American Industrial Farming Can Create Another Dust Bowl
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The Great Depression of the 1930’s was tough for most Americans, and farmers were really hard hit.
Plowing up the Southern Plains to grow crops turned out to be a massive miscalculation that led to enormous suffering.
In that circumstance 3 consecutive droughts in Y’s 1930 to ’31, ’33 to ’34 and 1936 turned the area into an uninhabitable, unworkable “Dust Bowl.” As the natural winds that cross the Plains picked up the dry soil, dense clouds of dust called “Black Blizzards” covered the region in an unprecedented years-long dust storm.
New research suggests modern industrial agriculture methods cannot protect the nation from a repeat of those devastating conditions. The system was just as sensitive to drought and heat as it was in the 1930’s.
I am personally familiar with the Garvey Family of Wichita, the work and writings of Ray Garvey and how he changed the landscape of American Farming in the Wheat Belt.
Inspired by the book Harvesting the High Plains by the late Craig Miner, Orofessor of History at Wichita State University, the documentary presents the story of Ray Garvey, an entrepreneur from Wichita, and John Kriss, his farm manager, who adapted innovative farming techniques during and following the Dust Bowl years to make large-scale farming work under the most adverse conditions.
The PBS documentary, Harvesting the High Plains, tells the tale of 2 men who overcame the challenges of the Dust Bowl years to carve out one of the nation’s largest wheat-farming operations.
The Big Q: Is the US about to face another Dust Bowl episode?
According to the lates simulations, if the US were to experience the same kind of drought as in Y 1936, we would lose nearly 40% of the commodity crops grown today.
If rainfall remained normal, a 4-degree increase would result in the same kind of losses experienced in the 1930’s, meaning we would lose 30 to 40% of our crops.
Given recent predictions that ‘mega-droughts’ lasting for as long as 35 years, these results should serve as a serious call to action.
Regenerative agriculture that makes use of cover crops, no-till and herbivore grazing can help solve many of our most pressing problems, including reducing atmospheric CO2 levels and normalizing weather patterns.
For example, an interesting study that highlights the importance of grazing animals found that reindeer grazing on shrubs on the Arctic tundra actually help combat global warming by increasing surface albedo (the amount of solar energy being reflected back into space).
As noted by the Climate News Network: “The effect reindeer grazing can have on albedo and energy balances is potentially large enough to be regionally important. It also points towards herbivore management being a possible tool to combat future warming.
Most of the Arctic tundra is grazed by either domesticated or wild reindeer, so this is an important finding.”
Even if regenerative agriculture cannot completely solve all of issues, it is still the only way forward, as factory farming makes everything worse. It’s important to realize that agriculture has a significant impact on life on Earth.
Not only does it provide us with food, it is also an integral part of the whole ecosystem. Done correctly, it supports and nourishes all life, not just human life.
- Degrades and contaminates soil: Grains account for about 70% of our daily calories, and grains are grown on about 70% of acreage worldwide. The continuous replanting of grain crops each year leads to soil degradation, as land is tilled and sprayed each year, disrupting the balance of microbes in the soil. Top soil is also lost each year, which means that, eventually, our current modes of operation simply will no longer work. Soil erosion and degradation rates suggest we have less than 60 remaining years of topsoil. And 40% of the world’s agricultural soil is now classified as either degraded or seriously degraded; the latter means that 70% of the topsoil is gone. Soil degradation is projected to cause 30% loss in food production over the next 20 to 50 years. Meanwhile, the global food demands are expected to increase by 50% over this frame.
As explained in Peter Byck’s short film, “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts,” farm animals form symbiotic relationships where one species helps keep parasites from overwhelming another.
It is the separation of crops and animals into 2 distinctly different farming processes that has led to animal waste becoming a massive source of pollution rather than a valuable part of the ecological cycle.
Agriculture accounts for 70% of our fresh water use. When the soil is unfit, water is wasted. It simply washes right through the soil and past the plant’s root system.
We already have a global water shortage that’s projected to worsen over the coming 20-30 years, so this is the last thing we need to compound it. On top of that, CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) are a major water polluter, destroying what precious water we have.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has noted that US states with high congregations of CAFOs report 20 to 30 serious water quality problems each year.
Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE:TSN) is among the worst, releasing 104.4-M lbs of toxic pollutants into waterways between Y’s 2010 and 2014; 2nd only to a steel manufacturing company.
While fertilizer production produces its share of greenhouse gases, most of the emissions occur upon application.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 1 out of every 100 kilos of nitrogen fertilizer applied to farm land ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas (300 times more potent than CO2) known to deplete the ozone.
In Y 2014, the amount of N2O created by nitrogen fertilizer spread on American farmland was equal to 33% of the N2O released by all cars and trucks in the US More recent research suggests the real number is three to 5X higher than that.
The efficiency model of large-scale industrialized agriculture demanded a reduction in diversity.
Hence, we got mono-culture: farmers growing all Corn, Soybean, or Wheat, for example. Mono-culture has significantly contributed to dietary changes that promote ill health.
The primary crops grown on industrial farms today: Corn, Soybean, Wheat, Canola and Sugar Beet are the core ingredients in processed foods known to promote obesity, nutritional deficiencies and disease.
According to a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK, 20% of all plants worldwide are now threatened with extinction, primarily through the expansion of agriculture.
Ethanol and Corn sweetener subsidies have also led to farmers abandoning conservation measures designed to preserve fragile lands and protect biodiversity in the natural landscape.
Agriculture’s overuse of drugs, especially antibiotics, has led to the development of drug-resistant disease, which has now become a severe health threat. Pandemic outbreaks are also becoming more prevalent in CAFOs, revealing the inherent flaws of industrialized animal farming.
In Y 2015, an avian flu outbreak spread across 14 states in 5 months.
The year before that, a pig virus outbreak killed off 10% of the American pig population.
As noted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy: “The rapid spread of new disease strains … is one very visible reason why the expansion of factory-style animal production is viewed as unsustainable.”
2.Threatens food security by decimating important pollinators such as butterfly and bee populations.
3. Promotes nutritional deficiencies and poor nutrition
Industrial farming is set up and subsidized to grow ingredients used in processed foods. This is the cheapest way to feed the masses. However, what people really need more of in order to thrive is fresh produce.
According to research presented at the 2016 American Heart Association’s Epidemiology Meeting, reducing the price of fruits and vegetables by 30% could save nearly 200,000 lives over 15 years by lowering rates of heart disease and stroke.
If people added just 1 additional serving of fruits and vegetables a day, up to 3.5-M deaths from heart disease could be prevented in just 2 years.
4. Necessitates the use of toxins, poisons and harmful mechanical farming methods
Industrialization led to the separation of crops and livestock farming into 2 different specialties. That change alone has done tremendous harm, as livestock are actually a core component of regenerative agriculture.
As a result, a whole host of land maintenance services that animals serve for free have had to be replaced with chemical and mechanical means, all of which have detrimental effects on human health and the environment.
While chemicals and machines have allowed farms to expand and increase production, there’s growing awareness about how these strategies harm the soil, ecology and, human health.
As a result, a growing number of farmers are transitioning over to more sustainable and regenerative methods that do not rely so heavily on chemical and technological means.
While regenerative strategies may appear “novel” to born-and-raised city people, it is really more of a revival of ancestral knowledge.
Regenerative agriculture, which includes strategies such as crop rotation, diversification, cover crops, no-till, agro-forestry and integrated herd management can help rehabilitate land turned to desert, improve water management and protect water quality.
Also, it eliminates the need for toxic fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
By improving soil quality, regenerative farmers can produce more nutrient-dense foods.
Portions of the article are reprinted by permission from and linked to health expert Dr. John Mercola, Thank you Dr. John.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively.