Carl Shaffer and the Borlaug hypothesis

CM-MR-1-Carl Shaffer 1by Steve Wagner
When Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Carl Shaffer stepped to the podium for his annual press conference at the PFB annual meeting, he did not look like the proverbial happy camper. “One of the hottest items is our state funding of transportation,” he said. “I can’t tell you how disappointed we are with our legislators today. There’s no excuse for this. They’re sent there to do a job and one of them is to provide services for the public. We have 5,600 bridges in the state of Pennsylvania that are in need of repair. Of those, 250 are closed completely. In rural Pennsylvania, where agriculture is the number one industry in the state, services really have to be provided to allow our agricultural products to move on and off the ground. It is so vitally important not only to farmers but to the economy of Pennsylvania. We are struggling with the economy of Pennsylvania. It doesn’t make any sense to me why we don’t invest in our infrastructure today to help revitalize that economy.”

PFB issued a press release a few days later praising lawmakers for finally approving a plan to address this issue. “Pennsylvania’s deteriorating road and bridge system has negatively impacted farmers, businesses and the public. We are pleased that action has been taken in the state House and Senate to help alleviate the problem,” Shaffer said then. “We now urge Governor Corbett to sign the legislation so critical repair projects can get underway.”

Perhaps it took a sense of anger to get the issue off of dead center. “I had my local farmers in the district reach out to me,” said State Representative Mindy Fee of Lancaster County, who voted in favor of the measure. “They wanted to see something improve. They need to be able to move their goods across the state.”

The Farm Bill is another issue “that has dragged on for two years now,” Shaffer said at the press conference. “We’ve been working with Congress. The political pandering that’s been going on back and forth has got to stop. We are confident that we can get a five year farm bill out of Congress. Everybody points the finger at farm subsidies. The Farm Bill has very little about subsidies. The main thing for Pennsylvania…there’s a dairy title in there that has much-needed reforms. We’ve been working under dairy pricing from back in the early 1970s, and even earlier. Our dairy farmers are suffering because we cannot come up with a dairy policy providing incentives to processors to produce a product that is exportable. For all practical purpose, in the United States we’re about at 100 percent dairy consumption. We need to produce a product that we can export, move offshore. Right now, the way our system is set, there is no incentive for producing that product that other countries want to buy.”

As to Immigration Reform: “We’re working right now with two of our largest commodities, mushroom and dairy; both desperately need immigration reform,” says Shaffer. “And it’s along the same theme — this political posturing that’s going on. The immigration debate is a travesty. It’s about making political points. That is not going to get fruit picked in Pennsylvania. Political points are not going to get the cows milked. It’s time for Congress to do what they were elected to do.”

Food safety regulations are a relatively simple issue, but again Shaffer points an accusing finger at Congress. “The farmer’s number one belief is to produce a safe quality food product. We need food safety regulations that will achieve that. We do not need food safety regulations that will do nothing but put more paperwork on farmers but will not produce any more safe products. That means that we need more common sense safety regulations coming out in Congress that allow farmers to be able to adopt them, be able to utilize them, and keep producing a quality and safe food supply.”

GMOs? “The jury on this issue is not out, in my mind,” Shaffer says. “It is technology that we need, we have adopted it, it is nothing more than plant breeding that we’ve done forever. I can’t understand why the public can’t see this. They’re going to demand that we grow more crops and demand that we grow products on less ground, a smaller footprint. GMOs are the answer to what we do. The public on one hand says ‘we want you to reduce the amount of ground you’re farming. We want you to provide us with more. We want you to do it in a safer way.’ GMOs are just a way of plant breeding that Norman Borlaug was involved in. It has been scientifically proven; every research university has come out in support of them. It is a fact that we have this misrepresentation always being thrown out. That is unfortunate. It’s not good for the farmers and it’s not good for the consumer.”

Borlaug’s name having been invoked, bears a bit of elaboration. Borlaug was a Nobelist and is generally credited with being the Father of the Green Industry. He advocated increasing crop yields as a means of curbing deforestation. Despite recent efforts to temper or alter it, the “Borlaug hypothesis” has proven its resilience. The hypothesis avers that increasing agricultural productivity on the best farmland can help control deforestation by curbing demands for new farmland.

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