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High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Thu 20 Sep 2018, 20:29:41

Nobody questions whether or not sustainable agrarian farming methods care for the land better than mechanized agriculture - they obviously do. However, that turns out to be the wrong question. The yield is so much higher with high yield methods than (for example) permaculture that more land is consumed and more water diverted producing the same amount of food sustainably.

The Blog summery: https://reason.com/blog/2018/09/20/high-yield-modern-farming-better-for-the

The Nature article: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0138-5.epdf?no_publisher_access=1&r3_referer=nature
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby onlooker » Thu 20 Sep 2018, 20:38:56

Yes, but by many accounts mechanized industrial AG is not sustainable in any way. Not to mention it is very polluting. The soil is denurtured and becomes lifeless due to the array of Pesticides required. When the arable land loses this vitality referred to as the Climax Ecosystem composed of a host of microbes, plants and nutrients it is no longer as fertile and thus will not yield much unless this soil/land productivity is boosted with synthetic fertilizers and pestices. So, this topic amounts to what is good now and what will be good for the longer term future. Rememer FF are finite.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Thu 20 Sep 2018, 21:14:08

I am not saying that mechanized ag is better than sustainable methods. Nor does the Nature article make any such claim. All that is being said is that it is better to use less land for food production and leave more land undisturbed with biodiversity intact. This includes accounting for such things as soil decline, erosion, and GHG emissions in mechanized ag.

We are talking about 40% of the human-occupied lands and over 2/3rds of the fresh water diversion with mechanized ag TODAY. Conversion to sustainable methods TODAY would starve billions of people, and it's not happening. Such analyses as this one enable us to minimize the damage food production causes.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby Cog » Fri 21 Sep 2018, 03:30:44

Plowing, disking, and harrowing are pretty much a thing of the past. No till methods which result in a lot less soil disturbance is the main technique in high production farming.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby Tanada » Sat 22 Sep 2018, 09:09:17

The advantage of deep plowing is it brings trace minerals up to the surface layer for shallow rooted crops to more easily access. The no til alternative to that procedure is to scatter those trace minerals on the surface or inject it with the fertilizer but doing so is not all that effective in practice.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby GHung » Sat 22 Sep 2018, 10:25:12

Tanada wrote:The advantage of deep plowing is it brings trace minerals up to the surface layer for shallow rooted crops to more easily access. The no til alternative to that procedure is to scatter those trace minerals on the surface or inject it with the fertilizer but doing so is not all that effective in practice.


Over time, even deep plowing (sub-soiling) has depleted the soil to the point where there are few trace minerals and micro-nutrients. The Egyptians didn't have this problem due to regular flooding of the Nile. Then they built the Aswan dam. Whoops.

The best way to replenish these nutrients is to incorporate organic matter into the soil, or allow sections to go fallow for years/decades while deeper-rooted plants like trees and shrubs bring up those nutrients, then incorporate those plants back into the soil. Mimicking nature's circular economy happens on a time scale that is out of sync with modern human time-scales (actually, the other way around)..
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby baha » Sun 23 Sep 2018, 06:29:48

Red clover can have roots 6' deep. The nutrients are pulled from below and returned to the surface in the spring when you till the plants. Or you can just flatten them without tilling. They die and make a compost layer on the surface that blocks weeds.

I till to incorporate the organic matter into the top 6 inches and improve drainage. I started with mostly clay. Clay is very fertile but doesn't drain well. My garden used to crack when it dried out. By tilling fall leaves in and growing clover I have turned it into well drained soil full of organic matter and worms. Without chemicals!

Ha,ha...Full disclosure. I have a 5 gallon bucket with an unopened bag of fertilizer in it. Most people store food for when TSHTF. I store a little bit of modern technology...just in case.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Sun 23 Sep 2018, 09:16:50

I would submit to you that anybody who selfishly sets aside a small piece of Earth for his exclusive cultivation of food, is guilty of the very same hubris and using the same broken thinking we have been discussing. But ONLY if it was virgin wilderness with Biodiversity intact before you ruined it by cultivation.

This has always been the problem with anything that resembles a real doomstead. It's about the least efficient and most-harmfull-to-the-planet way to utilize an otherwise nice piece of land.

If you want to start with a barren patch, like the clay baha described, or better yet, soils damaged by decades of mechanized agriculture, and make them healthy again, more power to you.

But please, don't go way back in the bush and grow food in the wilderness. That's as much harm as one person can do, just about.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby dohboi » Sun 23 Sep 2018, 13:48:01

"...don't go way back in the bush and grow food in the wilderness..."

On this, at least, we can agree! :-D :-D
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby onlooker » Sun 23 Sep 2018, 14:04:37

dohboi wrote:"...don't go way back in the bush and grow food in the wilderness..."

On this, at least, we can agree! :-D :-D

Too bad Corporations do not feel that way and the demographics are conspiring against this lofty goal
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Thu 29 Nov 2018, 04:39:23

A small update to this thread, from an article on the PBS News Hour yesterday.

During the Great Depression, with the technology of human and animal power, using predominately wooden farm machinery and a rare few metal steam tractors and ICE tractors, a single American farmer could feed 26 people on average.

Today, with intensive petroleum-fueled mechanized farming methods and petrochemicals, a single farmer - virtually all of which are today corporate employees - feeds on average 155 people.

Permaculture and other agrarian methods that conserve the soil allow the labor of one farmer to feed 5-10 people.

The technology of most promise is hydroponics, which causes zero soil degradation because it uses no soil, requires no tilling, and consumes only space, chemical fertilizers, and solar and electrical energy, and is approaching productivity levels where one farmer can feed about 80-100 people depending on the crop. The major problem is many crops don't do well with hydroponics, as they have evolved and been bred to grow in soils. New varieties of such crops are needed for hydroponics.

I will mention that I have been consuming lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, herbs, and berries from local hydroponic farms for several years. But remember that ratio of one farmer and 80-100 people? That means that on average one pays about one third more for hydroponic foods today, versus the same crop grown in soil. However, the growing seasons are different, because virtually all hydroponic crops are grown in greenhouses.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby aspera » Thu 29 Nov 2018, 14:21:06

KJ wrote: A small update to this thread, from an article on the PBS News Hour yesterday.

Heard that too. Some thoughts came up when I discussed it with some of my colleagues who analyze this stuff for a living. We thought that the piece had a premise of BAU needing to be "greened and leaned" up. No sense of an energy descent, limits-to-growth. Just problems with that one element, C.

Most of them started with the premise of being solidly within an energy descent. BAU is slowing rapidly. Lots of surplus labor (i.e., later on the population "restabilizes lower, but right now lots of idle folks). So, lots of folks able to focus on the basics (e.g., growing food). Suddenly the standard agribusiness efficiency metrics don't matter as much.

They also wanted to learn whether the hydroponics required both large energy inputs during manufacturing (embedded energy) and during operations, and if there was a reliance on longer supply-chains for the equipment.

Also wonder if there's time for the development of varieties better suited for the indoor greenhouse environment (assuming GMO-tech might not be as available after BAU starts to unravel).
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby GHung » Thu 29 Nov 2018, 14:56:46

I've had a lot of success in the green house and high tunnel with currently available varieties of many plants, especially nightshades, curcubits and legumes. Tomatoes, cucumbers and especially some old varieties of beans do well (beans, especially, go crazy in the high tunnel). Cabbages love to over-winter in the high tunnel, as do many herbs. Leafy green vegetables also do very well. Potatoes do very well in the raised beds. A shortage of varieties that grow well "under cover" is not a problem. Also, energy, including embedded energy in structures isn't a problem. The only ongoing energy use most of the time is fans, water pumping and tilling, all of which I do with solar panels. Drip irrigation is cheap, water-miserly, and automated. I use off-the-shelf stuff to do mine; PVC pipe and basic irrigation timers from the big box stores. Solar-pumped water, gravity fed from a tank on the hill has been very reliable.

I've dabbled in hydroponics and the most expensive ongoing input is the nutrients which have long supply chains and are costly. I chose to grow in my own manufactured/enhanced soils which can be rejuvenated and recycled with compost and basic nutrients. While lighting is expensive and energy hungry, LEDs have come a long way. That said, I have done well without using artificial light. I'm admittedly on a small scale, but green houses and high tunnels are modular, sort of like solar panels with food growing inside.

The biggest issue I see going forward is pest control which isn't a huge issue growing under cover, but can be a problem if one doesn't get ahead of the pests. Not much different than growing outdoors.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby farmlad » Thu 29 Nov 2018, 23:34:31

Seems like a holistic understanding of food production and the negative and positive impacts it has on life on this planet is getting farther and farther out of our reach. In our collective consciousness the lies and half truths keep growing faster than the truer truths.

Some of the lies that need to be addressed if we want to head in a better direction are. #1 The nutrients in the soil are being depleted. The reason that so many of our plants are so nutrient deficient is far and large because we have eliminated the biology that makes these nutrients available for plant uptake. So now we are in most cases caught in the chicken vs egg situation where we have sick plants that are unable to adequately photosynthesize and supply the soil organisms with energy.

Lie #2 Hydroponics can produce quality nutrition. Just like humans do not thrive on astronaut food or dogs on pelletized dog food, neither will plants thrive on chemical water.

Lie #3 Just trust the universities. They are the ones that got us into this mess thanks to the funding from moneyed corporations.

Lie #4 technology will save us. Well it has one a terrible job so far doing more damage than good. The answer lies in working with biological ecosystems instead of fighting them. Killing off the biology is like burning your house down to stay warm.

lie #5 Big ag needs to feed the world. Up till now, what is termed sustenance farming is feeding more mouths than Big AG. Don't believe it? Then it might be time for you to do a little google search.

So what are some steps that we can take to better our food and environment? #1 Maintain the soil full of living roots and the space above it with natures solar array for as much of the year as possible. This is accomplished on pastures by allowing the animals to graze their favorite part of the plant where the most energy is found (the top 1/3 of the grass and the top leaves of shrubs etc) and then move them to the next paddock and not graze this paddock again until the plants have fully recovered. In cropped acres this is accomplished by companion planting, covercrops, perennial plantings.

#2 manage for a lot of diversity in plants to support a diversity in insects microbes and animals.

#3 Minimize the use of tillage unless you have a compaction problem. This promotes healthy microbial populations.

#4 Back off on the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides which then allows nature to do its job.

#5 Bring the animals back out on the land. The animals need the land and the land needs the animals.

This is all stuff I am involved with on a day to day basis,so I know its for real. I may not always have the highest yields in tons per acre but likely some of the highest photosynthetic production, all with no irrigation compared to most of the farms in the area.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Fri 30 Nov 2018, 03:15:15

So do the math. The PBS article reported figures that said that Permaculture and other agrarian practices allow the labor of one farmer to feed 5-10 people. Meanwhile the average wage slave farm worker of a large corporate farm produces enough to feed 155 people. The corporate farm yields per acre are extremely high which means that for any population size, the number of acres required is minimized by corporate style mechanized agriculture using fertilizers/pesticides/herbicides.

This is not a discussion about food quality or nutrition. This is a discussion about ways of feeding 7.7 billion humans, soon to be 10 billion, and 18 billion by 2100 AD. We can do that with high yield mechanized agriculture using present farm acreage. We cannot do that using lower yield farming methods, not even today with only 7.7 Billions of humans.

The premise of this thread is that we can't afford the lower producing farming methods as they require taking too much land away from natural diversity for food production, and the best way to preserve the ecosystem is to maintain naturally diverse wild lands and not to divert such lands for food production.

I take it that you are an American or Canadian or citizen of some other relatively wealthy country, or we would not even be having this conversation. Americans spend on average 6% of their incomes on food, including both groceries and restaurants. In a place like Africa, parts of Asia, and South America, petroleum fuelled machinery enabled the population overshoot that burdens them today. Some of these places are already in collapse in some cases, and when FF's get expensive, those people will starve in wholesale numbers. Then when Americans are spending possibly 50% of their incomes on food, this discussion will be over and farms will be managed for maximum productivity.

If you think I'm wrong, point out the sources of your information. This thread came about because of the article on food production published in Nature, and linked to in the first message. We have heard your opinions, which don't match that article. Got any actual data to back up those opinions?
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby farmlad » Fri 30 Nov 2018, 08:09:14

Looks like we have some more blatant lies to address. Modern day agribusiness is not about maximizing food production. It is about maximizing profits for the petrochemical companies and other agribusiness corporations, second about the farmers maintaining short term viability. Very much like the healthcare industry is not about health.

Seems like your skull is to thick to process the fact that sustenance farming is feeding more people than agribusiness!!!!!!.

They are right that modern farming requires less farmers, But how are they counting the seasonal farm laborers especially the illegal ones???? So why are they talking about farmer to consumer ratio when the subject is on maximizing food production?????
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby farmlad » Fri 30 Nov 2018, 08:20:06

If quality of nutrition is not an issue then using the current agribusiness production we could easily feed 5 times as many people. Just feed the people corn and soy instead of feeding it to fish chickens hogs and cows. To keep them from going mad we could also let them have as much beets turnips tomatoes and kale as they want. This is how ludicrous this pbs article is. They haven't even passed 1st grade when it comes to understanding food production.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby farmlad » Fri 30 Nov 2018, 08:51:04

Mr Caesar If you just run the numbers for yourself One of the most efficient converters of grains to animal proteins is the chicken whether for eggs or for meat. So for meat it takes around 2.3 lbs of feed to produce 1 lb of live chicken. So its around 3 lbs of feed to raise 1 lb of chicken carcass. 1 LB of feed contains around 1,400cal and .2 lbs of proteins. X 3 lbs of feed is 4,200 cal of energy and .6 lbs of protein for 1 lb of chicken meat skin and bones. I will leave it to others to figure out how much energy and protein is in 1 lb of chicken carcass.

But several additional feed and other energy requirements that also need to be figured in would include the feed fed to the rooster and hen that laid the egg to produce this chicken. The energy required to incubate and the egg and the heating lighting and ventilation during the growout time. And the energy to haul the manure back out to the fields far enough away.

But people seem to tire of chicken so they want pork which takes significantly more feed/lb and beef which in the current management practices is way way more feed.

Since you know diddly squat about this topic you might assume that I think chicken is the least environmentally harmful option for animal protein. And there you would again be wrong. The thing is that ruminants can be raised solely on well managed grasslands and crop aftermath and covercrops. They are critical to regenerating the soil. So a positive vs a negative like chicken in CAFOs.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby farmlad » Fri 30 Nov 2018, 09:08:14

So our . 6 lb of protein in feed is reduced to around .25 lb of protein in chicken and our 4,200 calories of energy in feed is reduced to a 1,087 calories. Before figuring in all the additional energy requirements.
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Re: High Yield Modern Farming Better For The Environment

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Fri 30 Nov 2018, 10:00:27

OK, I read what you said, and I don't doubt any of it. But all of it STILL amounts to you stating your opinions without any data.

I'm not questioning your expertise. But somebody did some research, made some calculations, and said that "Plan B is better than Plan A for preserving natural diversity", in effect, in the Nature article linked in the first message by ME, the original thread poster.

Once again, we are not talking food quality, not even discussing whether it's better for A) the environment or B) an individual's health to eat vegan/vegetarian versus an omnivorous diet. We are trading off the impacts on natural biodiversity from the highly mechanized and petroleum-fuelled farming of a typical large modern farm and smaller operations which include farm co-ops, subsistence farming, family farms, etc.

FWIW, you need to better define the terms you are using. For example, the slash & burn agriculture used in the tropics is a form of subsistence farming, but not a very sustainable one. Palm oil plantations, MidWestern corn/soy/wheat rotations, and silly chicken houses where they build raised decks on the side just to be allowed to advertize "free range chickens" are examples of abuses from large corporations we know about.

But NONE of those side diversions are what we are talking about. The original scientific paper has advanced the theory that on a global scale, leaving natural biodiversity intact versus converting it to food production - which means tilled soils, orchards, greenhouses, ranching food animals, etc. etc. - anything except leaving the myriad plants/animals in place and unmolested, is better for the planet. I did say "planet", and not country, continent, state, corporation, or any smaller geographical distinction.

So (if you please) would you kindly focus on the thread topic, and give us your opinion, backed up not by your personal knowledge and beliefs - which nobody is even questioning - but by published literature in peer-reviewed scietific journals?

Here at peakoil.com, we are hobbyists with an interest in FF exhaustion. Some petroleum industry people, some Science and Mathematics types, some Engineers, in fact a variety of backgrounds. You are welcome to participate, but a screen name like "farmlad" is not a credential that says that you are somebody whose opinions are to be accepted as fact. With respect, you obviously have firmly held beliefs that none of us is even prepared to assess, because you have not provided the writings of the experts in your field - or even published articles in the popular press - in fact you have done nothing to support your opinions, of which you seem to have a great many.

Again, be welcome - but answer the questions asked in the thread topic, please.
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