agricultural revolution


In the modern history of agriculture, we have experienced many landmark discoveries that have propelled food production to the greatest height in the history of the civilization. The invention of the moldboard plow opened up great stretches of land heretofore unusable. Then we had the invention of the tractor, the combine, chisel plows, refrigeration, cross breeding, hybrids, fertilizers, pesticides, no-till and limited-till, new pruning techniques and now, genetically engineered crops. We’ve had the Industrial Revolution, the Chemical Revolution, the Green Revolution and the Genetic Revolution in agriculture. Each has brought with it benefits and costs, sometimes, severe costs.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution between the 1700’s and the 1900’s brought advances in machinery that increased yield by a 1,000%. At the same time, it brought the massive destruction of the natural environment. The famous Dust Bowl of the 1930’s eventually brought about a Civil Conservation Corps, with contour plowing, windbreaks and new cultivation and growing techniques.

The Chemical Revolution

The Chemical Revolution, begun in the 1870’s, for the first time, gave scientists and farmers the ability to understand how elements and mineral compounds combine to make up the physical constituencies of plants, thus giving scientists the ability to create fertilizers that mimicked Nature to a great extent, again increasing yields. Eventually, we found that these same chemical fertilizers, in many cases, destroyed the biota, hormones, enzymes, beneficial fungi and bacteria, worms and other animals in the soil, causing the natural fertility to drop precipitously, making farmers dependent on ever more fertilizer to maintain yields. These grew weakened plants that required ever more pesticides to fight off insect and plant diseases that Nature uses to remove the weaklings from the fields.
Advances in chemistry also brought about the Green Revolution of the 1940’s and 50’s, when farmers combined high technology, extremely expensive planting and harvesting machinery, high-value hybrid seeds, sophisticated planting techniques with chemical fertilizers and pesticides that again, brought about a dramatic increase in yields. American farmers were “feeding the world”. But by the late 60’s and early 70’s, we realized that again, the soil was being destroyed by these technologies, further reducing fertility and yields, offsetting gains made in Soil Conservation Districts, again causing farmers to go into debt buying ever more expensive equipment, seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides, for the first time in years, actually decreasing their income instead of increasing their
Then came the Genetic Revolution. Since the early 1990’s, we’ve seen tremendous growth in GMO (genetically modified organisms), and the newly popular term, GE (genetically engineered crops). Again, we’ve seen increase’s in yield, but at a cost that is just now beginning to be understood and appreciated. As these inserted genes inevitably move into the natural environment, they change the ecology and the evolution of natural plant species forever, and not in a good way.
The classic example is, of course, just as DDT almost killed off the Bald Eagle, the death of Monarch Butterflies that ate genetically altered corn that contains Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis, the caterpillar-killing bacterium, inserted in the seeds.
Where genetically engineered species, from plants to animals, and today, in humans, will take us is both exciting and frightening in its consequences. The evidence is now appearing that conventionally grown food lacks the levels of nutrition of crops grown just 50 years ago. One study showed a 75% drop in nutritional elements critical for optimal human and animal health.
It is no secret that the top six degenerative diseases responsible for the death of people are directly linked to diet and food quality. The human disease costs of chemically grown food today are just beginning to be understood, verified and quantified. In the past, every Agricultural Revolution has brought great benefits, but again and again, they bring staggering costs to human life and the environment.

Organic farming techniques

Today, we have a movement toward “organic” and “sustainable” farming techniques as a way to both meet the growing demand for organically grown food, and to find a way to release the farmer from dependency on horrendously expensive seeds, equipment, oil derived chemical fertilizers and pesticides. You might call this the Organic Revolution or the Sustainable Revolution. But again, as in the past, we are also seeing some costs appear that no one anticipated.

The big chemical and seed companies are pushing back or intentionally watering down the quality of organic food by forced reintroduction of their products into the system. The large chemical and seed companies, the large farming companies, huge buyers such as Con-Agra, the universities that rely on the chemical companies for financial support, and the banks are pushing legislation to drive the small farmer out of business and marginalizing the larger farmers. As they take ever more of the farmer’s profit through regulation, low prices, and expensive inputs. The cost of fuel is climbing to unsupportable highs.

Many countries are now refusing to allow GE/GMO crops be grown or sold there, putting the farmers who relied on the word of the companies that invented and patented the new GE seeds and extension agents who promoted them for their supposed safety, marketability and profitability are losing money. Consumers are unaware that 80% of the soybeans grown, 95% of the cotton grown, and similarly high percentages of every other staple crop grown in the United States is from genetically altered seeds. Consumer surveys say they do not want to eat GE food, yet they are forced to eat the food since neither the USDA nor the FDA requires genetic labeling on our food products so that consumers have a choice.

Where has all this taken the average farmer, large and small? What has organic agriculture done that the other revolutions have not done? Not much, actually. Farming is in a great mess. Some say it is on the verge of total collapse. Organic and sustainable techniques seem best suited to small farms only. There is no clearly defined crop management system for organic and sustainable farms that everyone can use. In fact, on close inspection, there is no system that works for conventional agriculture either. This is based largely on a complete misunderstanding of the forces of Nature and how to make use of them in high-yield farming.

Large acreage farm products such as soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton, peanuts, rice and the plethora of other crops that are most economically grown on large farms are still dependent on the chemical and seed companies, the banks who finance their crops, the by and large non-innovative farm machinery manufacturers and the chemical company supported university advisors who no longer serve farmers, but now serve and promote the very companies and products that are driving farmers out of business. This doesn’t have to be happening. We’re smart people. There must be a better way. A way that combines the best of what agriculture has to offer, free of pesticides, chemicals, and GMO’s.

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