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Zero Input Agriculture

Zero Input Agriculture

On Tuesday afternoon, 24th November, Evita and I ventured to meet Shane at his 40 acres near Pomona. I first heard Shane on an Abundant Edge podcast in July 2020. It was his first podcast and it was incredible to hear him talk about growing food without using inputs such as irrigation, fertiliser, and imported nutrients. It’s the first podcast I have heard in the permaculture space where this approach has been seriously taken and where results are very encouraging. I messaged Shane after checking out his blog enquiring about getting some of his seeds to try. While we are in a cool temperate climate about 400km away and he is the subtropics I was keen to try seeds from plants grown without irrigation as water is often our limiting factor. Shane was very responsive to my message and we communicated many times about seed saving, plant breeding, and goats. He did send me some seeds and cuttings and I promised to return the exchange by gathering and sending our local bunya nuts in February to contribute diversity to his breeding program. So, it was somewhat serendipitous that we were able to have a holiday nearby and visit in person.

A smiley Shane greeted us and we enthusiastically went for a walk within minutes. Shane’s philosophy of zero input is immediately evident as there are weeds everywhere. “The weeds are repairing the paddocks from decades of cattle overgrazing and cutting them or removing them
around trees will make little real difference in their long life.” “It’s just not worth the time and effort. If the weeds do outcompete the tree for light, water, nutrients, then so be it, we want strong trees.” So Shane has various widely spaced rows of trees that are densely planted with as many genetics of each type as possible…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Running Out Of Soybeans?

Several factors are conspiring to weaken the reliability of our food production systems, warns Christian Westbrook, publisher of the website IceAgeFarmer.com

We’re seeing a shortening of the growing season for important crops due to weather trends and changes in the solar cycle.

Our food production system, which is highly dependent on chemical inputs and fossil fuels, is becoming increasingly brittle.

And we have more vulnerability due to the global nature of modern food supply chains. Crop shortages/failures in one part of the world impact all markets now.

For example, soybean supply is tightening as bad weather in South America and increased buying by China are hitting at a time when global stocks are already low.

As the world population grows, climate instability continues, and more countries are able to economically compete for resources, experts foresee future demand that may prove overwhelming vs supply:

What if several of the world’s biggest food crops failed at the same time?

In the past several decades, many of the world’s major breadbaskets have experienced shocks – events that caused large, rapid drops in food production. For example, regional droughts and heat waves in the Ukraine and Russia in 2007 and then again in 2009 damaged wheat crops and caused global wheat prices to spike by substantial amounts in both years. In 2012 heat and drought in the United States slashed national corn, soybean and other crop yields by up to 27 percent. And yields of important food crops are low and stagnating in many countries due to factors including plant diseases, poor soil quality, poor management practices and damage from air pollution.

At the same time, many experts assert that world food production may have to double by 2050 to feed a growing population and satisfy rising demand for meat, poultry and dairy products in developing countries.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why the Climate Change Committee have got it wrong on land, food and farming

Last week I spent what I must admit to have been two rather depressing sessions participating in a zoom conference convened by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) in order to share their vision and strategy for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, with a particular focus on the role of land use and agriculture.

Outside of food and farming, much of what the CCC are proposing seems eminently reasonable. It’s the kind of thing one would imagine – a massive and rapid move towards renewable energy generation, moving away from internal combustion engines, improving building insulation to reduce energy loss, reduction in car travel and slowing of demand for flights. But when it comes to land use, farming and food, in my opinion they’ve got it completely wrong.

A rather crude summary of what they’re envisaging includes the following – a very significant increase in agricultural biofuel production; 10% of the farmed area planted with trees; an increase in afforestation rates to at least 30,000 hectares per year across the U.K. by 2025 and an average of 40,000 hectares per year in the 2030s, plus a “land sparing” agenda including dramatic increase in yields from arable crops, a significant reduction in livestock including ruminants, and no presumption of any increase in soil carbon.

To add insult to injury, on the diet side, they propose a significant switch towards plant-based diets without making any differentiation between livestock which are part of the problem (intensive chickens, pig and dairy units) and those which are absolutely a necessary part of the solution (grass fed and mainly grass-fed beef, lamb and dairy cows).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

250 Million Protestors in India – Almost the Population of the United States

For centuries, India was the source of the spice trade. Christopher Columbus thought he discovered a shortcut to India but bumped into America. The various spices in India have been used also for practices such as yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda. They are deeply rooted in Indian and South Asian culture. Today, as it has been for thousands of years, these herbs commonly used for these practices, such as turmeric, ginger, and ashwagandha, are exported from India and Modi has pulled another fast one on the people.

Indian farmers are currently protesting against unfair new agriculture laws and this has seen 250 million people joining the protest against the tyranny of the Modi government which has set controversial new agricultural laws. The Indian government set three new agricultural laws in September 2020. Previously, the government fixed prices for a variety of crops, meaning the farmers were guaranteed minimum profits for their work. However, under these new laws. Modi has directed farmers to sell directly to companies and sellers, meaning the farmers are no longer guaranteed the same minimum profits. Now they must negotiate for themselves when it comes to finding buyers.

For the past two weeks, Indian crop farmers have led more than 250 million protestors against these new agricultural laws in the Indian capital city New Delhi, according to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. Many protesters have also ignored the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. The protests have shut down major highways, shops, markets, and more (see The Guardian). The participants say they will not cease their protests until the government listens, (see India Times).

Transforming life on our home planet, perennially

book coverEd. note: This piece is the first contribution in the new book The Perennial Turn: Contemporary Essays from the Field, ed. by Bill Vitek and published as a free ebook by New Perennials Publishing. 

For those who are willing to face the multiple, cascading crises that humans have created, one task is analysis: How did we get here? In the 200,000 years of Homo sapiens, what have been key thresholds of systemic change?

A good case can be made for agriculture, which the polymath scientist Jared Diamond (1987) called “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” Three decades later, historian Yuval Noah Harari (2015, p. 77) called the Agricultural Revolution “history’s biggest fraud.” When we started taking control of animals’ lives and breaking the soil to produce energy-rich grain, we intervened in ecosystems in ways we could not predict or control, to the detriment of many organisms, including humans.

With nearly eight billion people on the planet, we aren’t going back to hunting and gathering. But around the world, often under the banner of agroecology, people are using modern science and traditional knowledge to develop ways of farming that are less ecologically and socially destructive.

Over the past four decades, one of the most promising projects in sustainable agriculture has been Natural Systems Agriculture (perennial grains grown in mixtures rather than annuals grown in monocultures) at The Land Institute. The institute’s Ecosphere Studies program nurtures and explores this perennial thinking through research and education based in an ecological worldview that challenges the dominant industrial model defining contemporary ways of feeding bodies and minds. This essay outlines our approach, including a diagnosis of our agricultural past and present in a broader ecospheric context, which resonates with other ecocentric projects while building on the lessons learned on the Kansas prairie that is home to The Land Institute.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

India’s One-Day General Strike Largest in History

India’s One-Day General Strike Largest in History

If those who struck on Nov. 26 formed a country, it would be the fifth largest in the world after China, India, the United States and Indonesia, writes Vijay Prashad.

India’s general strike on Nov. 26, 2020. (IndustriALL Global Union, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Farmers and agricultural workers from northern India marched along various national highways toward India’s capital of New Delhi as part of the general strike on Nov. 26.

They carried placards with slogans against the anti-farmer, pro-corporate laws that were passed by India’s Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) in September, and then pushed through the Rajya Sabha (upper house) with only a voice vote.

The striking agricultural workers and farmers carried flags that indicated their affiliation with a range of organizations, from the communist movement to a broad front of farmers’ organizations. They marched against the privatization of agriculture, which they argue undermines India’s food sovereignty and erodes their ability to remain agriculturalists.

Roughly two-thirds of India’s workforce derives its income from agriculture, which contributes to roughly 18 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). The three anti-farmer bills passed in September undermine the minimum support price buying schemes of the government, put 85 percent of the farmers who own less than 2 hectares of land at the mercy of bargaining with monopoly wholesalers, and will lead to the destruction of a system that has till now maintained agricultural production despite erratic prices for food produce.

One hundred and fifty farmer organizations came together for their march on New Delhi. They pledge to stay in the city indefinitely.

India’s general strike on Nov. 26, 2020. (IndustriALL Global Union, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A global movement for localised food and farming: The beginning of agriculture in Europe

Image: Kelly Reed, Reconstructed Neolithic house at Sopot, Croatia

Image: Kelly Reed, Reconstructed Neolithic house at Sopot, Croatia

The world we inhabit today has changed dramatically since we first began farming thousands of years ago. Yet the challenge to provide food security to all is not new and has been a common struggle throughout our past. By looking back, we can see how things have developed and use our knowledge to think in different ways and open up new possibilities for the future of our food system.

This blog starts at the beginning, when early immigrant farmers moved into Europe from southwest Asia, gradually replacing and assimilating mobile hunter-gatherers who lived in this region. A new sedentary farming lifestyle provided greater control and stability over food supplies, which in turn allowed people to have more children and join together in larger, denser communities. This global movement allowed for demographic expansion of people across the globe, the formation of denser villages and eventually cities, and ultimately the accumulation of wealth and the formation of political and craft specialties. These features enabled the development of early states and empires, which engaged in increasingly more complex food procurement activities at varying scales across the globe.

How did the advent of farming change the scale of food production in Europe?

Agriculture originated in several small hubs around the world. The earliest started in the Fertile Crescent, a region of southwest Asia that includes parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. The factors that drove people to first settle in one place and then more intensively focus on a few wild resources is widely debated, but between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago early Natufian people started to adopt a handful of key behaviours, notably sickle harvesting, grain grinding, seed saving, seed sowing, and tilling (e.g. Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2018)…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Both hands now – an introduction to ‘A Small Farm Future’

Today I’m going to begin my cycle of posts commenting on, expanding and perhaps occasionally qualifying the analyses in my book A Small Farm Future.

You have bought your copy by now, right? Ah well … far be it from me to tell you what to do with your hard-earned cash. Suffice to say that I’m not planning to summarise or repackage what’s in the book, so if you haven’t read it or aren’t an old hand on this blog, some of these posts may be a little mystifying in places. Others, though, should work as standalone pieces. One way or another, I hope you’ll find something of interest and perhaps some things worthy of debate within them.

Another way of putting this, following on from my previous post, is that after only death and taxes (in fact, before taxes), a certainty in life is trade-offs. Arguing this puts me in the company of mainstream economists, whose discipline proceeds largely from the concept of opportunity cost or decision-making in circumstances of scarcity. There are those – often on the political left, my own political home turf – who insist that such notions are a conceit of our capitalist economic system, which manufactures an artificial scarcity.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Study warns US farmland is now 48 TIMES more TOXIC to insects: Are neonicotinoids to blame for the impending “insect apocalypse?”

Image: Study warns US farmland is now 48 TIMES more TOXIC to insects: Are neonicotinoids to blame for the impending “insect apocalypse?”

(Natural News) Researchers have determined that the nation’s farmland is now 48 times more toxic to insects than it was just 25 years ago, and much of this rise in toxicity is being blamed on the widespread use of a dangerous category of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.

The study, which was published in the PLOS ONE journal, provided a thorough assessment of the use of pesticides in America and was the first study to determine just how dangerous our fields have grown for insects in recent years. The role of pesticides was dramatic; the scientists found that neonicotinoids were responsible for a remarkable 92 percent of the rise in toxicity.

Part of the problem is that neonicotinoids create a cumulative toxic burden because they are far more persistent within the environment than other types of commonly used insecticides, which is why the burden today is so much higher than it was a quarter century ago and is likely to grow even higher.

Study co-author Kendra Klein, Ph.D., said: “It is alarming that U.S. agriculture has become so much more toxic to insect life in the past two decades. We need to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides to protect bees and other insects that are critical to biodiversity and the farms that feed us.”

She also called for a shift from our food system’s dependence on dangerous pesticides toward organic methods of farming that work in harmony with nature instead of destroying it.

Will there be any insects left on our planet in the decades to come?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Building Bioregional Food Systems Post-COVID 19: The Northeast Healthy Soil Network & the power of regional food system reform consortium work

COVID-19 has reminded us, perhaps as never before, that we need an overhaul, not only of our health care system, but our food system as well. [1]  As a steady stream of studies and articles point out, a priority of future] food system policy should be to support the emergence of local and regional, diversified, healthy food and farming systems, derived from fertile, carbon-rich soils.

Over the course of 2019, I helped to coordinate a network of food system stakeholders in the Northeast, as a researcher at the Tufts Global Development and Environment Institute.[2] This network, now called the Northeast Healthy Soil Network (NEHSN), held a symposium in late February, right before the coronavirus pandemic put an end to most public gatherings in the US. This growing network of Northeast farmers, farm organizations, food system nonprofits, agricultural research labs and state governments has come together to discuss how we can channel badly needed funds and resources to regenerative farmers in the Northeast region who are promoting biodiversity, holistic livestock management, and other healthy soil management[3] practices on their farms.


The agricultural policy strategies proposed by NEHSN members[4] parallel those of many other farmers across the nation’s various regions. They are aimed at agricultural subsidy reform, proposing that our food system should incentivize not a small handful of specific crops, but rather the production of a wider variety of foods and crops, which would not only feed greater numbers of Americans with affordable, nutritious food, but also engender healthy ecosystem services such as soil erosion prevention, water conservation, watershed cleanup, and biodiversity. An incentive payment system for healthy soil farm management could become the first government-backed fund stream for this healthier system of farming.[5]

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food Shortages to Reduce the Population Brought to you by the COVID Triumvirate

This is a photo of the food line beside the Brooklyn Bridge approach in New York City that prevailed between 1930 and 1935. Never before in history have Americans had to cue in line for food since this orchestrated pandemic by Gates, Fauci, and Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum. Food prices are also rising because of this dynamic trio because they have deliberately shut down food production. Farmers have been unable to get their food to market because of the lockdowns and social distancing.

Today, there are food lines once again because of this dynamic trio, the COVID Triumvirate, composed of Gates, Fauci, & Schwab. Food lines have appeared around the country from Miami to New York City. Farmers were already being pushed into bankruptcies in 2019. That is only getting worse because this COVID Triumvirate also wants to end meat production to reduce CO2 (the World Economic Forum is pushing hard to end meat production).

An alternative agriculturist’s guide to science

An alternative agriculturist’s guide to science

To begin, just a heads up on a couple of new things on the site. First, I’ve posted on the My Book page advanced comments about my forthcoming book that have come in from a number of interesting thinkers. It’s nice to get such positive notices. Currently, I’m pretty busy gearing up for the book launch on 15 October (21 October in the USA) and I’ll be devoting some blog posts to the book thereafter.

Also, an interesting comment has come in concerning my house rules on the About page, to which I replied here. I don’t promise to debate my rules with all comers, but I think the issues in this instance are thought-provoking, so I (cautiously) welcome further comments.

And now to work with a few thoughts on science and alternative agriculture, inspired partly by this article and partly by the themes explored in Chapter 16 of my book (“From religion to science (and back)”). I’m not going to engage systematically with either source, but instead just use them as points of departure for a few remarks concerning the need as I see it for many of us in the alternative agriculture movement to develop a more nuanced approach to science.

Let me start by invoking a distinction I made some time ago between what I call ‘science’ and ‘SCIENCE’. Lowercase ‘science’ is the everyday, generally unglamorous work that scientists do in laboratories, field study sites and the like, where they use carefully-formulated techniques to tease out the relationships between entities in the biophysical world. A vital aspect of ‘science’ in this sense is that the people engaged in it – almost uniquely in human discourse – have developed rigorous procedures for conceding when they’ve got things wrong and the evidence doesn’t support their contentions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Slaughter of the Innocents: COVID-19 & the Future of Agriculture

Slaughter of the Innocents: COVID-19 & the Future of Agriculture

Above: Massive cattle operation in Imperial County, California [Photo by the author]

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It’s early days yet, but the COVID-19 pandemic has already proven to be revelatory, exposing much that is ugly about the “normal” functioning of the US: the sorry state of health care, the unresponsiveness of corporate-owned government, the hyper individuality of the populace, the high levels of ignorance among the same, and the racism of the entire system.

Regarding that lattermost point: This nation was founded by white Europeans who stole the land from the Indigenous and then built wealth with African slaves, and guess who’s doing the worst in this pandemic? The Native Americans and the Blacks. And look who’s protesting the loudest to get things “back to normal”: Whites, many of them with Confederate flags. Let that sink in.

Agriculture was at the heart of the settler colonialism: The land was seized for farming and the people were kidnapped to work the fields. From brutal beginnings, the situation has only worsened, especially in the last few decades. Small-scale, family-farming à la Old MacDonald is the stuff of myth at this point, with precious few exceptions. Pesticide use is up, ground-water levels are down, top soil is blowing away, wildlife biodiversity is shrinking, and human workers are abused.

Corporate ownership of the means of food production has led to concentrated ownership, de-localization, and supply chains that are brittle in response to stress. A handful of corporate giants (in fact, only four) have gobbled up most of the US meat industry.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

False Solutions to Climate Change: Agriculture

False Solutions to Climate Change: Agriculture

Editorial Note: This is Part 3 of Mary Wildfire’s series on false solutions to climate change. You can read Part 1 on Electricity here and Part 2 on Transportation here.

It’s become increasingly clear that climate change is not only real but beginning to bite. Now that much of the population is finally feeling the urgency—and during a time when COVID19  has much of our frenetic commerce on hold, giving us a space for thinking and discussion–what can we do to protect the only planet we’ve got? Unfortunately a good many of the solutions on offer seem designed to quiet the increasing concern, the impetus to do something, without challenging the status quo.

Can we get real solutions and still maintain economic growth, population growth, and the growth of inequality? Are we entitled to an ever-rising standard of living? I believe the answer is no; we need some profound transformations if we are to leave our grandchildren a planet that resembles the one we grew up on, rather than a dystopian Hell world.  This is the basic theme of the controversial Michael Moore produced film Planet of the Humans. I see that film as seriously flawed, but agree with its basic message—that it’s time for humanity to grow up and accept limits, get over what I call human exceptionalism, or androtheism—the notion that man is God.

A veritable cornucopia of false solutions is being pushed these days, not only by corporations and think tanks but by the UN’s IPCC, the international body responsible for research and action on climate.  We could have made a gentle transition if we had begun when we first became aware of this problem decades ago, but for various reasons we did not.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

An “All-Out Blizzard” That Is “Unheard Of For October” Is About To Hit Farms In The Midwest With Up To 2 Feet Of Snow

An “All-Out Blizzard” That Is “Unheard Of For October” Is About To Hit Farms In The Midwest With Up To 2 Feet Of Snow

Farmers in the middle of the country are about to get hit by what could potentially be the worst October blizzard in U.S. history.  According to USA Today“the massive size and intensity of this snowstorm is unheard of for October”.  In other words, we have never seen anything like this in the month of October ever before.  Such a storm would have been disastrous enough in a normal year, but this has definitely not been a normal year for Midwest farmers.  As I detailed extensively in previous articles, endless rain and horrific flooding made planting season a complete and utter nightmare for many Midwest farmers this year.  Millions of acres did not get planted at all, and planting was seriously delayed on tens of millions of other acres.  As a result, corn, soybeans and other crops are simply not ready to be harvested in many parts of the Midwest, and now an unprecedented winter storm is barreling directly toward our heartland.

This is a very, very serious situation.  Normally, most corn in the Dakotas and Minnesota is considered to be “mature” by now, but this year we are facing a completely different scenario.

According to the latest USDA Crop Progress Report, only 22 percent of the corn in North Dakota is considered to be “mature” at this point…

Many farmers continue to wait on the sidelines to get into the fields. With freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall, and high winds set to hit the northern Plains this week, the corn in North Dakota is only 22% mature vs. a 75% five-year average, according to Monday’s USDA Crop Progress Report.

Also, South Dakota corn is rated 36% mature vs. an 80% five-year average. Minnesota farmers have a corn crop that is just 39% mature vs. an 83% five-year average.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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