Agriculture Shouldn’t Lose Its Head Over Wal-Mart Demands
History is littered with uninformed people asking for fundamental changes to the way things are done for the wrong reasons. There is perhaps no more famous example of this than French Queen Marie Antoinette’s declaration that the starving peasants of her country “eat cake” if they couldn’t find any bread to consume. This kind of thinking eventually cost the good queen her head.
In last week’s enew column, I wrote about some of the many challenges facing agriculture as the calendar turns to 2014. One option, having suppliers dictate how crops are grown, finished last in our survey, chosen by only 15% of respondents. But in my mind, this could be one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture going forward.
As you may remember, the reason this option was on our poll last week stemmed from the PACE Council meeting. There, one association representative mentioned that an executive at Wal-Mart had recently asked all of the growers he buys products from to cut their fertilizer usage by 40%. “The reason this request was made wasn’t based upon scientific data or agricultural knowledge,” said the association speaker. “It was made simply because this executive wanted to be able to put a green sticker on his produce saying it was grown with reduced inputs.”
The association representative went on to say that when this Wal-Mart executive was told cutting fertilizer usage by 40% and still maintaining a healthy crop yield was impossible, he still asked that growers “do something” so he could place a green sticker in his stores.
Although growers are at the heart of this “cut your inputs” debate, you can’t tell me ag retailers should be any less worried about it. Wal-Mart wields an incredible amount of influence across the nation’s food distribution channel. Some growers will undoubtedly bow to this corporate pressure, perhaps cutting back on their crop input use in the process – even when it doesn’t make sense to do so.
So as Wal-Mart pushes for agricultural change, our industry needs to stand ready with the facts and scientific data to prove that we are already working on being more responsible in how crops are produced. And no heads should get lost in the process.