I’m Tom Buman and this is what’s bugging me…
Everybody wants to put their best foot forward. I get it. I realize it is important to report the good news, but when the good news is misleading, it bugs me. So here’s what’s bugging me.
Yield vs. Profitability:
For years, conservationists have criticized farmers who just look at yield and not profitability. But now, the headlines are espousing cover crops because they increase yield. Conservationists are on the cover crop bandwagon. I realize that cover crops are good conservation practices, but most research shows they are not profitable. It bugs me that people who promote cover crops are not being transparent about profitability. Conservationists should report profitability along with yield. As my mom would say, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Efficiency vs. Stewardship:
It bugs me when people confuse efficiency with conservation and stewardship. Ag businesses and organizations often tout how efficient agriculture is and somehow, they end up tying efficiency to conservation and stewardship. I say, efficiency is great, but so what? It is good business to strive for better efficiency but people shouldn’t confuse efficiency with conservation and stewardship.
In a study completed at the University of California Davis, researchers concluded that Kansas farmers who received payments under the conservation subsidy were using some of their water savings to expand irrigation or grow thirstier crops, not to reduce water consumption. “Policies aimed at reducing water applications can actually increase water depletions,” the researchers said. I think the same can be said about nutrient management. Just because someone can achieve more nitrogen efficiency, it does not necessarily follow that nitrogen water loading will be reduced.
Averages vs. Specifics:
It bugs me when I hear the average of this or that, as if knowing the average outcome is helpful for the individual farmer. Averages mean little to farmers. Farmers need specific information about their farm. If we intend to encourage and support farmers in their efforts to reduce sediment delivery to water, then we need to provide specific directions to achieve that. Telling a farmer that he has 10 tons/acre/year of erosion is pretty meaningless if he can’t relate that erosion to sediment delivery.
What we need to do instead, is to tell farmers where the sediment delivery is occurring and then tell them the most cost-effective method to reduce that sediment delivery. If we can’t provide farmers with that level of specificity, we aren’t doing our job.
It bugs me that not enough farmers have access to this information.