#21 Science in Agriculture

In addition to being an excellent book title, this may be the last chance we have to renew our relationship with Mother Earth. Part of the problem with the way science and agriculture have been shacking up over the past sixty years has been the advent of partial knowledge brought about by the influx of big dollars into both the research that gets funded and the basic reliance on corporate welfare. Patenting of genetic material, especially for food crops, has led to situations where biological information, transmitted on the wind, or stuck to a honeybee could land a farmer in jail for theft. When we put new organisms into the environment, or find ways of injecting specific genes into completely separate species, there is no way that their perverse progeny should be allowed to retain any form of corporate ownership. Say, for instance that someone got some of my DNA and injected it into some other person’s reproductive cells. The resulting child would not be mine, right? It would not be entitled to child support from the science lab that injected my genetic information into the cells, would they? Now, allowing corporations to inject cotton genes into pineapple, or radish genes into corn sounds odd on the face of it, but allowing corporations to patent these frankenfruits, as they are called, amounts to  corporate welfare plain and simple. Now, if their “property” drifts into a neighboring farmer’s crops and the aberrant gene shows up,  the courts could decide that the person who has been offended, an innocent bystander to the process, is actually a thief. Even though the majority of us never asked to have this sort of thing done, we are eating genetically modified crops more and more often.

When science first found the big three, N,P &K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) they acted as if they had found the holy grail of crop production. The truth of the matter was that they had just begun to pick the lock that nature has put on the plant kingdom. Several dozen nutrients, elements and symbiotic relationships are necessary for healthy soil to develop and as pretty as crops can look when fertilized with just the big three, their nutrient content and health benefits will be undermined by ignoring the balance of a wide variety of factors.

Organic chemists tell us that nutritional supplements are identical to plant derived vitamins and minerals because their molecular structure is the same. Oddly, the thousands of  compounds science has deemed as “other stuff” in natural sources of nutrition are virtually ignored. If science deems vitamin C as the most important part of an orange, well, if you don’t like oranges, that’s ok, you can take vitamin C. It took many years to “discover” bio-flavinoids, but I think you can buy them as supplements now anyway, if they are really that important. Many of us have tasted real oranges and know that the process of peeling and eating one has several elemental differences from popping a few pills. No one can say what the most important part of the experience is, though science claims to know better.

Paltry few studies have been done using fish emulsion, compost and mulch, because there are no corporate officers whose pocketbooks would be enhanced by discovering the truth about their efficacy. If it were not so sad, it would be funny, but the direction industry would have us go is exactly the opposite way we need to head to find our way forward into the future. Before World War Two, there was a broad and in depth study of agricultural techniques and plant nutrition, after the war, industry took control of the direction we were headed, making sure that industrial wastes like anhydrous ammonia, a waste product from the creation of TNT and massive petro-chemical inputs were required on each and every farm. Now, the military industrial complex is so deeply enmeshed in the process of producing food and fodder that we would have a difficult time distinguishing between most farms and most other industrial production centers. The air pollution, water pollution and the despoiling of the land run just about on par with a refinery, paint shop or foundry.

More and more farmers are realizing that they have been sold a bill of goods. Over the years, their soils have been blown away in the winter, because they were told that there was a massive benefit to getting crops in earlier in the Spring. You can still see farmers putting “drain” tile into their fields, even though the areas that remain wet should not be farmed at all. Still other farmers who live downstream are inundated with extra flooding in the Spring when the extra water comes down hill. I always delight in the spring thaw because you can easily see acre upon acre that should be turned back to nature instead of wasting seed, fertilizer and herbicides, hours of manpower and the fuel for equipment, trying to get a swamp to produce corn or soybeans. The pitiful shame is that if these acres only produce one year in ten, the farmer will, most often, still be willing to do all that extra work and spend all that extra money because it might mean the difference between profit and loss at the end of the season. besides, crop losses are often subsidized away leading to another indirect form of corporate welfare that sacrifices the environment while feeding the pockets of the industrialists.

When we finally slow down to the point that we can look objectively at what we produce and why, or at what each specific crop is looking for in the environment, we may finally develop the arsenal to vanquish pests, keep weeds under control and enrich the human condition from the ground up. Most weeds, quack grass is the one I know best, hate to grow in soils that have high amounts of organic matter. The problem that many farmers have is that their soils were either blown away or they wash away in the Spring because of bad management practices. We don’t need more big boys throwing their weight around and thereby creating agricultural policy, what we need is for individuals to rise up with one voice and say, this is what we want, not that. We need to create demand for sanity in the management of the vast acreages that fall under the plow. Use your voice to advocate for good sense to return to farms across our country. Get involved now, because sometime before Obama leaves office there will be a new farm bill and we cannot wait to make these important policy changes. Enriching the wealthy at the expense of America the Beautiful could lead to the destruction of our entire food system. “Science”, as it has been practiced, especially since WWII has led to skyrocketing rates of Cancer and ADHD, obesity and “autism”. Healthy diets are based on healthy soils, which produce healthy foods in turn leading to healthy lifestyles. blessed are the farmers because they touch the soils that our culture rests upon.

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About otherfishwrap

One of the last of the Baby Boomers, I remember where I was when JFK was shot. Good story. Born during the Cuban Missile Crisis, my life has been spent studying, practicing skills and attitudes that reflect justice and the sanctity of Earth, Air, Fire, Water & Spirit. Trained as an educator, my life has been devoted to cultural development and social justice.
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