My mental gas tank is almost on empty…in just over a month I have published 6 blogs containing 5475 words in total (and about 20,000 you never saw). Within those words I have tried to shed some light on what really goes on at a Canadian hog farm instead of seeing it through the lens of an animal activist. Beyond information, I have endeavoured to write these posts in a way that translates my passion for feeding people into word form. It is the second part that has made this tough, pouring your soul on the screen of your desktop takes a lot out of a guy. I struggled with how to best approach tough subjects, I agonized over the way that things were worded and all said it has been an arduous yet rewarding experience. So here goes my final post…and folks, I kept my trump card for the last hand.
Manure, dung, poop, the world’s greatest skin moisturiser…call it what you will but at the end of the day I hold the Right Bauer in the game of food production. (I promise that is my last euchre reference). Though I never got to meet him, the idioms of my grandfather in law, Murray Selves, will often pop up in conversations with Jess and my MIL, Joanne. Murray was a brilliant man, he used computers for production records long before the Commodore 64 (only those born before 1990 will get that reference), he designed and built a biogas digester long before Dalton McGuinty dreamed up the Green Energy Act, but most impactful for me was the concept of “farming the circle”. To Murray, the way we raised pigs in Ontario was the pinnacle of sustainable farming. Our corn and soybeans capture solar energy from the sun and nutrients from the soil, we feed some of the grain to our animals and some to humans, and then we replenish the soil for next year’s crop by applying the manure from our animals.
This simple concept is the backbone of our food system, if soil nutrients are not provided by manure then they must come from some other source. Nitrogen and Phosphorus are the two most important nutrients when talking about plant life. While nitrogen can be produced synthetically through the Haber-Bosch process, this requires a non-renewable like natural gas. Phosphorus is a little scarier; there is no way other than to mine it from the ground as there is no synthetic replacement. The Global Phosphorus Initiative has estimated that peak phosphorus could occur as soon as 2030. I guess peak phosphorus just isn’t as sexy as peak oil but it is just as threatening for humans. Without nitrogen and phosphorus, you can’t grow food, period. Livestock manure provides adequate levels of both that can sustain plant growth without the application of inorganic mined phosphorus or synthetic nitrogen.
Manure and soil enjoy a symbiotic relationship that goes far beyond nitrogen and phosphorus. Soil is not a renewable resource; it can take thousands of years for soil to form. However, unlike other non-renewables like oil or coal, soil can be reused year after year if properly maintained. The application of manure is the best possible way to meet the diverse needs of the soil. Organic matter (old dead stuff, kind of like oil in the sense that is takes millions of years to form) is what makes soil fertile, without organic matter plants cannot grow even if there is nitrogen and phosphorus available. Here is an analogy for you: Many of you readers probably take some sort of multivitamin supplement to ‘ensure’ that you are getting all of your nutrients but you know that the multivitamin cannot sustain you on its own, you still need to eat. In the case of plant growth, organic matter is the food and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are the multivitamin. Manure is the only thing that can rebuild the organic matter in soil, thus maintaining the non-renewable resource. Without animal production the circle is broken…you simply cannot have sustained food production without out livestock agriculture. Our food producing system has evolved (or has been designed) to include animal production.
I want you to picture something; I want you to picture the vegan world animal rights activists so desperately want. It is a picture of hunger. It is a picture of desolate exhausted soil, unable to keep producing food for HUMANS or animals because it has been mined to the point of collapse. It will not matter if you are a vegan or meat eater when the soil loses its capacity to grow a carrot. We will all starve.
Today groups like Mercy for Animals Canada are trying to sell you an agenda of caring for animals; they are actively trying to discredit farmers like me in hopes of convincing the public that they are the champions of the common animal. Well sorry folks, I, and farmers like me, are going to be champions of humans. We are going to do everything in our power to try and eliminate human hunger while ensuring that we preserve our ability to feed future inhabitants of our planet. We feed people; it’s why we signed up for this job.
#FarmProud my friends