Churdan farmer George Naylor holds the issue of National Geographic that he’s featured in.

Farmer pictured in National Geographic

George Naylor ultimately takes issue with the magazine’s May cover story


Churdan farmer George Naylor recently rebutted arguments made in a National Geographic magazine article in which he’s featured.

The story — on plans to feed the increasing world population while using more environmentally friendly agriculture practices — is featured in the May issue of the venerable magazine.

Naylor, who has grown non-genetically modified corn and soybeans on his farm near Churdan for 38 years, was featured in a photograph in the article, showing the overall-clad farmer with his land in the background.

Naylor is also a board member for the Center for Food Safety and former president of the National Family Farm Coalition.

After reading the National Geographic article, Naylor wrote a rebuttal posted on The Huffington Post, calling the story’s “Five-Step Plan to Feed the World” superficial without delving into “the institutional changes required for coordinating such tasks.”
“I think the way
he approaches it — this professor, Jonathan Foley — I would say he’s Polly Ann-ish,” Naylor said. “He’s not taking seriously the challenges that are involved in what farmers face and what the planet faces in order to make a real change.”  

In his rebuttal, Naylor argues that the article centers on changing farming practices only in a corporate-farming fashion and largely ignores the plight of actual farmers who are in charge of feeding the world.

“Foley’s five steps to ‘feed the world’ involve the confluence of many miracles, most of which don’t jive with the rules of the system as they now stand, and I see no focus here on the institutional changes required for coordinating such tasks,” Naylor wrote.

Foley’s first step — “freeze agriculture’s footprint” — laments the amount of valuable land still being cleared for agriculture.

Foley states that we cannot simply keep clearing land when much of the land is being used only for producing livestock, feed for livestock and timber.

Naylor argued that this proposition is superficial when taking into account the emphasis on corporate farming that has become the norm for agriculture. He said Foley offered no real suggestion as to how to stop the expansion of agriculture.

“Foley recognized the problems of what’s going on with our ecosystems — environmental destruction, but I don’t think he really dealt with the extinction of the family farm,” Naylor said.

Naylor said Foley’s first point is simply impossible with the politics surrounding agriculture.

“Corporate farms are going to mine the soil. They’re going to not worry about long-run costs to the environment,” Naylor said. “They’re going to have people doing whatever labor has to be done at the lowest possible wage. They have all the political power in the world.”

Step two of Foley’s five-step plan is the idea to grow more on farmland that already exists. Foley suggests using precision farming systems to boost yields and lessen the amount of “yield gaps.”

The increase in yields is canceled out by the following desire to expand farmland to increase production all the more, Naylor wrote in his article.

As someone who has grown non-GMO corn and soybeans for decades, Naylor said he believes that the herbicide-resistant crops grown have already destroyed biodiversity, so the new farming techniques would not be beneficial in actuality.

The increase of crops could also pose a threat to farmers, an audience that Naylor said Foley forgets when proposing techniques on how to feed the world.

“We could be looking to another farm crisis,” Naylor said in an interview with The Jefferson Herald, referring to the crisis in the ’80s. “I think that’s inevitable because they’ve been actually using these Roundup ready crops to expand production all over the world so the price of corn’s already dropped.”

Step three, “use resources more efficiently,” outlines Foley’s idea that farmers can control resources, especially water, to be used as efficiently as possible.

“Computerized tractors equipped with advanced sensors and GPS” can be used to apply only as much water, fertilizer and pesticide as is needed, Foley wrote.

These GPS-driven tractors are unnatural, Naylor said, and it’s unwise to remove the humanity so far out of food systems.

“We’re part of nature, too. Even our food production depends on natural processes, like from pollinating insects,” Naylor said. “Already if you go out in the countryside and you have a flat tire, you’ll have a hard time finding anybody living around there to help you.”

He said his concern was that farming would entail fewer and fewer farmers, leaving farming communities desolate, depopulated land.

Shifting diets is Foley’s fourth idea, centering on the fact that the livestock that grows in demand as more countries develop Westernized lifestyles takes much more food to grow the animals when the land could be used to directly feed people.

Foley said using so much energy and land to grow crops only to feed livestock is not going to help feed the 9 billion people the Earth will be teeming with by 2050. Diets need to shift to less meat-oriented staples.

Naylor wrote that Foley’s idea of efficient feeding will put livestock on the same level as industrialized products. Efficient feeding, Naylor believes, is equated to feedlots that pollute the land with manure and over-work soil.

“Expecting the system to dish up more animal protein because a small percentage of the world’s population demands it is simply an excuse to green-light the status quo,” Naylor wrote.

The final step in Foley’s plan is to reduce waste, citing the fact that “an estimated 25 percent of the world’s food calories ... are lost or wasted before they can be consumed.”

Foley said food is wasted largely in homes, restaurants and supermarkets in first-world countries.

Naylor said that the cost of food is so cheap that food waste is not as big of an issue as it’s touted to be.

“The fact is that when you look at the cost of food, even after it’s been processed, packaged and shipped thousands of miles or served on china in expensive restaurants, food is so cheap that worrying about food waste becomes an inconvenience,” Naylor’s article stated.

In all, Naylor asked for a call to action globally and locally in which agriculture and food production must be on the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“Until we people here in Iowa recognize environmental consequences in our own communities then we’ll never really understand what’s at stake or what’s really going on that’s important in agriculture,” Naylor said.

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