Farmlands on Life Support
“Mega-monocrop farming has put our farmlands on life support”
Julie explained that during the rapid evolutionary period of fossil-fuel-based hyper-growth and expansion, agriculture quietly transformed from an agro-ecosystem culture of relatively self-sufficient local communities to an agro-industrial culture of many separate, interdependent, far-flung actors linked by global markets and fueled by the burning of massive quantities of cheap hydrocarbon fuels.
This global agro-industrial culture, with its ruthless totalitarian logic of industrial profit, brings the whole supply chain — from seed to supermarket — under the centralized control of a few, very large, very powerful corporate players.
With massive quantities of manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, they can feed and protect plants far better today than ever before and have even improved the plants themselves — especially corn. (The United States is the world's largest producer of corn, which in turn is the planet's most widely grown crop.)
The practice of mega-monocrop farming has effectively put our farmlands on life support, as these artificial landscapes require a continuous supply of chemical fertilizers just so plants can still grow.
The majority of the nutrients in the world’s agricultural soils have been deeply damaged by these industrial farming practices.
Forty percent of the planet's soils are now seriously degraded. Once fertile soils are rapidly being transformed into lifeless dirt.
And these manufactured fertilizers are derived from rapidly depleting fossil fuels creating an obvious long-term thorny existential challenge — how to grow ever more food for ever more people using less fossil fuel energy.
But revolutionary changes in technology and corporate management of labor have given us a false and dangerous sense of mastery and control over — and apartness from — Nature, while this new industrial farming paradigm is fundamentally unsustainable.
While modern agricultural technologies undoubtedly bestow a seductive sense of mastery over Nature, they do so only locally and temporarily. They do not, in fact, control Nature in any meaningful way.
Mounting problems are only being shifted ‘beyond the farm,’ to distant locations and future generations.
For example, while pesticides do kill some pests, solving an immediate threat to crops, the vacant niche left by the pest is soon filled by a second species of pest or by a naturally modified version of the original pest — a ‘Superpest’ — with evolved resistance. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all.
And these pesticides certainly don’t stay neatly put, Julie explained. Far from it.
They drift and disperse to interfere with the agricultural practices of other farmers, or their by-products accumulate in soil and groundwater aquifers to plague production and human health for years to come.
“The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of the pesticide residue in the typical American diet comes from meat, fish, and dairy products. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens and heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium that can’t be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products can also be laced with steroids and hormones.”
Pesticides, like all antibiotic substances, become less effective over time, Julie explained.
So while each farmer seems to win control over Nature with farm fields drenched in pesticides, new problems are created beyond the farm, across seasons, and for future generations.