A little over a year ago, in February 1982, the General Accounting Office, Congress’ investigative arm, reported that the American food production system, which feeds the United States and 10 percent of the rest of the world “is threatened by growing scarcity of basic resources.” It forecast a food crisis that may dramatically overshadow the energy crisis over the next decade.
One response by President Reagan to this pessimistic forecast was to encourage America’s farmers to take a record 82.3 million acres out of production this year. In fact, more than one out of every three acres of land normally planted to major crops will be idle under a new federal program. Agriculture Secretary John R. Block said the program’s results are “beyond my wildest expectations.”
Meanwhile, in the midst of these extraordinarily contradictory alarums and potions, a lonely voice from Emmaus, Pennsylvania, goes unheard.
George DeVault is editor of The New Farm which is published by the Rodale Press in Emmaus. It is an agricultural trade journal with a circulation of about 85,000 which advocates using less energy, biological alternatives to chemical pesticides, and in using land economically.
The New Farm ran a six-part series last year on how soil testing labs routinely over-prescribe fertilizers. Test plots harvested at the Rodale Research Center revealed that nearly all the fertilizer recommended by the 70 labs studied in The New Farm series was totally useless.
The senior researcher in the study estimated that unreliable lab practices exposed by the magazine’s series are causing farmers to literally waste about $2 billion a year on unnecessary fertilizer.
One would think that an in-depth study which revealed how America’s farmers could save billions of dollars in fertilizer costs and maintain, if not increase, yield, would be newsworthy. It wasn’t.
In fact, it hardly created a ripple in the press. Sadder yet, however, the regular farm press — state, regional, and national magazines that rely heavily on chemical and fertilizer advertising completely ignored the series. The only exception, according to DeVault, was Farm Chemicals which tried to discredit the series.
Given the doomsday forecast by the GAO and the irrational action by the Department of Agriculture, it would seem that George DeVault of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, deserves a somewhat larger soapbox than The New Farm.
The New Farm, January through September/October, 1982, “Testing … Testing” by George DeVault; San Francisco Chronicle, 3/23/83, “One-Third of Farmland to Lie Idle,” Associated Press.