Royal Skepticism Required
Prince Charles likes to talk about “sustainability” so much that he used a version of the word 32 times in his recent speech about farming at Georgetown University.
I didn’t attend the event because I was too busy planting crops here in Iowa. Commoners have to work for a living, after all. But I did find the time to read the text of his remarks. As I made my way through his address, the Prince of Wales turned me into the prince of wails--I wanted to howl in anguish over this man’s bizarre views of agriculture.
The prince loves organic food, which is fine. But he’s wrong to think it can save the world because it’s so inefficient. A recent study by Steve Savage points out that if all farming in the United States went organic, we would need to add an amount of new cropland almost equal to the size of Spain to make up for the lower yields.
This is the very definition of “unsustainable”.
Who is this guy to lecture anybody on sustainability? Prince Charles flew to the United States on a private jet and traveled around Washington, D.C. with an armada-sized motorcade. As a reporter for the Washington Post noted puckishly, the engine of his SUV was left running while he was inside Georgetown’s Healy Hall.
Prince Charles was of course fresh from the lavish wedding of his son Prince William to Catherine Middleton. Perhaps you were one of the billions of people who are said to have watched the ceremony on television. What you may not have seen was the estimated price tag: $33 million. The Daily Mail, a London newspaper, called it “the most expensive security event staged in Britain.”
Say what you will about royal nuptials. They may be beautiful fairy-tale moments that dazzle imaginations or they may be the retrograde functions of an elite class that doesn’t deserve its privileges.
Whatever your opinion, let’s agree on a simple observation: Royal weddings are definitely not exercises in sustainability.
So when His Royal Highness decides to condemn my own way of farming as not sufficiently sustainable, I bring a little skepticism to the table.
Our fundamental dispute involves a conflict of visions. We have different ideas about what sustainable farming means.
On one of his many estates in England, the prince oversees an organic farm that puts out oaten biscuits, herbal tinctures, and other products. Here on my family farm in Iowa, I grow staple crops by using the tools of modern food production. One of them is biotechnology because genetically modified plants offer so many benefits, such as increased yields, protection against soil erosion, and a reduction in greenhouse gases.
Yet the prince insists that biotechnology “is not a genuinely sustainable form of agriculture.”
I’m happy to let Prince Charles pursue his hobby farm in Merrie Olde England. I just wish he’d extend the same courtesy to me and other farmers in the developed and the developing world as we try to meet the enormous demands of a hungry planet.
Farmers everywhere should enjoy the fundamental freedom to farm. That means allowing us to make our own choices about what to grow and how to grow it.
Some, like Prince Charles, may choose organic options, especially if they want to meet a market demand among upper-income consumers for more expensive food. Most of us, however, prefer to produce large amounts of affordable crops for everyday grocery-store shoppers.
In a dynamic economy, there’s a role for all of us.
Unfortunately, the prince disagrees. It’s galling to hear him praise “an economic model built upon resilience and diversity” and “policies which encourage more diversity”--and then, in the next breath, claim that my method of farming is all wrong.
Apparently diversity is wonderful as long as everybody does things the prince’s way.
In his speech, Prince Charles called for an approach to agriculture “that is capable of feeding the world with a global population rapidly heading for nine billion.” He’s right about that, though he should keep up with his news clips because shortly before he spoke demographers at the United Nations said that the world’s population will swell beyond 10 billion.
The point to remember, of course, is that this is a significant number. As the 21st century progresses, more people will demand more food. Satisfying them will require cutting-edge technologies--and that means letting farmers embrace a future of scientific innovation, rather than scorning them for refusing to hang on to old ways.
Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa. Bill volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade and Technology.