Tag Archives | Farming

What nobody told me about small farming: I can’t make a living

For those of you who think it would be idyllic to drop out of the technological rat race of modern life and work and go back to farming the land, you’d better have plenty of dough saved up to subsidize your losses. Jaclyn Moyer tells her sorry tale at Salon, while Bloomberg News reports that “[f]arm income in the U.S., the world’s top agricultural producer and exporter, is poised to drop for a third straight year in 2015″:

On the radio this morning I heard a story about the growing number of young people choosing to become farmers. The farmers in the story sounded a lot like me — in their late 20s to mid-30s, committed to organic practices, holding college degrees, and from middle-class non-farming backgrounds. Some raise animals or tend orchards. Others, like me, grow vegetables. The farmers’ days sounded long but fulfilling, drenched in sun and dirt.

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Why GM Is The Natural Solution For Future Farming

Disinformation has run many stories about the perils of genetic engineering, especially with respect to agricultural crops. It’s important to understand what promoters of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are saying, however, so without endorsing it, we’re presenting Adam Rutherford’s essay in the Guardian:

Farming, by definition, is the opposite of natural. Nothing we eat could be described as “natural”, regardless of the marketing or labelling, whether it’s organic, or from Waitrose, Aldi or Abel & Cole. Breeding any organism for food, fuel, sport or for pets is effectively genetic modification – and we have been doing that for thousands of years. For example, a Granny Smith is a genetic hybrid of two other apples and even a blackberry plucked from a bramble is the product of a deeply ancient, seemingly natural but actually very human design – the hedgerow.

Granny Smith Apple.JPG

Granny Smith Apple by Nicole-Koehler (CC)

 

The crunchy flesh of an apple, or the grotesquely swollen udders – and even the black and white hide – of Holstein-Friesian cows are the result of carefully selecting genes and forcing them into subsequent generations.

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Africa’s Ancient Plant Diversity And Seed Independence Still Under Threat From Proposed New Laws

Grain Seeds from True Mind's Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds

Grain Seeds from True Mind’s Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds

via Tech Dirt:

Back in May 2013, we wrote about worrying attempts to create a harmonized system for controlling the sale of seeds in Africa that would increase the power of large suppliers such as Monsanto, at the expense of small farmers. A long and interesting article in Intellectual Property Watch indicates that those efforts are intensifying:

The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), with the help of the United States and an international plant variety organisation, is working to grow regional support for a controversial draft law. The draft protocol would boost protection for new plant varieties, despite concerns of local civil society that it would not be in the best interest of ARIPO members’ food security due to its potential impact on small farmers. ARIPO held a regional workshop on the issue in recent weeks in part to build support for a treaty negotiation to lock in these protections.

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Your Food Is Poisoning You

Crop Spraying - geograph.org.uk - 445532Is there anything left that’s safe to eat? Devon Jackson writes for Outside that “[f]or years, an underground movement has claimed that the very food we eat—by virtue of the pesticides and herbicides we so commonly use—is poisoning us. Until now, they’ve been (at best) ignored and (more often than not) mocked. Suddenly though, it looks like the joke has been on us all along”:

There’s a scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the Air Force subjects Richard Dreyfus and his fellow Third Encounterers to the media. The press conference is actually going pretty well, the media seem to be on the verge of believing these people—until one of them, a bearded old hermit type (Roberts Blossom) launches into a speech about how he once saw Bigfoot. Credibility: shot.

Such is the case, too, with people who’ve been trying to link celiac disease (and other ills) with the use of the herbicide glyphosate.

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The Fiefdom Will Soon Be Complete: Wall Street Buying Up Farmland

PIC: LOC (PD)

PIC: LOC (PD)

Not merely satisfied with purchasing our foreclosed homes en masse and charging us to rent them back (thanks to a crisis they created), Wall Street has set their sights on America’s fertile soils. Sing it with me! This land is their land, this land is their land…

Via Tom Philpott at Mother Jones:

In a couple of posts last fall, I showed that corporations don’t do much actual farming in the United States. True, agrichemical companies like Monsanto and Syngenta mint fortunes by selling seeds and chemicals to farmers, and grain processors like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill reap billions from buying crops cheap and turning them into pricey stuff like livestock feed, sweetener, cooking oil, and ethanol. But the great bulk of US farms—enterprises that generally have razor-thin profit margins—are run by independent operators.

That may be on the verge of changing. A recent report by the Oakland Institute documents a fledgling, little-studied trend: Corporations are starting to buy up US farmland, especially in areas dominated by industrial-scale agriculture, like Iowa and California’s Central Valley.

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The Difference Between a Farmer and a Global Chemical Corporation

500px-Dow_Chemical_logo.svgAndrea Brower writes at Common Dreams:

We are witnessing a strange, though remarkably predictable public discourse, where State lawmakers claim that those “truly serious about supporting local farmers” must abolish Counties’ rights “forever,” and transnational corporations call themselves “farmers.” Legislators attempt to contort the “Right to Farm” into a mechanism for chemical companies to evade health and environmental concerns, as water grabs by these same companies undermine the actual rights of farmers. Meanwhile, the Hawaii Farm Bureau advocates the interests of a few mega-corporations as synonymous with the interests of local farmers (despite never having asked the farmer members that they professedly speak for).

The intentional blurring in the difference between farmers, and the global corporations that use Hawaii as a testing ground for their new technologies, demands some clarity.

Dow is the largest chemical company in the US. Their list of manufactured goods includes napalm, chlorpyrifos (used as a nerve gas during World War II), plastics and Styrofoam.

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The High Price of Cheap Meat: Shocking Animal Cruelty

Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone.

Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone occasionally delves deep into issues that most major publications would rather leave well alone. Case in point, its report on what it takes to provide America with cheap meat. Not for the faint of heart…

Sarah – let’s call her that for this story, though it’s neither the name her parents gave her nor the one she currently uses undercover – is a tall, fair woman in her midtwenties who’s pretty in a stock, anonymous way, as if she’d purposely scrubbed her face and frame of distinguishing characteristics. Like anyone who’s spent much time working farms, she’s functionally built through the thighs and trunk, herding pregnant hogs who weigh triple what she does into chutes to birth their litters and hefting buckets of dead piglets down quarter-mile alleys to where they’re later processed. It’s backbreaking labor, nine-hour days in stifling barns in Wyoming, and no training could prepare her for the sensory assault of 10,000 pigs in close quarters: the stench of their shit, piled three feet high in the slanted trenches below; the blood on sows’ snouts cut by cages so tight they can’t turn around or lie sideways; the racking cries of broken-legged pigs, hauled into alleys by dead-eyed workers and left there to die of exposure.

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How Monsanto Is Planning To Profit From Climate Change

Landscape

Not everyone is either worried or skeptical regarding man-made global warming. Mother Jones on how Monsanto is eagerly banking on it:

Data to help farmers grow crops in a changing climate. Climate Corporation, which Monsanto is acquiring, sells detailed weather and soil information to “help…manage and adapt to climate change.” Monsanto thinks the ag data business will be a $20-billion market.

Insurance for when it’s too hot, cold, dry, wet, or otherwise extreme outside. Climate Corporation currently sells both federally subsidized crop insurance and supplemental plans.

Drought-resistant corn. Monsanto lists the effects of climate change-related precipitation changes and droughts as a potential “opportunity.” This year, Monsanto started rolling out a new line of patented, first-of-its-kind genetically engineered corn seeds that are resistant to drought.

Cotton that needs less water to grow. The company is piloting genetically modified cotton that that can grow while using less water and survive drought.

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Peak Soil: Why Nutrition Is Disappearing From Our Food

Nitrogen cycle-caThe secret to good health may start with dirt says Monica Nickelsburg, writing for The Week:

The fountain of youth may be made of dirt.

So supposes Steve Solomon in The Intelligent Gardner: Growing Nutrient-Dense FoodHe asserts that most people could “live past age 100, die with all their original teeth, up to their final weeks, and this could all happen if only we fertilize all our food crops differently.” It’s a bold statement, but mounting evidence suggests that remineralization could be the definitive solution to our nutrient-light diet.

Concerns about the quality of our food tend to focus on the many evils of modern industrial farming, but 10,000 years of agriculture have created a more insidious problem. The minerals and phytonutrients historically derived from rich soil are diminishing in our produce and meat. It takes 500 years for nature to build two centimeters of living soil and only seconds for us to destroy it.

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Space Farming: The Final Frontier

VEGGIE1

Vegetable Production System (NASA)

What do you do next when you’ve successfully screwed up the Earth? Screw up Space too! Agricultural science is approaching its next frontier reports Modern Farmer:

Last year, an astronaut named Don Pettit began an unusual writing project on NASA’s website. Called “Diary of a Space Zucchini,” the blog took the perspective of an actual zucchini plant on the International Space Station (ISS). Entries were insightful and strange, poignant and poetic.

“I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me,” wrote Pettit in the now-defunct blog. “I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini — and I am in space.”

An unorthodox use of our tax dollars, but before you snicker, consider this: That little plant could be the key to our future. If — as some doomsday scientists predict — we will eventually exhaust the Earth’s livability, space farming will prove vital to the survival of our species.

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