In the Western World we have left the job of agricultural research to private businesses. The problem with this is that the companies doing research are only interested in developing products to sell to farmers, you can't blame them for that. This means that very little research in being done into practices that will bring about greater productivity with less inputs. It could be argued that from the 1960s, state Agriculture Departments allowed themselves to become the advertising arm of multinational chemical companies. The companies provided the departments with their products to do trial work which became the basis for accepted practice.
Increasingly even government backed research is done as a business partnership with big businesses so there is no capacity for fundamental research. This void is being filled by an increasing number of small businesses created by individuals from a scientific background and with a passion to return agriculture to a sustainable basis. The influence of chemical and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) companies over governments is a cause for concern as explained on ABC radio in a report on the sacking of WA Agriculture and Food Department plant breeding technician, Patrick Fels, for a transcript of the report click here
The WA Government has allowed the introduction of GM Canola into WA despite warnings by the Network of Concerned Farmers that this would cause contamination of the non GM Canola. The WA Governments Dept of Food and Agriculture is charged with protecting WA's agricultural industries from disease that would close international markets yet have approved this material that our markets in Japan and Europe don’t want. As predicted, GM canola has now contaminated an organic farm resulting in decertification and a loss of livelihood to that farmer. Why has the Minister of Food and Agriculture in our democratic government allowed a foreign multinational company to destroy the livelihood of a WA citizen? This suggests undue influence of Monsanto over our government. Supporters of this technology claim that it is necessary to feed the world, this is an absurd argument. GM canola’s sole claim to fame is that it is resistant to Monsanto's Roundup , and with increasing use of roundup weeds will also become resistant. ABC Rural has been covering this issue.
Organic farming is sometimes dismissed as being unscientific, this is absolutely false, there is great scope for quality scientific work in relation to organic farming practices. Because organic farming practices can't be patented by the agro chemical companies they attempt to use scientific arguments to discredit organic farming practices. In Australia we have stuffed thousands of acres of farmland in little over 50 years, while using up non renewable mineral fertilisers and at the same time flooding commodity markets and pushing down prices to farmers.
Perhaps we should be looking to ancient farming practices for guidance. The ABC Country Hour's Richard Hudson ran an interesting program on this subject on 17 Sept 2009, talking to professor of sustainability Haikai Tane, click here to listen or to read .