I almost missed Patrick Boyle’s letter to TIME. With their current less-than-honorable journalistic stance, though, they should change their name to time so as to not insult the memory of some of the great journalists who labored for the magazine before it descended to the level of supermarket check out rags.

Boyle, president and CEO of the American Meat Institute wrote, "As Nobel Laureate Norman Bourlag said, ‘You can't build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.’ Before one dreams about the ‘good old days’ romanticizing about a return to peasant agricultural production practices, as Time magazine apparently does, we should remember that organic shoppers in well-to-do neighborhoods in our country are a much different marketing challenge and imperative than the 1 billion people around the world that the United Nations estimates are hungry."

Or the billions more mouths that we will have to feed by 2050 according to some estimates.

Bourlag was right. Throughout history, most wars were fought between haves and have nots. If my plate is empty and my children are starving, I will look for someone with a full plate and attempt to take it from him. Returning to an agricultural model where each farmer can feed only a handful of people rather than many is insane. Thanks to modern agricultural technology, one farmer can currently feed at least 129 people. In 1960, one farmer fed only 25 people.

I recently read a note from some idiot (sorry, but I’m using that word for its precision in describing the person) who condemned modern farming by saying it was actually a failed model because there are a billion hungry mouths still unfed. I cannot comprehend a world where the average farmer wasn’t at least five times more productive today than he was 49 years ago.

Is there room for a return to what Boyle called ‘peasant agricultural practices?’ No. Look at the countries where those practices are the norm and you will find most of the United Nation’s starving billion. Is there a niche for small family farms producing ‘all natural’ foods for an elite slice of society in wealthy nations? Absolutely. The Beemer nation has to have a place to park their automobiles and spend 25%-50% more for their premium cuts of beef. A few extra dollars taken from their discretionary income is no big deal.

The vast majority of the world belongs not to the Beemer nation but to the Burger nation, or aspires to reach that level. Asking them to spend even more of their hard-earned dollars, rupees, or pesos for a 75/25 grind, a pound of rice or a dozen tortillas makes absolutely no sense. A few extra coins taken from their income is, indeed, a big deal.
So to those people who would slander ‘big ag’ for its practices and economies of scale, I say step back. The romantic view you have of that family farm? It only existed in dime novels. Tune into old reruns of the Lone Ranger television series and listen to the opening credits: “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!” You’ll find those days of yesteryear weren’t so thrilling when most of your time and almost all of what little cash you had went toward putting a very small amount of food on the table.

Bottom line:
Food insecurity, the government’s new euphemism for starvation, was a stark reality for most of the world throughout history. Bourlag and his cohorts pointed the way toward more effective, efficient agricultural practices shortly after WWII and I would call it one of the greatest social advances of modern times.

Comments? CRJolley@msn.com

Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Cattlenetwork.com and Agnetwork.com.