Must Read Article on Farming
Some of you may recall my post Organic Farming Harms the Environment. As I wrote, one of the things that bugs me about organic proponents is that they act as if there are no tradeoffs. I don’t understand much about farming, but I do understand something about how economic activity works. I presume that modern farming has responded to market pressure and evolved to optimize along many different dimensions. I’m pretty sure you can’t magically improve along one dimension without sacrificing along another dimension.
Thus, I was not surprised to read this article (hat tip to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution) on modern farming by an honest to goodness family farmer. It is full of good examples of the tradeoffs I suspected were lurking. For instance, by using herbicides, farmers reduce the need to till, which is a major source of soil erosion. Hog crates and turkey cages may seem inhumane, but they prevent sows from killing piglets and turkeys dying from drowning. Crop rotations that decrease the need for synthetic fertilizer increase the amount of water needed to produce the desired crop.
Read the whole thing. It reinforced my confidence in the general rule of trying to avoid legislating solutions. Send pricing signals by allocating resource rights and taxing negative externalities. Then let the market do its optimization.