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LETTERS – for Oct. 24, 2011

Reading Time: 2 minutes

While I appreciate receivingAlberta Farmer,I must call you to task for some aspects of the opinion column of the Sept. 26 issue in which you support the sale of public land north of Bow Island for irrigation farming. You blame the urban media and their lobby group allies for the debate, and I wonder whether you reflected on the fact that a free media is the watchdog of democracy. Furthermore, the hypocrisy of critics of the sale is hardly relevant in a serious discussion.

You add that a southern Alberta without irrigation would have lots of habitat and few people to enjoy it. Maybe so, but truth is we already have fewer people on the land while the natural habitat is so shrunken as to be almost inaccessible to anyone, urban or rural.

I irrigate the land I grew up on, in the middle of what would otherwise be cactus country, and like most farmers I appreciate wildlife when I find it. As a boy my greatest adventures beckoned from just across the road in an unplowed quarter of what was then known as the CPR farm. Short-grass prairie and button cactus, coyotes and the neighbour s coyote hounds, and in the evenings the mystifying call of the bittern from a slough. Of course it s all under pivot now, as are the hundreds of acres along the Oldman River that I was able to access by bike as a teenager. Multiplying my experience by the number of old boys and girls still on the farm, one can glimpse the scope of the change.

Farmers are nature s beneficiaries but historically they have been at the forefront of ecological damage, plow virgin prairie and woodland as though the universe had sold them a special permit. When I was growing up people used to shoot herons, cranes, and birds of prey out of the sky just because. Today we are waking up in the middle of monoculture and becoming aware of a profound absence, the absence of ecosystems that developed naturally and sustained the land for thousands of years.

As I get older I become increasingly frustrated with the assumption that economic growth is the mother of all values. Our experience tells us that the best thing in life, our kinship with each other and with nature, is a gift. Which media is it that tells us we are feeding the world and that good things trickle down from a growing economy?

The same processes of land concentration attended by urbanization of the population are taking place all over the globe and contributing to overpopulation and starvation. As for the trickle-down effect, in dwindling numbers, farmers are coping admirably by the use of more acres, bigger machines, and better business practices, but the next generation is going to have an even tougher time of it.

We can t turn back the clock on history, but when we advance irrigation, aren t we allowing business concerns to eclipse the values we share with the broader community? I believe that today s farmers are seeking a balanced perspective of their place in the scheme of things. As the population living closest to the land, farmers must provide a thoughtful voice in a conversation that affects everyone and impacts generations to come.

Al Klassen Coaldale



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