To the Editor:
How efficiency is defined, describes how we move forward toward the goal of improving efficiency. Efficiency could be defined in an almost infinite number of ways, many equally valid. It is units of one thing per unit of something else. We have chosen a definition that drives particular outcomes.
For example, in crop production, efficiency is defined as number of bushels per acre. More bushels per acre is more efficient and makes you a better farmer. This creates a rush to increase bushels per acre at almost any cost. Paying more for seeds, applying more fertilizer, pumping more water for irrigation, applying more herbicide and pesticide all become acceptable costs of increasing efficiency.
The results are contamination of our water with nitrates, herbicides and pesticides. Increase in erosion and nutrient loss creating dead zones at the mouth of rivers. Loss of wildlife and pollinators. Over production of crops resulting in poor prices. The need to create non-food uses for grain such as ethanol which have little value to society. All this and the economics of crop production fail to improve.
What if we define efficiency in a different but equally valid way? For example, we could use environmental impact per bushel or carbon footprint per bushel. It certainly would improve sustainability. If we change the definition of efficiency, we change the entire process. We should use a definition that produces the best outcome for people and the environment rather than the one that maximizes sales for agribusiness companies.
Dr. Bryan Van Gorp