When I was in England, a cousin from Ashford Kent took us on a tour of the area. We ended up at a place called Rye I believe. A group of boys about 12-14 years old were in a park playing cricket. We stopped to watch them for a while. We don't play cricket in Kansas, we play baseball. It kind of looks the same, but I gather it has much different rules. I am not a stupid person by any means, and I perhaps have a rough idea of the way cricket is played, that does not qualify me to officiate a cricket game. Even though I was over twice the age of the boys playing and have a university education, when it came to cricket, they knew alot more than I did.
Here on the Kansas prairie we have huge grass fires. As I have reported many times, the fire departments in the rural areas are volunteers. Many of our trucks are army surplus, distributed through the Forestry Division of the USDA. These trucks for years were modified with a platform on the front for a fireman to ride on and run a hose or water cannon, and one on the side or back where another fireman could catch any fire the man on the front didn't get. The fellow on the front had another job, that was watching for washes and gullies and alerting the driver, especially at night. This method worked for decades. Then one day, the Kansas Forestry Division got a new boss, and he decreed that riding outside the cab was no longer acceptable, either use a remote controlled nozzle that cost $3500, or walk along side the truck dragging hose, any truck with the remnant of a platform would be confiscated by the state. This concerned volunteer fire departments all over the state, it appeared he had never fought a grassfire that was 4 or 5 miles long, and hadn't considered the prospect of dragging a hose alongside a truck for miles. I was elected to contact him on behalf of our fire department and protest his decision, I quickly discovered he was alot smarter than I was, and didn't care for my opinion at all, remarking smugly that he could see how it was "easier" for us to ride, but the easy way was not always the best way, so he said. It is hard to force people to adopt rules that make their lives more difficult when they are not paid, and the prospect of half the firemen in the state throwing up their hands and quitting forced the powers that be to modify their rules. People who had never fought a grassfire and didn't understand what it involved had tried to make rules without consulting people who did understand what it was all about. The results they got were unexpected, and they had to reverse course.
Reading today about the EU ban on some of the pesticides used on the other side of the Atlantic I am reminded of the folly of trying to make rules for things you don't understand. The good people voting on the ban are more than likely well educated and probably well meaning, but have they taken the time to learn all the games they try to regulate? Did they seek any input from farmers? Do they fully understand the reasons farmers use the chemicals they just banned, and do they fully understand the consequences of banning them? Is their decision based in science, or is it based in the PC ideal of what farming should be, a guy chewing on a straw holding a pitchfork, surrounded by a half dozen chickens, a cow, a sow and litter of pigs, and a few lambs, grazing in the green grass and sunshine? Along with the ban, are they going to issue some ideas of how to deal with the problems the loss of these chemicals will create?
I will be the first to admit I am not all that wild about using chemicals. That is one reason I like so many of my neighbors have all my chemicals custom applied. In the early days of my farming career, the number of effective farm chemicals was not great, failures of those chemicals we did have were common. As a boy, the words I hated to hear out of my fathers mouth were "come on boys, lets go hoe beans". My dad, my brother and I, and sometimes even my mother would head down to the soybean field and hand weed soybeans. Generally it was about 90F, and 40% or more humidity. Bees, flies, skeeters, chiggers, and snakes aggravated us. Dad would watch us, and if we started to loaf which we frequently did, he would yell at us to get moving, or throw dirt clods at us, or both. This experience led me to appreciate the need for effective chemicals. I am certain there is a risk, there is a risk to almost everything you do in life. Modern farming is nearly impossible without chemicals, in spite of everything some so called experts want us to believe. The organic farming advocates, those who don't actually farm, have probably not pulled weeds on a humid Kansas morning, they have probably not seen a field of alfalfa eaten nearly overnight by weevil. I would be willing to bet that few if any of your MPs, MEPs, or our Reps and Senators have suffered the indignity of having a bad case of chiggers all the way up to your beltline after several days of hand weeding, or spent an afternoon unplugging a combine when it was choked with green weeds. From Canada to Kansas, Lincoln, Nebraska to Lincoln, England, Paris Texas to Paris France, farmers in the developed world spend their days producing food at a reasonable cost in an amazingly efficient manner. We do it in spite of alot of things. In spite of the weather, in spite of disease, in spite of low markets, high priced inputs, in spite of landlords, in spite of the interference of government, we have been very successful at balancing the environment and agriculture. While it might be better to abandon chemicals and go back to the methods of time gone by, like hoes, or dump rakes fitted with a kerosene filled canvas to catch insects, there just aren't enough people in the western world willing to spend their days doing manual labor in the hot sun for low pay.
It wasn't so long ago the European media was in a frenzy over the world food crisis. I read and heard lots and lots of theories about the causes and solutions, but never did I see much of an effort to talk to the people "in the know" about farming, farmers. It appears now all concern about food shortages have passed, and it is time for new rules for European farmers to follow, rules that might lead to even less food being produced. It is alot like me trying to rewrite the rules for cricket....maybe I ought to talk to a few players before I try. The difference is, if the rules we are dealt as farmers(and I say "we" because there is a high probability our new President Barack Obama will emulate alot of what happens in the EU) hinder our ability to produce food, the consequences will be dire. If the ban was passed because it "just felt like the right thing to do" or was politically correct, that was irresponsible. You shouldn't ever try to change the rules of a game if you haven't bothered to learn them to begin with. Farmers can't produce enough food for the world with their hands tied behind their backs.
My father is going to be 70 next July, but he is in very good shape, has a good loud voice, and I am sure can still throw a dirt clod hard and straight. Maybe those who voted to ban these chemicals should be treated to a trip to Kansas this coming summer, and spend a week in the sun weeding soybeans, with dad hurling clods and insults at them. Maybe then they could make decisions about farming based more on firsthand experience rather than theory. Just in case they don't show up for "spring training", we will plant GM soybeans, so if our volunteer weeders don't fly over to help us out,we can still spray them with Roundup. I am sure not going to head out with a hoe again.