2015-08-29

A piece in the puzzle...

Agriculture has and does change us as much as we have and do change agriculture.  In general, these changes have not happened overnight.  The transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic, where in general, we moved from hunter/gatherers to farmer/settlers took thousands of years. During that time agriculture was diverse both in products produced and methods of production.  Most of that diversity was driven by the nature of the geographical area in which agriculture was being practiced.

Along came the industrial revolution and, along with practically every other human activity, the rate of change increased dramatically.  Not only did the tools with which agricultural work was done change, but so did the things we grew, the way we treated the land, and the way we thought of ourselves in relation to the food grown and consumed.

Revolution is thought of as a good thing these days it seems.  No story grabs headlines or our attention as consistently as those of turn-about.  Funny thing about revolution though: It does a lot of damage in a mighty short period of time, most of which is not tallied up until the excitement is all over.  Thus it is with our most recent agricultural revolution.

With greater and greater numbers of urban dwellers, all more and more isolated in so many ways from the actual production of the food they consume, the issue of agriculture has become one of abstract policy described by economic formulas.  Now those formulas and policies are ripe pickings for industrialist and financiers.  After all, it is not hard to do the numbers: A growing population, a fixed amount of land on which to grow food...well those variables add up to an almost guaranteed profit don't they?  Of course we don't want those starving folks to actually starve because the dead don't consume food.  So we need to come up with ways to grow more food on the same amount of land.  And so....

...Along come the chemical companies, and the BioAg companies.  Scientists who are focused on how to get more kernels on a cob, more cobs on a stalk, more stalks in an acre.  They learn amazing things about plant growth, genetics and chemistry.  They figure out how to hybrid plants, modify them directly, feed them, rid them of insects, shorten the growth cycle, lengthen the grown cycle, kill competitive plants and on and on.  Thousands of little lego blocks of information all aimed at getting more yield per acre.  And they do it!  Corn that puts out 230, 250, even 300 bushel per acre. Soybeans that yield 100+ bushel per acre!

I have news for you: That ain't agriculture.  It ain't farming.  It ain't good for us either.  We have isolated ourselves from the very systems that allow us to survive.

In the middle of all that come along some crack-pots like Aldo Leopold who bemoan not the changes themselves, but the way we divorce ourselves from the actual workings of things as a result of the changes.  I guess I am a crack-pot too, cause what he says rings true and good.

http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/pubs-and-papers/2014-11-cost-prairie-conservation-strips.pdf