By Joseph L. Geidel
June 18th, 2022 | [email protected]
Imagine you are a farmer. If you are a farmer, this should feel real.
Imagine one day you wake up to discover the land you invested your life into isn’t producing like it once did. Days go by before you discover the cold bitter truth. Nothing is growing. The Earth is dead. Unfortunately, this is the path we are barreling down.
Do not be afraid. There is still hope.
The Earth is at a dangerous crossroads. As humanity continues to transcend limits with technology, we have lost touch with nature. Throughout the world, agriculture is suffering. It is buckling under the weight of antiquated solutions for a 21st century world. The problem lies with mismanagement and short sightedness. Agriculture is the most consequential human industry. It is essential for our continuity as a species. The key to our survival is right beneath our feet. So long as the soil is fruitful, so shall we.
We need a change of attitude. We see soil as a device that will obey our commands. This is the wrong approach. Soil is alive. Soil is dynamic. If we continue to neglect the health of the global soils, we will reap what we sow.
We need to take a step back to analyze what we are doing wrong. The cause of this crisis is apparent. It’s monocrops.
Monocrops are the primary culprit behind the degradation of the global soils. Monocropping is the process of planting the same crop on agricultural land for an extended set of years. On the surface, this may not sound so dangerous… but when we take a look beneath the ground and evaluate root structures, the prognosis is dire. It all comes down to diversity. When farmers choose to plant a single crop on their land year after year, they are limiting the nutrients the soil needs to maintain fruitfulness. This is a core principle in the study of life: Biology. Homogeneous systems are weaker than heterogenous relationships.
Unfortunately, the crops that are the most nutrient deficient are also among the most popular. Livestock production is a leading contributor to the massive growth and demand for these monocrops. In addition to monocropping being a drain on the Earth, the specific crops which are being planted en masse are detrimental to animal health as well. Corn and soy are prime examples of two crops in demand. The roots of both of these plants are not as extensive as others. The more extensive the root system, and the greater the penetration of the ground, the more beneficial the crop is for the soil.
As the Earth is tilled time and time again, all life is eventually removed from the soil, leaving nothing but dry empty death.
There is another way.
A first step to healing the soil is to address one of the biggest contributors to this problem directly, the livestock industry. The livestock industry is not inherently opposed to soil regeneration, at large it simply ignores the problem. The persistence of long outdated farming practices is a testament to the reluctance of change. To stray from the previous playbook for success is an unnecessary risk for many. However, what will be clear sooner rather than later is that the generations-old guide to success is about to fail. In fact, it is failing now. Farms throughout the world are already facing dire conditions. Many are forced to inject the earth with nitrogen to maintain some semblance to the status quo. Yet, this is only a temporary fix. The Russo-Ukrainian War demonstrates why such a work around is untenable.
A deviation from geopolitical norms can send shockwaves throughout the many aspects of life. The Russo-Ukrainian War has stifled imports of nitrogen leading to shortages and increases in crop prices. This has forced the Biden administration to support national efforts to produce nitrogen for agricultural purposes in the United States. However, if we truly wanted to be free from the constraints of foreign affairs we wouldn’t be trying to hook our farmers onto more of the same, we would be encouraging independence and self-reliance.
The American response to the world is that we go our own way.
We can set an example here at home.
The solution is to look back. Human beings have been farming for thousands of years and have not faced an existential crisis such as this. This is because our ancestors listened to the Earth. They couldn’t afford to ignore the warning signs. They grew crops which were native to the lands they harvested and never needed to inject life into the soil. Everything worked the way it should. Nature is perfectly logical… unlike some of us.
Our solution must be to reintroduce native plants like forages to the fields.
What are forages? Forages are typically defined as grasses and legumes that livestock animals graze on. We need to welcome them back to the land, similar to the way it was when we arrived on the scene. Forages sustain the soil because they are nutrient rich and their root systems are more complex when compared to monocrops. For some farmers, forages can replace monocrops as the primary yield. For those who must grow crops like corn and soy, cover cropping may be another possibility. Cover crops are not meant for cultivation. Instead, they’re strategically grown beside the primary crop to provide sustenance to the soil.
There is a sizable market for forages in the United States and around the world. As the cost of grain and other nutritional supplements continue to soar for livestock, farmers are looking for affordable alternatives. Forages are the solution. They are what livestock animals were born to eat. By making this transition, not only are we improving the health of our animals but we are also rejuvenating the global soils.
So to you out there reading this, understand that this is your responsibility. Make a change. We are all a part of this pale blue dot, floating endlessly throughout existence. No man is an island. The sum total of our convictions toward our mutual relationship with the Earth will either propel us to the heavens or condemn us to suffer.
Choose your future wisely.
After all, it’s OUR future.
Joseph Geidel is the Creative Developer for Aden Brook. He is responsible for content creation and market research.