So let’s have ourselves a bit of a recap, eh?  Yesterday we looked at the major environmental problems caused by the prominent industrialized agriculture America so heavily depends on.  I listed 5, but for my typing fingers’ sake, we’ll address alternatives for 3 of them today, and finish up the rest tomorrow.  So, let’s get on with it.

Through field preparation, planting, harvesting, and output transport, a lot of fossil fuels are consumed.  Whether or not you want to face facts, fossil fuel consumption does in fact speed up the natural cycle of climate change, both local and global.  So how doe we cut back on this massive energy footprint?  It’s highly unlikely that you’ll see a hybrid combine out in the field any time soon.  But there are viable, and beneficial, alternatives.  Buy local, my friends.  Imagine the difference in energy consumption between a massive cargo ship bringing in citrus from Spain versus that hour or two drive from a few counties over?  In addition, you’re keeping that hard-earned money in the good ole’ US of A.  But there are things that farmers can do to displace their energy footprint.  I’m talking about selling animal waste and green manure as organic fertilizer.  I’m talkin bout leasing some of your land for renewable energy sources.  I’m talkin bout investing in the ecological natural capital that healthy ecosystems supply.  Human ingenuity always finds ways of fixing the wrongs.

Problem numero deux: Water Issues.  How does a farmer protect his/her crops from waterlogging and salinization?  The solutions aren’t always economically viable, but they get the job done.  The simplest answer is to irrigate less and stop growing crops on a plot for 2-5 years.  More complex solutions include building underground drainage systems and flushing the land. See what I mean when I say they’re  not so economically viable?  All of those solutions, especially the latter two, are costly to the farmer … up front that is.  In the long run the same farmer could be looking at higher costs due to losses from salinization/waterlogging.  However, them crazy bioengineers have been hard at work.  The race is on to develop seeds that develop into crops that can grow in salty soils and high water tables.  Will that work?  Well hell, all you gotta do is look at the amazing success of the GM crops that are in use today.  If I were a betting man, I’d say the new ones will be just as popular.

Alright, last one: Soil Erosion.  Serious soil erosion is possibly the most frustrating thing that a farmer can find onof his/her property, well, besides a swarm of locusts or Sarah Palin.  I know how he feels, I find Sarah in my room everyday, like some hobo.  It gets old after a while. But I digress.  Soil erosion can occur in 3 ways:

  1. Sheet erosion: water/wind remove thin, uniform layers of topsoil
  2. Rill erosion: water runoff creates small cuts in the land as they flow
  3. Gully erosion: when you see this, you go “OH SHI-!”  Those little water runoff streams combine to create huge ditches and gullies in the land.  It’s expensive and time-consuming to fix.

     

Crap

So how do we fix this?  It’s really about containing that soil, and the best way to do that is through planting.  Now, you can plant whatever you’d like, grass is easy enough, right?  Lol, grass doesn’t make you money though.  My favorite is agroforestry in which crops are grown with trees dotting the area.  The trees keep vast spaces of cropland under control.  Remember when I told you we would keep this short for the sake of my fingers?  Well my fingers just tapped out.  Drop by to see me tomorrow when we’ll wrap this report up.  I’ll leave you with these words by a Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.

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American agriculture as we know it today is evolving from the unsustainable monstrosity that it has been since the early 20th century.  Some would say it’s about time, right?  Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. But, one thing people have a tough time understanding when looking at the many enviro-issues we have today is that finding solutions is quite easy in comparison to actually putting them into use.  But that’s a topic for a later post, right now let’s take a look at what modern agriculture is and how it affects you.   

Industrialized Agriculture at it's finest. But that's still pretty sweet, i wanna ride.

Farming from an economical standpoint has evolved much more quickly than the actual cultivation/harvesting  practices it uses.  Long gone are those mom and pop farms we read about in those lovely children’s books.  Those vanished with the building hurricane that is the American population.  We have a lot of people to feed.  I mean, a lot.  In response, the industry has supersized itself.   We  now have what is called Industrialized Agriculture or agribusiness (if you wanna sound edumacated).  This pretty much means farms use high inputs; lots of fossil fuels, lots of inorganic pesticides, lots of water.  Sustainable?  It could be, but it’s not really.  In this game, it’s all about the bottom dollar, so most company’s take the easier, more harmful approaches to farming.  But, because this is only part 1 of 3 parts, let’s pace ourselves and have a little look as to why today’s average farm is not so eco-friendly.  

  1. High consumption of fossil fuels for farming machines and food transport is just a big old contributor to air pollution, climate change (if you believe in that stuff), and habitat destruction, degradation, fragmentation (you gotta build roads, don’t ya?).
  2. Water Issues, big timer.  Crops like water, who knew?  But farmers sometimes over-water their crops to the point where the soil becomes over saturated and the plant roots actually drown.  Also, irrigation water contains trace amounts of salts that build up over time as the water is used up and evaporates.  This is called salinization and it sucks.
  3. SOIL EROSION.  The Dust Bowl, my friends.  Farmers didn’t heed the warnings of environmental scientists and as Sarah Palin would say, they Plowed, baby, Plowed.  Today, we see the same thing.  In some places it’s so bad that desertification occurs, causing intense crop productivity declines.
  4. Inorganic Pesticides.  These are processed chemicals that keep those little crop-eating buggers at bay.  Sometimes they friendly fire and take out beneficial species like bugs that leave the crops alone but prey on the annoying ones that do.  Also, these potent chemicals leech into groundwater reserves and continue on to be stored in fish, birds, whatever.  They’re also proven to be found in that inorganic apple you ate with lunch. =/
  5. Last, but certainly not least, is Loss of Biodiversity.  This one really hits home with me.  I think I’m tearing up just thinking about it.  All farmers displace natural ecosystems to plant their crops and feed their livestock.  Millions of acres of mature ecosystems have succumbed to these practices and all that diverse plant and animal life is replaced with a monoculture like a cornfield or grazing pasture.  I dun like it one bit.

Fortunately for the earth and these strange things living on it, there are eco-friendly alternatives to every single downside that I mentioned up there.  So that’s what we’ll talk about tomorrow.  I love you, if you’re in the States: Sleep well, cupcake.  If you’re in the UK: have a great day, my ray of sunshine

edit: I know I promised a tribute to Wangari Maathai to be posted yesterday, but I feel like I need to do a little more research to do her justice, i’m soz.  *pic is from eco-asia.info and it does not belong to me.