04 December 2009

" . . . not an unmixed blessing . . . "

Fifty years ago, four scientists working for the University of California published an article in the October issue of Hilgardia, a journal published by the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It was called "The Integrated Control Concept" and was credited to Vernon M. Stern, Ray F. Smith, Robert van den Bosch, and Kenneth S. Hagen. The paper is considered a landmark work in IPM--Intergrated Pest Management. The same University Division also produces a magazine called California Agriculture. The October-December issue has a short piece by Jeanette Warnert called "The 50th anniversary of a great idea." I quote:

The 20-page paper clearly and concisely described the consequences of pesiticde overuse and detailed their vision of a sustainable pest control system.

Ms. Warnert also points out that this work predates Rachel Carson's Silent Spring by almost three years. Ms. Carson was a careful and prescient thinker, it is likely she was aware of "leading edge" scientific ideas, whether she'd read the piece or not. Clearly there was an increasing awareness in the post-war world of the consequences of rampant technology. None of the men involved, like Carson herself, ever called for the elimination of pesticides. In fact, they all recognized the need for them as part of an integrated approach. That's the whole idea--integrated pest managment. Only a fanatic can comfortably spout extremes. The rest of us have to deal with juggling real-world conflicts. I try to support so-called "organic" agriculture because the practitioners tend to talk about sustainability, not because I believe that chemicals and other technologies are bad. Far from it--the world's billions won't be fed without them. Fifty years ago, some smart folks told us we need to re-think the way we farm. The benefits of large-scale crop-raising and industrial food production are too great to ignore, but so, of course, are the perils. Messrs. Stern, Smith, van den Bosch, and Hagen did their best to help us all sort it out.

(My title is a quote from the piece. I lifted it from Warnert's article.)

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