Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Ancient Future

I heard a sermon recently where the pastor used the phrase “The Ancient Future”. He was preaching on the Song of Solomon and he had everyone from teens to our senior saints sitting on the edge of their seats. The “Song of Songs” is a story for another time.

The phrase “The Ancient Future” was used in conjunction to the author Solomon and another book he wrote called Ecclesiastes. Where it says there is nothing new under the sun.

I think we have forgotten more in agriculture than we have learned and we may need to get back to our roots to keep our planet and our people healthy.

For example...

Many of the GMO advances are heralded has necessary to get the yields to “feed the planet”. This is just marketing hype. Let's take one example, Round Up Ready crops are stressed so much by the active ingredient (glycophosphate) that yields are typically about 10% less than comparable hybrids. Glycophosphate is systemic and permeates the crop, so when you eat GMO grains you are getting glycophosphate in your food which by the way is an excellent antibiotic and kills good bacteria in our gut. The only way to avoid this particular GMO is to use organic corn and soy (including oils).

Did you know that the ancient peoples created anthropomorphic (man made) soils in the notoriously poor soil of the rain forest regions of Central and South America. Instead of burning off the forest to clear land for crops they would harvest the trees and make charcoal preserving much of the carbon from the rain forest canopy. They then combined the chemically hyper active charcoal with the nutrients and biology in their compost piles to bio-engineer soils whose fertility persists to this day, hundreds of years after the ancient peoples are gone. In fact these soils are so persistent that you can harvest a 5 to 10 foot thick layer and the biology in the soil will “regrow” the soil from the rainforest residue in just 15-20 years. I call this bio-engineering. We are only now just starting to observe and understand this process.

A similar mechanism may have helped form the prairie soils in North America. Soil scientists have observed that up to 60% of the carbon in temperate prairie soils are pyrogenic carbon from the fires that the native American's used to burn the prairie and keep invasive species at bay.

Who is to say we need to clean till our fields to control weeds. Many farmers are experimenting with polyphase cover crops where multiple species are used synergistically to keep undesired weeds from competing with the crop. This can result in yields that are above those where chemical herbicides are used and also build up the soil at the same time. Big Ag doesn't like to study these approaches as no expensive chemical inputs are needed.

What would happen if we put all the herbivores that we currently confine to feedlots back out on grass. We would eliminate many human and animal disease created by the way we feed and use sub-clinical levels of antibiotics to keep these animals alive until they are harvested. Grass fed beef is as healthy as wild caught salmon (maybe healthier as the mercury levels would be lower) and has the same healthy fat profiles due to the chlorophyl in the grass. A side effect of grazing our beef would be the sequestration of massive amounts of carbon back into our soils.

Joel Salatin has calculated if we put all of our cattle back on grass we could sequester all of the carbon created in the last 150 years of the industrial revolution out of atmosphere in 10 years. That wasn't a typo, he says 10 years. Bye bye global warming. Of course this won't happen any time soon because there are some powerful Big Ag interests that would be obsolete. Like we wouldn't need very many tractors, or fuel for the tractors, or trucks to haul grain, or fertilizer for corn, or herbicides, or pesticides. You get the picture. I suspect there is also an industry that has built up around “global warming” that would be obsolete if we actually solved the problem.

The only way this will change is if the American public refuses to buy feedlot corn fed beef. This is the concept of “Voting With Your Fork”.

Have you ever noticed how we are always working on cancer but can never quite come up with a cure. Was it Nixon who declared a war on cancer as a distraction from the Vietnam War. I'm certainly not a Doctor but it looks to me like cancer is winning. We didn't win Vietnam either. We need a little “Ancient Future” on this topic too.

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