Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 100 - Disambiguation

When I was in high school, I "drank the cool aid" on chemical agriculture. I grew up on a traditional "chemical agriculture" farm and spent the first 25 years of my life farming  that way. I was Future Farmers of America chapter president for three years, I took four years of Ag Classes in High School, I read every text book I could find on how to grow corn, soybeans, oats, sorghum, alfalfa, clover and livestock husbandry from an chemical agriculture standpoint.  I passed my chemical applicators license on the first try.   Yet all this time I had this nagging feeling that there was a better way. Well there is, and this blog is committed to showing the way to get chemicals out of our food growing system. I spent another 25 years reading the literature on organic agriculture. However, there is value in examining the opposite perspective so we can see clearly.

Disambiguation is the removal of ambiguity by making something clear. This is a good word for clearing up confusion. We are about to start a series of posts dedicated to answering a number of questions that I get frequently at the Farmers Market. So from a farming standpoint we are going to attempt to make clear the issues I see with "Chemical Agriculture". In general my comments in this series is my opinion based on years of observation and reading.

I often observe something going on in my garden that flies in the face of the common mantra in agriculture and in an attempt to understand the observation I search for answers in the literature and in my experience. The answers don't always present them selves right away, but typically there are answers, and eventually the truth is revealed. That is why I turned from Chemical Agriculture to Organic Agriculture in the first place, to seek a better way. The journey is far from over, but I have taken the first few steps and the second 25 years of my farming experience were about 180 degrees opposite of the first 25.

I didn't reject my farm heritage but I went back to its roots. Two generations ago we farmed without chemicals. My grandfather remembered those days. Yields were much less than today, but quality and food value was much higher. These were the days before the amazing hybrids, potent fertilizers, hyper toxic chemicals, freakish GMOs, mega monoculture farms and massive feedlots.

Is all of this somehow evil, I would state a resounding NO. But we don't often think enough about our actions before we leap to the next big thing, firmly planting our feet in mid air. Many of the innovations in agriculture represent significant leaps forward. But many of the system models in modern agriculture are not sustainable and will not lead ultimately to a bright future. For example, it took thousands of years to build the deep prairie soils that American agriculture is based upon. We are in the process of tearing them down because of our fertility and tillage programs, in just a few short generations. There are many more examples, we will get to those in future posts.

We speak to our customers often about our practices of growing their food organically, in contrast to the majority of agriculture and the food industry, which subscribes to better food through chemistry. The Chemical Agriculture series provides a high level overview of the debate.

I offer these thoughts so our customers and friends can review these posts and get a feel for the issues.

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