Agriculture needs to take a few steps back

It’s easy to forget that, once upon a time, all agriculture was organic and grass-fed. Saving seeds, composting, fertilizing diverse crops with manure, not tilling and raising livestock entirely on grass was the norm over a century ago. Yet today, these are just the approaches we associate with sustainable food production.

We all know what happened as we modernized – the plow, the tractor, fossil fuels, monocrops, nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, feedlots, animal byproducts, e. coli, genetically modified organisms and erosion. We farmed faster, and we farmed more acreage. These are all practices and conditions that most Americans now consider “normal,” if they think about agriculture at all.

Fortunately, a movement to rediscover and implement “old” practices of bygone days has risen rapidly, abetted by innovations in technology, breakthroughs in scientific knowledge and tons of old-fashioned, on-the-ground problem-solving.

Take Dorn Cox, a young farmer in New Hampshire. He tossed away the plow, preferring to use no-till practices on his parent’s organic farm; then he developed a biodiesel alternative to fossil fuels. He measures the carbon content of the soil through sophisticated technology, aiming to raise the content as high as possible, and he also co-founded Farm Hack, an open-source virtual café for young and beginning farmers.

“Farming isn’t rocket science,” he likes to say, “it’s more complicated than that.”

Like Dorn, many young people in agriculture today are looking to the past and what they have discovered is that nature’s model works best. After all, nature has been using evolution and the laws of physics to beta-test what works for millions of years — billions in the case of photosynthesis.

Humans are pipsqueaks in this process by comparison and the idea that we know what’s best is increasingly looking like a dangerous form of hubris. That’s why a new generation of agrarians is returning to the roots of agriculture for a different approach that includes large helpings of science and social responsibility as well.

Soil carbon is a good example. As gardeners know, creating the dark, rich soil called humus is critical to plant vigor, mineral uptake and smart water use. At the farm and ranch scale, it helps prevent soil erosion. A short list of practices that build soil carbon include planting cover crops, mulching, composting, employing low or no-till and planning where livestock graze.

Building humus is a great way to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in the soil for potentially long periods of time, which means that “old” practices can address “new” challenges, such as climate change….

However, it is possible to help bring this level back down through the old-fashioned process of photosynthesis. Last spring, the Rodale Institute, a research and education nonprofit, released a white paper entitled Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming. It states boldly that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions by switching to soil-creating, inexpensive and effective organic agricultural methods….

It is undeniably true that there are many obstacles to implementing these tried and true solutions to food and climate challenges. Some are economic, but many are policy-based, which is why it is important to support groups like the Organic Consumers Association (organicconsumers.org) and the National Young Farmers Coalition (youngfarmers.org) in their efforts to create an environment that favors old-style farmers and ranchers, not to mention eaters, which means all of us.

It all comes back to nature. I like the way the Rodale Institute put it recently: Farming like the Earth matters. Farming as if water and soil and land matter. Farming as if clean air matters. Farming as if human health, animal health and ecosystem health matter. Because all of this does matter and regenerative agricultural practices are the best way to preserve it.

By Courtney White – Albuquerque Journal –

Monsanto earnings fall 34% after global protests

Monsanto said Wednesday its earnings fell 34% in its first fiscal quarter, as South American farmers cut back on planting corn, reducing demand for the company’s biotech-enhanced seeds.

US farmers harvested record crops of soybeans and corn last year, sending prices on those food staples to their lowest levels in years. That has resulted in farmers in South America and elsewhere reducing the number of acres they dedicate to corn. Monsanto said its business was also affected by reduced cotton planting in Australia.

The agriculture products company’s revenue fell more than 8% to $2.87bn in the period, on lower sales of corn seeds and herbicide. Analysts expected $2.96bn, according to Zacks.

The St Louis-based company reported a profit of $243m, or 50 cents per share, down from $368m, or 69 cents per share in the same period last year.

Earnings, adjusted to account for discontinued operations, came to 47 cents per share in the most recent quarter.

Even with the fall in earnings, the results topped Wall Street expectations….

Monsanto shares have decreased nearly 3% since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has climbed slightly more than 8%. The stock has increased slightly in the last 12 months.

The food conglomerate has been at the center of controversy over its genetically-modified seeds for some time, with the focus intensifying in the US last year with marches against the firm and a “Millions Against Monsanto” campaign….

From The Guardian –