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Farm Choices and Peak Soil

Farm Choices and Peak Soil

(Clicking any of the underlined text in blue will take you to a reference on it.)

Every five years Congress passes a farm bill, but the current one expires September 30, 2012, and Congress has not been able to agree on a replacement despite much debate and conflicting proposals in the House and Senate. Federal farm policy for too long has been skewed towards subsidizing large industrial farms, and recent poor crops have stimulated agribusiness lobbyists to press for more crop insurance designed to shift crop-failure risks, aggravated by climate change, to taxpayers. Regrettably none of the proposed legislation does much to reduce consumption of farmers’ key asset, fertile soil. Farmers can protect long-term fertility of soil by reducing chemical fertilizers, which kill microorganisms which ventilate soil, using crop rotation, mixing crops instead of monocultures, and using compost and other measures which slow soil depletion and erosion while building healthier soil.

Industrial agriculture’s ability to produce huge amounts of food, using single-crop strategies, makes it excessively vulnerable to climate change. The diversified landscapes of organic agriculture, like corn planted in alternating rows with other crops, are kinder to the soil and more resistant to erosion. But federal farm subsidies increase with output, encouraging farmers to plant the most favored crops – corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton – in intense, mechanized monocultures without paying enough attention to the land’s long-term health.  In addition to encouraging unproductive over production, recently an academic study has found evidence which suggests U.S. farm policy is contributing to Americans swelling waistline – a problem this blog has emphasized previously in a variety of posts most recently in the context of the Nanny State.

As a national food security matter, federal policy needs to move away from past emphasis on industrial agriculture and to create more organic, more conservative, guidelines and supports for food and fiber producers. That won’t happen by September 30, but Congress could enact a short extension of the old law while directing the Department of Agriculture to define, in consultation with all farm interests, a strategy for moving the country towards long-term sustainable agriculture. The heat and drought losses in 2011 and 2012 remind us of the 1930s Dust Bowl, when America paid dearly for unsustainable farming practices. Let’s not do it again.

Image by Christian Nurtsch (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons


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