cost of the seed/herbicide, then I can see
a differential benefit.  Along these lines, should we ban tractors because
they are expensive and give the large farmer higher returns than someone
who uses a mule to plow and a hoe to cultivate?  If "Social Justice"
types believe the non-mechanized farmer should be supported, they
are free to pay more for their food.  Many people buy high-priced
"organic" and "free-range" foods already, so clearly not everyone
is a slave to agribusiness.

>The net result of applying this new technology to agriculture will be a slight
>yield increase and a greater consolidation of agricultural production.

Even if the above is true, what is the problem?

>Third, since the 
>genetic engineering necessary to produce resistant crop varieties is costly,
>only one (or a very few) varieties of a given crop are likely to be produced
>with this resistance, so if this is widely accepted, then the germplasm base
>present in the fields will be very narrow.

If transgenic technology doesn't permit all desired genotypes to
be transformed, then conventional breeding will have to suffice for
moving the transgene into other germplasm.  Not at all different
from what they do now, BTW.

>Huge acreage planted to a single 
>variety is an ideal situation for a disease epidemic.

Nothing peculiar to transgenics here.

>Anyway, I'd like to see new tecnologies of genetics and information sciences 
>used to stabilize agriculture and help small farmers at least as much as large
>ones.

Does this mean breeding better mules to replace tractors :)

Toby Bradshaw
Department of Biochemistry and College of Forest Resources
University of Washington, Seattle
toby at u.washington.edu



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