Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

Dirt Poor

19 April 2014

“Chinese Battle to Make Land Fertile Again”

Give us but a a few years. This is our future too.



Monarchs Decline–More Proof of Man’s “Success”

15 March 2013

I used to see many monarch butterflies each summer since we live in an area that grows a considerable amount of corn and milkweed was a prevalent weed. In fact, we used to have a large patch of milkweed along one of our ditches. I handpulled it all decades ago when I found out milkweed is toxic to horses.

However, a few years ago, when I first started reading about the monarch decline, I planted some milkweed in the fenced and generally horse-free native grass and wildflower garden that surrounds our house. Last year, the single monarch butterfly I saw year landed on the milkweed in my garden.

My few milkweed plants aren’t enough, of course. Articles like this one from NPR assure me of that:

“Monarch Butterfy [sic] Population Falls to Record Low, Mexican Scientists Say”

I read articles like this every day, and it’s getting harder and harder to deal with the cognitive dissonance of those who say everything’s just fine. Monsanto’s just fine. The climate’s just fine. Everyone should buy, buy, buy, eat, eat, eat, breed, breed, breed–but only if they’re white–and then drive, drive, drive.

Everything’s NOT fine. So there.


Urban Farming

11 December 2012

Sometimes I find something positive. As the rising costs of transport, synthetic fertilizer, and other factors kick in, we’re going to need to do more and more of this.

Will Allen: The Urban Farmer

We’re still doomed, of course.


1 December 2012

We need more responsible little farms like this one. I’m going to draft a note to Forsyth Township about sustainable farming and the future of the United States. Too many people are still under the delusion that food comes from right from the factory to the supermarkets.

Shady Grove Farm, owned and operated by the Buchler family in Gwinn, MI, is in a legal battle with the Forsyth Township over zoning regulations and the right to farm.

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A Microcosm of the World?

14 September 2012

This situation may well prove to be indicative of what the world’s (over)population will have to deal with in the upcoming decades:

“The Salton Sea:  Death and Politics in the Great American Water Wars.”

I fear we won’t handle the situations well at all, but I hope I’m wrong.


Handbasket Report: Me, Worry?

13 June 2011

Michael T. Snyder posted an article title “20 Reasons to Be Prepared for a Global Food Crisis” today on Seeking Alpha, a leading financial blog. It reiterates much of what I’ve been saying in many, many posts over the last year or two, so I’m reposting it here in its entirety:

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is on the verge of a horrific global food crisis. At some point, this crisis will affect you and your family. It may not be today, and it may not be tomorrow, but it is going to happen.

Crazy weather and horrifying natural disasters have played havoc with agricultural production in many areas of the globe over the past couple of years. Meanwhile, the price of oil has begun to skyrocket. The entire global economy is predicated on the ability to use massive amounts of inexpensive oil to cheaply produce food and other goods and transport them over vast distances. Without cheap oil, the whole game changes.

Topsoil is being depleted at a staggering rate and key aquifers all over the world are being drained at an alarming pace. Global food prices are already at an all-time high and they continue to move up aggressively. So what is going to happen to our world when hundreds of millions more people cannot afford to feed themselves?

Most Americans are so accustomed to supermarkets that are absolutely packed to the gills with massive amounts of really inexpensive food that they cannot even imagine that life could be any other way. Unfortunately, that era is ending.

There are all kinds of indications that we are now entering a time when there will not be nearly enough food for everyone in the world. As competition for food supplies increases, food prices are going to go up. In fact, at some point they are going to go way up.

Let’s look at some of the key reasons why an increasing number of people believe that a massive food crisis is on the horizon.

The following are 20 signs that a horrific global food crisis is coming….

1. According to the World Bank, 44 million people around the globe have been pushed into extreme poverty since last June because of rising food prices.

2. The world is losing topsoil at an astounding rate. In fact, according to Lester Brown, “one third of the world’s cropland is losing topsoil faster than new soil is forming through natural processes”.

3. Due to U.S. ethanol subsidies, almost a third of all corn grown in the United States is now used for fuel. This is putting a lot of stress on the price of corn.

4. Due to a lack of water, some countries in the Middle East find themselves forced to almost totally rely on other nations for basic food staples. For example, it is being projected that there will be no more wheat production in Saudi Arabia by the year 2012.

5. Water tables all over the globe are being depleted at an alarming rate due to “overpumping”. According to the World Bank, there are 130 million people in China and 175 million people in India that are being fed with grain with water that is being pumped out of aquifers faster than it can be replaced. So what happens once all of that water is gone?

6. In the United States, the systematic depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer could eventually turn “America’s Breadbasket” back into the “Dust Bowl”.

6. Diseases such as UG99 wheat rust are wiping out increasingly large segments of the world food supply.

7.. The tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan have rendered vast agricultural areas in that nation unusable. In fact, there are many that believe that eventually a significant portion of northern Japan will be considered to be uninhabitable. Not only that, many are now convinced that the Japanese economy, the third largest economy in the world, is likely to totally collapse as a result of all this.

9. The price of oil may be the biggest factor on this list. The way that we produce our food is very heavily dependent on oil. The way that we transport our food is very heavily dependent on oil. When you have skyrocketing oil prices, our entire food production system becomes much more expensive. If the price of oil continues to stay high, we are going to see much higher food prices and some forms of food production will no longer make economic sense at all.

10. At some point the world could experience a very serious fertilizer shortage. According to scientists with the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative, the world is not going to have enough phosphorous to meet agricultural demand in just 30 to 40 years.

11. Food inflation is already devastating many economies around the globe. For example, India is dealing with an annual food inflation rate of 18 percent.

12. According to the United Nations, the global price of food reached a new all-time high in February.

13. According to the World Bank, the global price of food has risen 36% over the past 12 months.

14. The commodity price of wheat has approximately doubled since last summer.

15. The commodity price of corn has also about doubled since last summer.

16. The commodity price of soybeans is up about 50% since last June.

17. The commodity price of orange juice has doubled since 2009.

18. There are about 3 billion people around the globe that live on the equivalent of 2 dollars a day or less and the world was already on the verge of economic disaster before this year even began.

19. 2011 has already been one of the craziest years since World War 2. Revolutions have swept across the Middle East, the United States has gotten involved in the civil war in Libya, Europe is on the verge of a financial meltdown and the U.S. dollar is dying. None of this is good news for global food production.

20. There have been persistent rumors of shortages at some of the biggest suppliers of emergency food in the United States. The following is an excerpt from a recent “special alert” posted on Raiders News Network….

Look around you. Read the headlines. See the largest factories of food, potassium iodide, and other emergency product manufacturers literally closing their online stores and putting up signs like those on Mountain House’s Official Website and Thyrosafe’s Factory Webpage that explain, due to overwhelming demand, they are shutting down sales for the time being and hope to reopen someday.

So what does all of this mean? It means that time is short. For years, many “doom and gloomers” have been yelling and screaming that a food crisis is coming. Well, up to this point there hasn’t been much to get alarmed about. Food prices have started to rise, but the truth is that our stores are still packed to the rafters will gigantic amounts of relatively cheap food. However, you would have to be an idiot not to see the warning signs. Just look at what happened in Japan after March 11th. Store shelves were cleared out almost instantly.

It isn’t going to happen today, and it probably isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but at some point a major league food crisis is going to strike. So what are you and your family going to do then? You might want to start thinking about that.


I haven’t mentioned it here, but Cuba, a country many point to as the model of sustainability, is in the midst of a major drought. Here’s an overview: “Rainy Season Off to a Poor Start” The springs rains haven’t come. Water is being trucked into cities and rationed. Livestock is starving.

Have a nice day.


The Magic Handbasket: Free Crap

17 April 2011

Finally, others besides the usual doomers are starting to notice the world food problem: “20 Reasons to Be Prepared for a Global Food Crisis.”

This article by Michael T. Snyder is on today’s Seeking Alpha, one of my favorite financial sites. Snyder lists a number of issues I’ve posted about over the last year or so–water, topsoil, ethanol among them.

I read it nodding but wondered why the author didn’t address the underlying population problem. However, a good many of those who commented pointed out this link.

But then there was this comment:

You did not mention ,” my dog ate my homework” as another reason. The free market will take care of shortages as high prices cuts consumption and creates incentives to bring on new production. Unlimited demand will be curtailed by price, and limited supply will also be stimulated by price. Let the market price signal do it’s [sic–and sick as well] work. Sure there are physical constraints, and oil does raise the cost of production, though substitutes will replace them.

Cornucopians no longer amuse me. “Unlimited demand will be curtailed by price, and limited supply will also be stimulated by price”? Is “price” a new euphemism for “death”?

As I read this, I wondered if this person was just being especially sarcastic or if he actually believed in both the Free, Righteous, and Easy Economy (FREE) and the Complete Replacement Analogue for Petroleum (CRAP). So far, I see no substantial evidence that either of these exist or are likely to exist, and I have grave difficulty with anyone over the age of five who utters statements of blind, unsupported faith.

Childish utterances from adults stopped amusing me a few years ago when an extremely bright neighbor told me that we would quickly solve the crises caused by the depleteion of fossil fuels. I laughed and asked “How?” Without answering my question, but with a straight face, he just said, “Because we have to.”

Because we have to? I guess I missed the appearance of the Magic Fairy (MF) who told these folks that merely having wants and needs guarantees their gratification.


Corn: It’s the Food Supply, Stupid

28 November 2010

Al Gore finally concluded ethanol isn’t a good idea and conservative sources are gloating, for example “Al Gore’s Ethanol Epiphany: He Concedes the Industry He Promoted Serves No Useful Purpose.” The problem here is that while ethanol isn’t a good idea, both Gore and many of his critics typically fail to mention one extremely significant reason the current American ethanol process is folly: CORN IS FOOD.

In fact, it’s in so many American food products, I won’t even try to list them. Just read some labels at the grocery store if you don’t believe how ubiquitous corn is.

As someone who likes to eat on a regular basis, I worry about the air, the soil, the water, and the weather it takes to produce food and the resources it takes to distribute food. I long ago decided that I’d rather eat corn than drive around with it, but the Gore reversal and the reactions to it did little to convince me that the food supply was on the minds of those in power.

It’s sure on my mind because a number of factors point to lean times–dire times–ahead. How far ahead, I don’t know. Five years? Could be, but I’m not too worried. Ten? Now I’m starting to worry. By 2030 misery, possibly even world-wide misery, looks closer to being a sure thing. By mid-century–oi. Forget corn. Google “commercial fishing 2048” or something like that and find out what a good many project.

The future does not look bright for a number of reasons, among them carbon dioxide emissions that will continue to rise for a thousand years even if we were to stop driving cars and trucks today. However, our fossil fuel use is hardly the problem that worries me most. The rising human population does. Our problem is simple. We all like to eat, and, after eating, a good many of us like to do other things, one of which results in there being too many of us.

Ask any biologist what happens when a population continues to rise. If you don’t already know the answer, I suggest you read William Catton’s 1980 book Overshoot. It’s written for non-scientists and is still the best overview of the future I’ve ever read. When populations overbreed, they then eat themselves out of house and home. Those of us who live in developed countries have been skirting this Malthusian issue for a long time now. Fossil fuel fertilizers and fossil fuel-driven machines have allowed us to produce vast quantities of food and export our surplus to those less able to exploit the planet.

Kinda looks like that’s coming to an end because of increasing confluences of climate, consumption, soil-degradation, and water shortages. What happens if Hundred Year Droughts turn into droughts that come every ten years? We certainly can’t say that Russia’s recent drought was caused by climate change. It’s quite possible it was just a routine, devastating drought, something that happens every fifty or every hundred years or so. But what if it was not? What if climate change models are right and severe droughts become more frequent. We had a nasty drought here in Colorado in 2002.

In 2010, however, the farmers in my locale are rejoicing about the weather. On the 7th of November, an article titled “Crops Yield ‘Once in a Generation’ Payoff” appeared in the Longmont Times-Call. Whether or not they believe climate change is an issue, farmers certainly believe the weather is an issue. And they believe in luck. The article outlined how in 2010 Colorado “[c]rop prices . . . fetched what one expert called ‘once in a generation’ prices.”

“You’re looking at the trifecta: Sugar prices are high; corn prices are high; if you’re a dryland wheat farmer, prices are high,” said Mike Urbano-wicz with Colorado Commodities, an organization that buys and sells crops from Colorado farmers.

“To me, it’s once in a generation to have all this happen in the same year,” Urbanowicz said.

In June, corn producers were looking at getting in the mid-$3-per-bushel for their 2010 crop.

“Four dollars (per bushel) was a goal; $5 was an absolute dream,” Urbanowicz said. Corn is already a little more than $5 a bushel and may hit as high as $6.50, according to the National Corn Growers Association.

“A month ago, we saw a huge spike, and it just seems to be hanging around,” said Kent Peppler, a fourth-generation farmer near Mead who grows wheat, alfalfa, barley and corn, his biggest crop, on about 500 acres.

Urbanowicz said the spike in corn prices is due to a couple of things: The weak U.S. dollar increased the export of corn, and growing conditions in Colorado this year have been outstanding compared to some other states, such as Illinois and Indiana. [emphasis added]

(For comparison’s sake, Colorado is projected to produce about 171 million bushels of corn this year, while the two states mentioned above combine for about 4 billion bushels between them.)

Wheat prices also spiked because of a severe drought in Russia and the Ukraine, Urbanowicz said.

That comment about the Midwest caught my eye. So what happened in the Corn Belt, in states like Illinois and Indiana? According to MarketWatch “Corn and other grains futures shot up Friday after a U.S. Department of Agriculture report pointed to the tightest supply and demand balance for corn in 14 years.”

The Agriculture Department on Friday forecast a 2010-11 corn crop 3.8% smaller than government expectations just a month ago, as a hot Midwest summer preceded by floods in June takes its toll. . . . Following flooding in June, the Corn Belt suffered from a hot summer and, more importantly, warmer-than-usual nights [emphasis added] that interfered with corn’s ability to pollinate as it normally would, he said.

“Warmer-than-usual nights.” Haven’t computer models suggested that global warming results in warmer nights even more than warmer days? Aren’t warmer nights one reason cited for the world-wide decline in the frog population? (Google keywords: frog decline warmer nights) Learning that corn too was threatened by warmer nights was not welcome news.

But again, all this could just be a routine year. It’s still possible that humans and their toys aren’t behind warmer nights and other shifts. The current food prices could just be routine. But what happens if Russia’s drought hits the United states next year?

That would be bad enough without some other factors–like supply lines. For example, with the recent admission by the International Energy Agency that we reached peak oil in 2006 the food transport factor kicks in. It’s now increasingly likely that we will find a way to continue shipping food from one place to another to avoid mass famine. At least it’s becoming clearer to people like Al Gore that ethanol is a porky boondoggle rather than the key to our fossil fuel problems. I just wish it’d become clearer to more people that a planet with fewer people is the answer to our continued survival.

The bottleneck predicted by so many–by Catton, by E. O. Wilson (Google E. O. Wilson bottleneck), by many–approacheth. In a not too distant future, it’s quite possible that famine will sweep the United States the way it routinely sweeps Africa. Sooner or later, our farming luck will run out.


Corporations: Making the Most of Bad Times

22 November 2010

I usually don’t copy and paste entire articles. I will this time for several reasons. First, genetically modified foods frighten me for several reasons, not the least of which is their tiny but real potential for running amok and destroying life on earth, but that’s a topic for another post. Other reasons ares pertinent here. This article shows that some big hitters look to be as convinced as I am that we’re going to be short of food because of soil degradation, overpopulation, water shortages, warming, or some combination of all of those. It also shows that they’ve got the clout to bully their way into profiting off that situation.

The original appears on the Mother Earth News website here.

‘Climate-Ready’ Crop Patents Threaten Biodiversity
11/10/2010 9:19:16 AM

By Anna Archibald
Tags: biodiversity, agriculture, crop patents

The ETC Group has identified over 1,663 patent documents that have been filed by some of the leading seed and agrochemical corporations, claiming “climate-ready” crops as the future of the world’s food supply — what some are calling “biopiracy.”

These patents, which are in violation of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Seed Treaty, have raised concern from the Convention on Biological Diversity and FAO that these corporations may be attempting to monopolize the world’s plant biomass. It also raises concern about the future of the world’s food supply.

Rapeseed crop

These patents claim environmental stress tolerance in plants — which includes drought, heat, flood, cold and salt tolerance — through climate-ready crop genes. If corporations are allowed to claim ownership, not only would major crops contain engineered gene sequences owned by one major corporation, so would the processed food and feed products that come from that crop.

The group at the United Nations’ Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan, said the patents could become one of the “broadest and most dangerous patent claims in history.”

Over two-thirds of these patents have been filed by only three companies: DuPont, BASF and Monsanto. And only 10 percent of the total patents are from public sector researchers. Many of the companies involved have placed pressures on governments to facilitate the use of these untested crop genes.

In an attempt to deter a negative outlook on genetically modified crops and to convince governments of their “legitimacy,” these corporations have donated a few of these crop genes to farmers in South Africa.

“In exchange for untested technologies, South governments are being pressured to surrender national sovereignty over intellectual property, biomass, and food,” Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group said in the report.

DuPont, BASF and Monsanto–remember those names. And don’t forget to add ADM, another heavy hitter.

This’ll be a good day for me to finally start reading James Lieber’s Rats in the Grain: The Dirty Tricks and Trials of Archer Daniels Midland, the Supermarket to the World .


Here’s the Beef

2 August 2010

Lierre Keith’s Mother Earth News article “The Truth about Vegetarianism” brings up several points worth considering, most importantly this one:

The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us.

Keith doesn’t mention William Ruddiman’s theory that our current global climate change started when man discovered slash and burn agriculture, but what she says certainly fits right in with Ruddiman’s conclusions. People have intensified their food production and with that their numbers. Like all living things, the nutrients we need limit our lives. By nature, we are omnivores. That’s a fact. Whether or not we eat meat however is quite a complicated issue, morally, ecologically, and economically.

I grew up hearing about how much grain was wasted by feeding it to livestock, but I agree with Keith that the answer isn’t going vegan. As she suggests, the answer is even simpler: Stop feeding grain to food animals. Cows eat grass. Chickens chase down grasshoppers. As he, a former vegan says, the answer isn’t getting rid of all the food animals and going vegan. For some parts of the country, the local populations could, in fact, add to ecological destruction by going vegan.

Eating cattle raised on land naturally suited for grass may well be ecologically sounder than eating organic vegetables and fruits raised on grassland made suitable for vegetables and trees through the use of intensive irrigation provided by humans rerouting or pumping water.

Much of western America is basically unsuited for growing vegetables. The west was–and a great deal still is–rangeland, sparsely populated by deer, antelope, and such, along with a few people and their cattle. (I’ll refrain from comment about grazing permits for now.) But over much of America, grain crops now rule where cattle and buffalo once roamed.

Wells, then pivot sprinkler systems, allowed the mass production of grain crops, and then with surplus grain came modern industrial farming, one of the worst abominations invented by mankind. Not only do factory animals suffer unspeakably, but it’s also becoming more and more clear that, overall, this capstone of supposed efficiency embodies all disruptions and dangers inherent in human agriculture.

Ironically, even when we operate from the best intentions, human efforts to improve our lot, corrupt, and even destroy efficient and highly functional ecosystems.