Ebenezer Scrooge Returns as an Organic Ag Advocate

Ebenezer Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge

Hand Weeding

Hand Weeding

Dickens’ fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge believed that young people should work. By not working, he considered the unemployed as “surplus population.” Organic farms require more labor particularly for jobs such as weeding fields by hand since herbicides are not used. Recently, an organic ag advocate in the UK invoked the name of Ebenezer Scrooge to explain how organic ag could make use of the current “surplus population” by putting the unemployed to work in the organic fields.

“Yet if Britain practiced Enlightened Agriculture based on small, mixed, quasi-organic farms we could easily be self-reliant in food. We could also employ all of the three million who are now unemployed, including or perhaps especially the one million unemployed under-25s, in jobs far better than the shelf-stacking and mail-order cold-calling that are now on offer. Instead we produce only about half our food while politicians wring their hands over what Ebenezer Scrooge in a remarkably similar economy called “the surplus population” who alas are left on the sidelines.”

Author: Colin Tudge
Affiliation: Writer
Title: Enlightened agriculture a people’s takeover of the food supply
Source: Food Ethics. Summer 2012. Volume 7; Issue 2. Available at: www.foodethicscouncil.org

California Avocado Production Would be 82 million Pounds Lower with Conversion to Organic Practices

New Orchard Weeds

New Orchard Weeds

California farmers produce 550 million pounds of avocados annually. 8% of the avocado acres are managed with organic production practices. A recent economic analysis by the University of California shows why so few avocado acres are organic. Even though organic avocados receive a price premium, lower yields (15% lower) means lower profits than avocados grown with chemical inputs. The 15% lower yields would mean a loss of 82 million pounds of avocados if all the California avocado growers switched to organic practices. Weeds are the biggest problem for organic avocado growers.

“Profitability estimate of organic avocados in these counties is lower than avocados produced conventionally. Though organic avocados are considered to receive $0.20 more per pound than conventional avocados, organic avocado production shows lower yield than the conventional production.

Based on our discussions with growers and the UCCE farm advisor, organic yield is considered lower than the conventional production. In this study, organic avocado yield is estimated at 15% lower than the conventional yield.”

Author: Etaferahu Takele, et al.
Affiliation: Area Farm Advisor, Agricultural Economics/Farm Management, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Southern California
Title: Avocado sample establishment and production costs and profitability analysis san diego and riverside counties, 2011 organic production practices
Source: University of California Cooperative Extension. 2013.

African Cocoa Farmers Need to Increase Fungicide Use

Black Pod

Black Pod

70% of the world’s supply of cocoa, a key crop for producing chocolate, comes from small farms in West Africa. In this hot, moist tropical environment, cocoa trees flourish but so do organisms that infect the cocoa pods causing diseases-particularly black pod disease. Fungicides are used to a limited extent by West African farmers, but they are not sprayed often enough to prevent the disease organisms from causing significant damage. As a result, African cocoa yields and farmer incomes are low. Research has shown that for optimal yields and income, West African cocoa farmers need to spray fungicides more frequently as a recent economic analysis determined…..

“Essentially fungicides were not overused – in most cases, it was shown that net returns could be increased by using more fungicide in the study area. Specifically farmers in Osun State would have to double their current use rate to optimize fungicide use while their counterparts in Ondo State would have to triple theirs to achieve the same goal.

Based on the results of this study, it is suggested that cocoa farmers increase the quantity of fungicide used per hectare as the ratio of the marginal productivity to unit cost of fungicide is greater than unity among the respondents.”

Author: A.A. Tijani
Affiliation: Department of Agricultural Economics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria
Title: Economic benefits of fungicide use among cocoa farmers in Osun and Ondo states of Nigeria
Source: J. Soc. Sci., 12(1):63-70 (2006)

UK Consumers Would Need to Pay 40% More for Food…

Most cropland in the UK is treated with pesticides to prevent diseases, insects and weeds from lowering crop yields. Without the use of pesticides, crop production would fall significantly resulting in higher prices for consumers. A 2010 study estimated the impact of the lower food production on consumer costs…

“This report estimates that without plant protection products, food security in the UK, and by implication in the EU and in most countries across the world, would be severely reduced and the cost of food would rise substantially. In the UK the cost of food would rise by about 40 per cent, increasing food and drink expenditures by some £70 billion per year and raised to the level of the EU this implies additional food expenditures of some £750 billion.”

Author: Séan Rickard
Publication: The Value of Crop Protection: An Assessment of the Full Benefits for the Food Chain and Living Standards. 2010 Report from the Crop Protection Association.

Apple Production in the UK Made Viable by Pesticides

UK apple growers produce about 400 million pounds of apples per year. About 18 insecticide and fungicide sprays are made yearly to control pests including scab, mildew, aphids and codling moth. By applying a full spray program, good growers have restricted losses due to pests and diseases to very low levels, usually no more than 1-2%. Below, an economic cost-benefit study determined the likely effect on UK apple production if growers did not use pesticides…

“Apples are the most important fruit crop in the UK in terms of area of production and require relatively high levels of pesticide inputs. … If pesticides were not used, apple production would thus not be commercially viable, and the market shortfall would be made up by imports at a similar price. With a negative gross margin apple producers would leave the industry and find other uses for their land.”

Authors: J.P.G. Webster and R.G. Bowles
Affiliation: Farm Business Unit, Wye College, University of London, Kent, UK
Title: Estimating the economic costs and benefits of pesticide use in apples.
Publication: Proceedings of the Brighton Crop Protection Conference, Pests and Diseases. 1996. 4B-1:325-330.

Italian Farmers Realize Profits from Herbicide Applications

In Italy, herbicides to kill weeds in crop fields have been routinely used on almost all the acres for the past 30 years. Is the cost of the herbicide application justified considering the levels of weed infestation? Italian researchers examined the record…

“The frequency distribution of yield loss due to weeds in winter wheat, sugar beet, maize and soybean has been studied using the available data of weed control trials undertaken in north-central Italy in the last 30 years. The breakeven yield loss and the probability of obtaining a positive net return from chemical weed control were calculated, considering different treatment options and different weed-free yields.”

“In winter wheat the probability of a positive net return from chemical weed control is high, between 80.5 and 97.3%. … As far as other crops analysed are concerned, the probability of a chemical treatment being profitable is >80% in maize and soybeans and >95% in sugar beets.”

“The profitability of chemical weed control depends on the density, composition and time of emergence of the weed flora, on the competitiveness of the crop and on the chemical used. In most cases, however, it is profitable to spray; in other words in the Po Valley there is a high degree of probability that the weed density is sufficient to bring about a yield loss greater than the treatment cost.”

Authors: G. Zanin¹, A. Berti² and M. Giannini³
Affiliation: ¹ Instituto di Agronomia Generale e Coltivazioni Erbacee, Padova, Italy; ² Centro per lo Studio dei Diserbanti del CNR, Padova, Italy; ³ ESAV, Venice, Italy
Title: Economics of herbicide use on arable crops in north-central Italy.
Publication: Crop Protection. 1992. 11:174-180.

Lack of Insecticides for Radishes Would Cause Significant Economic Loss in France

France is the second largest European producer, behind Germany, of radishes. Each year, France produces 48,000 tons of radishes. Damage to radishes from root maggots must be prevented in order to produce a marketable crop. But since 2007 no insecticide has been registered in France for use against root maggots. Emergency uses of unregistered insecticides have preserved the industry. A recent analysis calculated the economic costs of not having effective insecticides available.

“The additional costs caused to replace a chemical treatment by a manual operation (manual sorting at harvest) is calculated at 6,905 €/ha. At the sector level, the lack of availability of a registered plant protection product against vegetable flies would thus lead to a direct loss of 18,600,000 €. This loss in profitability seriously impacts the viability of the radish production sector in France and puts at the stake the employment directly and indirectly involved in this sector. To give an indication, in Loire-Atlantique this sector has significant weight representing 2,500 FTEs (Full Time Equivalent). … The risk of distortion of competition in the French radish production sector is real vis-à-vis other European countries where pressure of the vegetable flies is less.”

Publication: Economic damage caused by the lack of plant protection products against root maggots in radish production in France. In: Study on the Establishment of a European Fund for Minor Uses in the Field of Plant Protection Products. June 2011.
Project Leader: ARCADIA International

U.S. Crop Losses Significantly Reduced with Pesticides

Prior to the widespread adoption of synthetic chemical pesticides in U.S. crop production in the 1950s, many pests were destroying a significant portion of the food supply. Following the widespread adoption of pesticide use, the losses due to pests were reduced significantly. This point was made in an economic analysis by University of Maryland researchers…..

“… models indicate crop damage on the order of 15% during the early 1950s and crop damage falling steadily as pesticide use spread, reaching 11% in the mid 1960s, 6% in the mid 1970s, and stabilizing at about 3% from 1979 through the ensuing decade.”

Authors: Robert G. Chambers and Erik Lichtenberg
Affiliation: University of Maryland Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics
Title: Simple econometrics of pesticide productivity.
Publication: American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 1994. 76:407-417.