Here’s my own picture.
I am a farmer and that is where my world begins. What is an agriculture? I say it is a culture of cities, towns and villages, bridges, roads, canals, harbours – of trades’ people and the trades, which have been created by the specialised cultivation of fields. The industrial revolution was a revolution within agriculture – germinated by fossil fuels, so that today, nearly every culture on Earth is an agriculture. The farmer has a lot on her shoulders, because the greatest towering city, and all its goings-on, is utterly dependant on her crops – although in my Utopian picture, trades and pleasures of every kind bear their own egalitarian apportionment of the weight, so that the labours of fields gain new springs to their steps.
Farms disrupt natural systems. The more husbandries imitate and integrate with natural systems, so the less they disrupt – but still they will disrupt to some degree. Good husbandry reflects our ordered minds more than the complexities of nature. Nevertheless, it imitates, as best it can, the cyclic behaviours of organisms. The highest crop yield will be achieved by the closest integration. “You never enjoy the world aright, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars”, wrote Thomas Traherne in the Seventeenth Century. To which the farmer pragmatically adds – and shod with soil fauna, shaded with green leaves, watered by clear springs and fed by lives we’ve fed in return.
I must note that true yield is output minus input – massive inputs massively reduce true yield, so that organic methods out-yield all others.
So, in attempting to do the best we can, we choose the least worst farming techniques. This is important to keep our humility and gratitude intact. It is also an important part of discussions on climate change. There have been outrageous claims of carbon sequestration (so-called negative emissions) by a variety of farming techniques, such as grasslands, or organically-managed lands – or regularly-felled woodland, or coppice. But the most these can achieve is a balance and that balance, given the flawed nature of all human practitioners is unlikely. As climate change accelerates and weather grows more unpredictable, so that balance will become still more unlikely.
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