The debate goes on although I thinkit is high time we went in another direction.
First off, chemical farming showsus how an optimized farm growing protocol could actually look. Now we know. Sustainability was always a huge question and that drives the realdebate.
Organic methods are slower to implementbut can come close to meeting our demands for productivity on some soils.
The real revolution that isslowly getting of the ground is the biochar agricultural revolution.
This protocol consists of addingelemental carbon to the soil each year, preferably made directly from plantwastes locally available. The idea is tosustain this until the working soil retains a ten percent elemental carboncontent.
As this is established, nutrientsare accumulated and recaptured back into the soil as a natural sustainableprocess and the leaching of soils ends outright. In the end it is a perfect compliment toorganic methods.
More dramatic, this protocolrecovers waste land soils to full productivity and allows soils presentlyunusable to be used fully.
The Economist dismisses organic ag, while also making the case for it 102
BY Tom Philpott
1 MAR 2011 3:26 PM
This isn't the only way.I've been reading The Economist's "SpecialReport on Feeding the World" (intro here). So far, it's typical Economist:compellingly written and impressively broad in scope -- but largely uncriticalof the status quo. The report doesn't bring much new to the table, especiallyto those of us who follow the gloomy macro-analyses of thinkers likeLester Brown.
Predictably enough, The Economist's perspective on the"feed the world" question is guided by the assumption, never muchexamined, that only high-tech, massive-scale farming can tackle the task offeeding the 9 billion people expected to be on Earth by 2050. The series' lead editorial framesthe question like this:
[While] the concerns of the critics of modern agriculture may beunderstandable, the reaction against intensive farming is a luxury of the rich.Traditional and organic farming could feed Europeans and Americans well. Itcannot feed the world.
From The Economist.Forget, for a minute, that this statement warmsover a stale agribusiness talking point: there is no alternative tocorporate-dominated agriculture. Instead, take a look at the chart,reproduced at the right, lifted from the top of this very same editorial. Thechart describes average wheat yields under different forms of agriculturalmanagement at the Broadbalk field in
's famed Rothamsted Researchstation. The Economist describes the Broadbalk field like this: England
Broadbalk is no ordinary field. The first experimental crop of winterwheat was sown there in the autumn of 1843, and for the past 166 years thefield, part of the Rothamsted Research station, has been the site of thelongest-running continuous agricultural experiment in the world. Now differentparts of the field are sown using different practices, making Broadbalk amicrocosm of the state of world farming.
You don't have to look very closely at the chart to see that fieldstreated with manure produce roughly identical yields to those treated with"inorganic fertilisers," i.e., synthetic nitrogen, mined phosphorous,etc. In other words, based on the Broadbalk experiments highlighted by TheEconomist itself, there's no reason to assume, a priori, thatorganic farming "cannot feed the world."
Next, dig into the Rothamsted center's ownreport [PDF] on its experiments. There, you'll find that the Broadbalkfields treated with manure not only deliver roughly equal yields, but also arebetter at building up both organic matter and microbial activity in the soil --both critical measures of soil health.
It's puzzling that a special series premised on dismissing organicagriculture would lead with a chart that vindicates it. Organic agricultureprobably can feed the world at least as well as theagribusiness-driven variety. It's just that it can't feed the minds of TheEconomist's editors, who are fixated on images of gigantic machinesdispersing agrichemicals onto vast fields monocropped with GMO seeds. When itcomes to envisioning the future of agriculture, the magazine's thinkers appearto suffer from what VandanaShiva has called "monocultures of the mind."