Is More Always Better? “We don’t need to grow more food”, says eminent agricultural development expert, Hans Herren.
What? Perhaps it’s Time To Stop Worrying and Learn To Love Industrial Agriculture?
—By Tom Philpott Wed May. 2, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
For Mother Jones
At a grain elevator in Illinois, corn is loaded into trucks, on the way to being turned into meat, ethanol, or corn syrup. Like a good buffet, Nature’s recent meta-analysis comparing the productivity of industrial and organic agriculture offered something for every taste.
For enthusiasts of large-scale, chemical-intensive agriculture, there was this headline finding: Yields on organic farming—the amount of crop produced per acre—are on average 25 percent lower than those of industrial farming.
And for biodiversity fans like me, the study had a caveat: Most of organic’s so-called yield penalty lies in grain crops like wheat; for fruit and some vegetables, organic ag is nearly (but not quite) as productive as its chemical-laced counterpart…for more…
Linda Eckhardt responds
While there is no argument that the industrial agricultural complex is capable of producing more “product” than organic farms can, the real question is this: So What?
We’ve been told so many times that big ag is necessary to “feed the world” that it has become ingrained in the conversation as if it were true.
In fact, it’s a lie. Plain and simple.
Just what is the history of industrial agriculture?
The U.S. began to scale up farming on the heels of World War 2. We’d learned so much about the economies of scale, beginning with the production of the Model 2 up to tanks and jeeps on an assembly line, to the feeding of troops during World War 2, that the powers that be decided to apply the same principles to farming.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. I, myself, grew up in a town in the middle of the bread basket that grew wheat. Once, we punched through the ground to begin sipping the clean, pure waters of the Ogalalla aquifer, and began applying the newly invented chemical fertilizers to the crops, the yield soared. Farmers got rich.
Soon, Hereford, my hometown, became known as the world’s largest feed lot town. More cattle were fattened in feed lots surrounding Hereford than anywhere else on earth. And they munched on the grains grown in that vast plains that stretches from Canada to Mexico.
Land was fenced, ever larger farming operations took over. And the scientists in the agricultural colleges were hard at work to improve farming and the lot of the farmer.
Couple this with a big dose of the bible belt’s version of Christianity, in lock step with capitalism, and you will see how the farmers began casting a covetous eye onto other lands, including India, Africa, and Latin America to extend their reach, and fatten their pocket books.
It worked for awhile. In the Methodist church I attended as a child, we dutifully made up shoe boxes full of soap bars, along with a wash cloth, a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush to send to the poor heathen children in darkest Africa. Meanwhile, the grownups were beginning to extend their farming practices to places that had survived for centuries on subsistence farming practices.
So what’s the end result? Monsanto, Cargill, et al, have developed into monolithic worldwide companies who preach the gospel of industrial farming in every little farming village from India, to Africa to South America.
But, I’m here to tell you, it’s all a lie. My hometown, Hereford, is now a desert, with a cancer cluster to beat the band, with a diminished access to the waters of the Ogallala which have been depleted beyond redemption within a thousand years. Those industrial strength crops take a heap of water to get out of the ground.
So what’s to do? Read Tom Philpotts’ piece in Mother Jones for more information.Pin It