Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other

by Don Stuart

Now available from Washington State University Press –

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Don’s new book, “Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other” shows how the ongoing farmer-environmentalist dispute is crippling agriculture and preventing needed progress on the environment.

That farmers and environmentalists need each other may seem surprising given that they fight over nearly every major environmental issue we face. But if they would cooperate they could actually assure prosperity for agriculture and could dramatically improve our nation’s environment. Instead, their political deadlock is threatening the nation’s food and stalling progress on the environment.

Don’s new book shows how they can end that fight and why doing so would greatly benefit both them and the rest of us.

With half of the total U.S. land base in working agriculture, farms have a huge and sometimes harmful impact on the environment. They can be managed to largely eliminate those impacts. But farming is a highly competitive business. And farms are lightly regulated, so environmentally sensitive management is by no means guaranteed.

In dealing with one another, farmers and environmentalists both face a paradox. Environmentalists strongly prefer the certainty of regulation. But overly aggressive regulation can result in the loss of farmland and in our replacing it with environmentally damaging houses, factories, and shopping malls. We could also end up as dependent on foreign food as we are today on oil. So, too much regulation of agriculture can be counter-productive. For their part, farmers, like most other businesspeople, prefer to deal with environmental issues with voluntary incentives. But there is never enough public funding to make our incentive programs really work. And without help from environmentalists, there probably never will be.

Unfortunately, cultural differences and disparate life experiences incline these two groups to mistrust each other. They tend to pursue adversarial solutions that may seem rational in the moment, but end up harming everyone. Don’s new book takes on the major issues over which America’s farmers and environmentalists disagree and shows how each could be resolved to everyone’s benefit.

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