Three Agricultural-Related Predictions for 2013

Baseball icon Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel once said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”  While it’s difficult to argue with such wisdom, I’m going to go out on a limb and make a few predictions as it relates to agricultural-related issues in 2013.

Prediction One: Expect that modern agriculture will continue to be judged based on emotion and sensation over rational and (established) science, at least in the public forum.  The most recent agricultural target has been Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  And one of the most recent and egregious examples of pandering to the emotional debate was on the popular Dr. Oz Show.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, in discussing (what is becoming) the highly emotional issue of GMOs, invited Mr. Jeffery Smith to be a guest on his program where GMO’s were discussed.  Who is Jeffery Smith?  According to a blistering letter from Dr. Bruce Chassy, Professor Emeritus, Department of Food Science & Nutrition, University of Illinois, to the Producer of the Dr. Oz Show, he is not exactly an “expert.”  Dr. Chassy states in the letter that, “Mr. Smith has no accredited or formal education in any health, nutrition, or other related science fields.  Research into Mr. Smith’s credentials reveals that his only professional experience prior to taking up his crusade against biotechnology is as a ballroom dance teacher, yogic flying instructor and political candidate for the Maharishi cult’s natural law party.”

Guests such as Mr. Smith probably make for much better ratings than say a plant geneticists such as Dr. Pamela Ronald (UC Davis) who said, “There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat.”  And nutritionist Dr. Ruth Kava’s who said “The fact is that GE products have been safely consumed by just about every American for more than 16 years…”

The food production debate is very significant, though not well understood by the (well fed) general public in developed nations. Science and reason must lead the way – we can’t afford to “get this wrong.”

Nevertheless, sensationalism sells.  Look for more attacks on modern agriculture.

Prediction Two:  Drought conditions may cause a closer look at water management and conservation.  The drought of 2012 put increased pressure on farmers; some crops were a total loss.  Will we come out of this current dry pattern in the spring, or is this part of a longer-term pattern?  This is a prediction best left for meteorologists.  But we saw firsthand the impact of the drought as we assisted a crop farmer earlier this year in assessing the impact of his groundwater withdrawal on the local aquifer.  Solutions to reduced groundwater supply are not always easy, but ignoring the fact that an aquifer is stressed can lead to dire consequences.

Prediction Three:  Environmental enforcement may get aggressive.  The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that, “In FY 2012, EPA enforcement actions required companies to pay over $200 million in civil penalties (administrative and judicial) – an all time record amount.”  The same report states that EPA criminal prosecutions resulted in $44 million in criminal fines and restitution, and EPA enforcement actions required companies to “invest” more than $9 billion in actions & equipment to control pollution.

The EPA has made it clear that enforcing environmental laws is one of their top priorities. In their FY 2011-2015 Strategic Plan, Goal 5 is Enforcing Environmental Laws.  The EPA states, “Vigorous enforcement supports EPA’s ambitious goals to protect human health and the environment.”

Consider this environmental enforcement climate in light of the May 2013 deadline for Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans for agriculture.  If you are not certain of your compliance status, we would again encourage you to use the on line tool developed by National Milk Producers Federation and USDA.  Even if you are not a dairy producer, you can use this tool to evaluate the applicability of the SPCC rules to your farm.

All of this said…like economists and weather forecasters – I make no guarantees on my predictions.

I wish you a joyous Holiday Season with friends and family and a prosperous 2013.

Alan Hahn


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