Tech can’t replace agriculture

Over the years, agricultural technology has been extremely important in providing us with an adequate food supply at reasonable prices.

Looking back, we can see such advances as the development of hybrid corn that increased yields by 10 to 20 bushels per acre of land. Other than an increase in seed cost, there were no other cost increases to get that increased yield.

Artificial insemination in dairy cattle came about in the late 1940’s and 1950s that brought about important increases in milk production from each cow. Improved housing and new feeding practices also were important uses of new technology that helped increase production.

These are just a few examples of the important role of agricultural technology in keeping us well fed and allowed those interested to move from farming to other occupations.

Now the development of genetic modification of plants and animals has brought about another kind of technology that is safe and important to our food supply. Genetic modification of organisms, GMO’s, has been tested and retested many times. Genetically modified foods are approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Federal Food and Drug (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The National Academy of Sciences has reviewed the research information on GMOs and found them safe. Many universities have also conducted research and found these foods safe for us to eat over continued periods of time.

Genetic modification also has allowed farmers to increase yields on each acre and to get crops planted with fewer trips over their field and use fewer pesticides. The main increase in cost to do this is more expensive seed.

Now technology has brought about the development of artificial products that imitate real farm products. One that has been on the market for some time is a drink that developers want to call milk. It is found on many dairy shelves but does not have the nutritional qualities of milk.

Dairy farmers and others in the dairy industry object to this beverage being called milk, which has been defined as a product of a bovine animal such as a cow. But developers want to call the product milk to take advantage of the good name that product and other dairy products has. Legislation has been passed that will not allow these drinks to be called milk.

Now another food has been developed in the laboratory that is being called meat. It uses animal cells to grow a product that is safe but is not meat as we know it. It is essentially a fake meat.

Few cost figures are available for this product but eventually it is projected to be about the same as real meat. Some stores and restaurants in this country are offering this fake meat. It also has some appeal to those who are vegetarians or vegans since it is an animal-based product and uses animal cells to start the development.

Beef cattle are an important part of our agricultural economy. Dairy farmers through the sale of cull cows have found beef use important. As much as 10 percent of a dairy farm’s income can come from cull cows, depending on the cull rate.

Agricultural research and technology are essential to our keeping food on our tables at reasonable costs. At the same time, we need to call some products what they really are, not let them take advantage of the good name of agriculture.

Parker is an independent agricultural writer for Farm Bureau.