“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 transformed from an agro-ecosystem culture of relatively self-sufficient local communities to an agro-industrial culture of many separate, interdependent, distant actors linked by global markets and fueled by the burning of massive quantities of cheap hydrocarbon fuels. This global agro-industrial culture brings the whole supply chain — from seed to supermarket — under the centralized control of a very few, very large corporate players.
With fertilizers and pesticides, we 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. But revolutionary changes in technology and organization of labor have given us a false and dangerous sense of mastery and control over — and apartness from — Nature. And the system is fundamentally unsustainable, as the majority of the nutrients in the world’s agricultural soils have been deeply degraded by industrial farming practices.
The practice of mega-monocrop farming has put our farmlands on life support: these artificial landscapes require a continuous supply of chemical fertilizers just so plants can still grow. 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. 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 don’t stay neatly put, Julie explained. 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. And pesticides, like all antibiotic substances, become less effective over time. 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, Julie explained.
“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. Did you know that about 70 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter? The seven billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the American population. If all the grain currently fed to livestock was consumed directly by people, we could feed close to one billion people!”