This piece is about human beings, their food, and their farming, and all the rest of nature….and how they should all jog along together, or not as the case may be.
It is NOT a catalogue of doom and gloom, and although some parts of this may seem that way, they are just snapshots, not the whole story. We can all help write a happy ending to this story if we want to, and it would be very much pain free, compared to the alternatives on offer.
Farmers are an integral part of nature and so are we humans, and its high time we started acting like it. Farmers are custodians of large parcels of land and they owe it to the planet to look after it. For our part as consumers, we owe it to the farmers to help and support those that make a good job of looking after nature. We also have the power to sanction those farmers that make a lousy job of it… we must stop buying their stuff until they mend their ways.
We cannot just cherry-pick bits of nature that we don’t like and spray them with poison to make them go away. All parts of nature are there for a purpose and millions of years of evolution have given us an unimaginable array of living creatures and plants. Somehow we have destroyed a lot of that diversity without ever finding out why they existed in the first place.
Allowing whole species to die out is not something to be proud of, but when it is being done in the name of “Feeding the World”?
Really? That is beyond ridiculous.
37 years of ‘Agri-Business as usual’ have gone by since the 1984 “Feed the World” concert was held with the biggest names in music, politics and industry literally climbing on board the bandwagon to make sure we heard their voices calling to feed the world.
So how far did we get with that project then? The World Bank, UN, Live Aid, WEF, WHO, UNICEF and a host of stars spent almost 4 decades, and billions of dollars “Working on it”.
Why then, in 2022, 37 years later, do we find this on Page 1 of Google?
Looks like the combined ranks of all these massively funded corporations and philanthropists have done a pretty poor job of it in my honest opinion, but they did have a few decades of executive world travel doing the thing that do-gooders do so well
The World Food Programme seems unable to fix the problem and with the spiralling costs of running it, I am not surprised. From the page in the link above: – “WFP’s monthly operating costs are up by US$73.6 million above their 2019 average – a staggering 44 percent rise. The extra now spent on operating costs would have previously fed 4 million people for one month.”
BTW, if that $73.6 Million is a 44% rise then the original 2019 figure was around $167 million, making the new 2020 monthly running cost $240.5 Million. This stacks up to $2.9 Billion a year, which would buy an awful lot of rice in anybody’s currency.
All of the moving parts that make up our agricultural world are connected to each other in some way, and our knowledge of the system is still incomplete. If we break the system while experimenting with it, things that get changed alter other things up and down the food chain, sometimes with disastrous effects. One thing we can rely on though is that the forces of nature will simply put themselves back into balance as they have done for millions of years, with or without permission from mankind.
This piece is an attempt to examine some of those moving parts working together, it is not just about Co2 or Nitrogen. Those arguments are all too often political …just to make us argue the toss with each other rather than getting the bad actors off the stage.
This next bit looks at a worsening situation, and makes the point that action really is necessary. It is the doom and gloom bit that I wanted to get off my chest first.
In short, desertification means:
“The soil has been so badly degraded that it cannot support farming of any kind”
Desertification is not about vast deserts and sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Most of the world’s great deserts were left behind when the last ice age left us 10,000 years ago and as far as I know man had no part in creating the ice ages but the desertification we refer to here is a 100% man-made.
From an article in 2012 by Professor John Crawford of the University of Sydney, with the by line, ‘By World Economic Forum’
The farming he speaks of in 2012 used GMO’s, heavy machinery, chemical fertilisers, and biocides extensively. All of these are supplied by the largest agricultural corporations on the planet who spend $ Billions annually advertising and lobbying their products in order to sustain this “Broken Food System”. These same corporations are also corporate members of the World Economic Forum, and the image of a dog chasing its own tail springs to mind.
Phase 1: Disturbing the local (short) water cycles.
Nothing can be more ‘disturbing’ than chopping down every tree in sight. The stability that the roots provide to the soil, the water uptake and its evaporation are crucial to local short water cycles. These local cycles create local weather patterns, which in turn create light mists or fogs as well as localised showers that fall gently to earth and have time to soak intohe ground. Heavy and stormy rainfall runs quickly off taking both nutrients and pollutants with it. More on the water cycles shortly.
Phase 2: Increasing the heat of the ground and the air
Now that the original green forest canopy has been replaced by Concrete, steel, asphalt, and glass the solar radiation that hits these surfaces cannot be used in photosynthesis. The only thing left for the radiation to accomplish is to heat everything up, including the air above the cities, creating heat islands. Local rains, or short water cycles, just hate heat islands, so they go elsewhere to drop their moisture. Even rains that do make it onto a red-hot city quickly evaporate or take the storm drain subway to the ocean.
Phase 3: Topsoil erosion
Almost all of the worlds land masses are on sloping ground – billiard table flat land is a rarity and usually confined to river estuaries or reclaimed land as in the Netherlands or Bangladesh.
Cutting the trees down on slopes or hillsides destabilises the soil and once the roots have died away, any falling rain will start to wash topsoil off into ditches and streams, ending up in the river systems. This does not need to continue for long before bare rock has replaced the once fertile landscape. Soils that took millions of years to form can be gone in a decade.
Desertification is specifically a man-made condition that can develop anywhere that we have altered the landscape to farm animals and crops, and it started 10,000 years ago, in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of the middle east.
We are damaging our topsoil stocks every day with an agricultural system that drives production in the short term and wrecks the environment in the long term.
Much of our farming focuses on the crop only, and anything else in the field has to go, leaving bare soil between rows. It is also geared up for monoculture, One Field One Crop. We keep hearing noises about biodiversity, but monoculture is the very death of biodiversity, and often the death of our topsoils too.
“Business as usual” sees our global population increasing while our capability of feeding it decreasing.
Who is in charge here?
3 A very brief history of agriculture
The ‘Fertile Crescent’ that we see on the map below is where the real beginnings of agriculture took place around 10,000 years ago according to various -ologists. It is called by that name because it covers an area that includes several nations and cultures, and the archaeologist, James Henry Breasted, popularized the name in his 1914 book, Outlines of European History.
What makes the “Fertile Crescent” such a unique piece of real estate?:
The massive river systems of the Tigris and the Euphrates, which run right through the centre of it and the 5 ancient seas that surround it. Whichever way the wind blows across the crescent, it mostly likely passed over a body of water to get there, helping drive the climate of the region. The rivers transport the water down from the high grounds creating fertile valleys and flood plains and the rainfall does the rest.
The ‘Founder Crops”, originally grown there form the basis of what we grow today in a large part of the world. They consist of three basic cereals (emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, and barley) and four pulses (lentil, pea, chickpea, and bitter vetch) as well as flax to make clothing.
Four out of the five most domesticated animals also came from this region, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs. (The fifth was the horse who lived close to the crescent but not very often in it)
From the map you can also see that the area sits is on an imaginary bridge, or crossroads, between Africa, Europe, and Asia making it open access to the biodiversity that moved between the continents, as well as the human traffic that carried goods, trade, and knowledge throughout the world.
All of these factors combined to give the fertile crescent another name, “The Cradle of Civilisation” Certainly the culture of the ancients in that area was far advanced from much of the rest of the world 4,500 years ago. Finding the world’s first known Libraries in Syria and Sumer testifies to the advances from circa 2,500BC. It appears that vast supplies of fresh nutritious fruits and vegetables do indeed feed the mind as well as the body.
Even the Fertile Crescent had to submit to the work of man though, and as irrigation and new tools became available the production increased…and the population grew…and the harvest got bigger and the population grew some more.
All the while this was happening man was withdrawing fertile topsoil from his ancient soil account and not replacing it fast enough. We are still overdrawn on that account and getting deeper in debt on a global scale every day.
This crescent isn’t so fertile anymore. Man has been at work for centuries ploughing and irrigating it, changing the course of the rivers and the fertility of the land. A whole new kind of warfare has also arrived on its doorstep called Water Terrorism.
In this case Turkey has gained control of the lion’s share of the upper waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and is busy strangling water supplies to Syria and Iraq. We didn’t hear much about that in the last 10 years since the rest of the planet decided to bomb those 2 nations into oblivion.
Now Syrians and Iraqis can get to choose between dying of hunger and thirst or dying from bullets, bombs, and depleted uranium. The wonders of the free market seem to have delivered desertification and ‘democracy’ to the Middle East at the same time. Another modern wonder of the ancient world!
Stop the Press!
Last night (28-09-2022) I watched a saddening news program about Iraq and the loss of thousands, if not millions of acres of farmland to salination. The result is loss of thousands of farmers who have left the river valleys headed for Basra. (There was no mention of Turkeys involvement in this disaster)
Without this constant supply of freshwater, the rivers present no resistance to the salt waters of the Gulf of Iran where the rivers meet the sea at Shatt al Arab. Nothing was said about the US war there and the part it played in the food chains of the Iraqi people, nothing about the 100 Orders of the US occupation, and especially not about Order 81, to do with Agriculture.
An excellent video on the topic, which also looks at Iraq in modern times through the eyes of Dr Wasfi can be found here: –
A failure to learn from mistakes made throughout history makes it inevitable that those mistakes will just get repeated.
Pushing the finite resources of a specific area of land beyond their natural capabilities results in desertification and a collapse of the food production system. In this case it took several thousand years, so they must have been doing something right. Then came global politics.
4.1 The basis for topsoil
It takes nature around 500 years to make quality topsoil and the beginning of the production process began millions of years ago..
The erosion of mountains and hills over millions of years supplied the original sands, gravels, and minerals. As the planet became populated with life, in the form of algae, lichens, plants and trees, it also had to get familiar with death. All of that new-fangled living material just died and rotted where it fell, resulting in SOM, or Soil Organic Material. This mixed with the sands and minerals to form a range of products from light sandy loams to dense heavy clays.
As animals and marine life also began to fill the world, and they too discovered death, but in both animals and plants, death was a natural recycling process. All of the components that life had used to build the bodies of animals, or plants and trees, rotted into the topsoil and replaced much of what they had been using while they were alive. We all just borrow our selves from nature, and pay back the loan when we die.
4.2 Just add Dung…
Where do you find life on a farm during a long, drawn-out drought? Try turning over a cowpat.
That is where you find moisture and that is where the little folks will be busy. Dung beetles earthworms, bacteria, fungi and all manner of insect life, literally a cast of thousands (There are more than 5000 known species of dung beetle alone), and they are vitally important to life down on the farm.
They not only bury dung that would normally just dry out on the surface, thus recycling the nutrients into the soil, but they are also burying carbon. Both of these functions might not seem much on their own but in a healthy pasture there are thousands of these little people busy at work. It is important that we do not keep ploughing them out and rolling them flat with heavy machinery.
Also, within the cow patty, are seeds, and if the cattle are allowed to graze and move to a fresh patch of grass day to day, they will only be eating the top parts of the grass, not grazing it to the ground.
By doing this they are eating the tips of the best selected grasses in a field that the cows really like…it follows then that they are also putting back a larger proportion of those ‘favourite’ grass seeds to grow next year, gradually turning the land into the cows favourite pasture. Clever? I think so. The cows don’t know it but they are selectively breeding their own favourite pasture. The next time you step in a cow pat, think of it as a lifeboat.
We are talking cows here now, but consider what life was like on the African, American, and Asian plains and savannah before man arrived and began to walk upright and acquire a liking for meat.
Millions and millions of wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, ostrich, zebra, gazelle roaming around re-fertilising their own grazing grounds, while helping to maintain the balance of nature and keep a steady state local climate.
In North America, the first European settlers arrived around 1600, at which time native Americans thrived and succeeded thanks to the 50 million Bison that ranged across most of North America as they had been for 10,000 years. These animals fertilised the soil as they went, and that stacks up to a vast amount of fertility (SOM) over such a long period. We are still living from that legacy today, but only just.
Much of the prairie land at that time had native grasses as tall as a man on horseback and with roots up to 20 feet (6m)deep.
Herds of these wild animals roamed the other major continents too without the barriers of man-made fences dividing up the land. They dropped their dung and urinated while on the move, scattering it across the plains and savannah lands, and treading it in as they went. This greatly enriched the ground, adding not only natural fertiliser but also the badly needed organic material, (SOM) or humus, to lighten the topsoil and allow it to hold water.
Although they didn’t know it back then, these animals were also stashing vast amounts of carbon back into the topsoil on a very long-term basis.
Farmers before the industrial revolution, circa 1850, not only kept livestock but used oxen, bullocks, and massive draught horses as early forms of power unit, driving mowers, threshers, and seed drills. They also added manure and scattered it about in a natural random way.
(In 1950’s South London, this author, as a child, was sent into the street with a shovel and bucket to collect the droppings of the milkman’s horse for his mums roses.)
The vast animal populations of the world are where the real quality fertile topsoils came from – and still do.
By keeping animals indoors, we are disrupting the natural process of regenerating our topsoils and that comes with a very large price tag.
4.3 No Sense of Humus
Anyone with any knowledge of basic gardening knows that topsoil needs humus, or compost in gardening terms. In agricultural terms, humus becomes SOM or Soil Organic Material, which works a little like adding fibre to our diet, it provides a spongelike structure which can hold liquids, especially water, and let the microbes do their work. (It’s also known as soil conditioning, simply because you can tell the condition of a topsoil by grabbing a handful, looking carefully at it and smelling it.)
“One single handful of healthy well-balanced topsoil contains more living organisms than there have ever been human beings on this planet”. I haven’t a clue why this unit of measurement was chosen but it appears several times in books about topsoil management. For the record somebody calculated that 139,000,000,000 human beings have lived on planet earth up to the present day, which is a lot of microbes for a single handful of topsoil.
Bacteria live in that warm moist spongelike environment it enables them to swim around to get to work. (They have no legs) Their job is to break down large bulky food parcels into tiny pieces so that they can be absorbed by both plants and humans. We humans walk around with nearly as many bacteria in us as we have cells in our bodies, and for most of the time these bacteria are the good guys, they look after us.
In both animals and humans, it is bacteria that do the hard work of digesting food, not our stomachs. Similarly, it is the bacteria in the humus, or SOM, that digest the nutrients in the compost and break them down to the microscopic level so that roots and the threads of the mycorrhizal fungi can transport those nutrients to where they are needed.
4.4 The String that holds it all together
Life below ground reveals that the whole world of plants and trees is knitted together into a magnificent system, a living system of incredible complexity all held together with string, very thin string. Mycorrhizal Fungi, to give them their correct name, are THE largest living organisms on the world, yet to see what they are up to you need a microscope. One of the oldest examples of such a tiny monster claims to be 2,500 years old. It simply enormous, stretching for miles.
There is an incredible symbiotic (You scratch my back, I scratch yours) relationship between these fungi and the plants or trees they party with. The fungi are basically THE world’s first Carbon Traders, (Established 450 million years ago) trading nitrogen and phosphor for carbon and sugars. It does so with the fine networks of threads connecting to tree roots far and wide.
A single bucket of topsoil from the floor of a forest can contain as much as 1500 kilometres of these threads
This page from the Natural Farmer.Org explains in detail how they work and the benefits that these natural wonders can give.
The vital unseen benefits of these fungi include major increases to the amount of carbon that can be buried underground, as well as the amount of water that land can hold in store. These two ‘assets’ go hand in hand with each other, you don’t get the one without the other.
To make this system work as it should there are three conditions that must be met
- Continuous groundcover, a “No Bare Ground” policy and no tilling(ploughing).
- Avoidance of (monocultures) single species crops and pastures. Mix things up!
- As close to zero application of toxic herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides as is humanly possible. Many of the things we kill with these products are actually of real benefit to the soil system.
Meeting these conditions is essential for good topsoil management. We will be taking a look at how important that is a little later in the story.
We can buy Mycorrhizal Fungi in a bucket at the local garden centre and use it to get better root systems going in our gardens. This does work for sure, but a sniff of pesticide, fungicide of herbicide or an overload of an N, P or K will see us buying another bucket quite soon.
In any case, the whole point of this is for us to understand that if you don’t have these fungi as a part of the natural state then there is a good chance you have something wrong with your soil in the first place that cannot be bought in the garden centre. There is no quick fix to building top quality soil…500 years an inch remember?
The top 60 centimetres of soil on this entire planet is where we get our food from. When it is blown or washed away to the oceans, or when its fertility is destroyed by lack of biological inputs or too many chemical inputs, crop failures will become the most important failures of mankind in its history.
We have the knowledge and capability to prevent this but successive attempts to generate enough interest on a global level have failed. Apparently the public “doesn’t find the subject of soil sexy enough”. Note how the PR industry blames the public all the time, its almost as if they were trying to sell us something different.
Farmers and Gardeners have known about the importance of SOM – humus – compost – manure for hundreds of years now but the memory has been erased over time as new “Innovations” (Machinery-Chemicals-GMO) have been introduced.
Dangerous Globe and I wrote a piece on these fungi in April 2016 which is archived here
5 Soil and Water
To get an idea of just how much water is needed to put food on our tables…..have a Water Table, I must confess this shocked me rather. Look at the cost of a pair of Jeans in water terms, that is 6.8 tons for Pete’s sake.
In pre-industrial 1850, natural forest ecosystems usually had soil organic matter (SOM) content that ranged between 3% and 7%.
Since European settlers started farming in the US, and since the chemical “Green Revolution” of the post WW2 years started across the rest of the world, much of today’s farmland relies on chemical inputs combined with mechanised farming to get its massive yields. Combined with the compression that the topsoil suffers with the constant use of heavy machinery, todays farm topsoils often have less than 1% humus (SOM).
This is a critical because every 1% per acre of SOM-organic matter in the around means that 25,000 US gallons(4.5 litres) of water is held in the topsoil.Take a look at this table and you can see quite clearly just how important the water holding capabilities of soil have become. You do not need to be any kind of scientist to understand what this means in terms of irrigation requirements.
In Metric units – Storage of litres per Hectare.
1% SOM in the soil = 233,000L
3% SOM in the soil = 700,000L
7% SOM in the soil = 1.600,000L
What this represents in real terms is a huge cushion against drought, with much better root formation/improved water uptake all producing better plant development. Another important aspect of this SOM content is that 50% of it is carbon and stashing it deep in the soil is a very good idea. More on that later.
There are two different ways in which water, and rainfall, take place, scientists call them the short and long water cycles.
5.1 The Short (Local) water cycle
The short cycle drops water on the land that was created over land and is very much closer to home. It is on a smaller scale than the long cycle, but many short cycles add up to influence the long cycle to some extent and may well change the behaviour of the long cycle over the long term. There are 2 types of short (Local) water cycle that really matter, the ones that work and the ones we screwed up. Short water cycles act locally and we see their effects as localised mists and fogs and soft frequent showers of rain.
The one on the left is a successful short water cycle, where topsoil is treated as it should be. It has a high percentage of SOM/Organic material below ground assuring water is available year-round.
The one on the right is a broken short water cycle in which the ground water has gone, leaving “heat islands” which actively drive rainfall away. Such dried-out land relies on rainfall from the long cycle, which is seasonal and comes from the evaporation of the oceans, making it vulnerable to long periods of drought on one hand and torrential rain and flooding on the other. The flooding is due to removal of trees and green cover, creating the hard baked nature of the depleted topsoil now unable to soak up the rainwater. Instead it pools and runs off out to sea carrying its nutrients and its pollutants with it.
Agriculture in a broken short cycle area requires huge irrigation schemes to deliver water to the crops, these often take the shape of dams across major rivers or complex canal networks to chosen districts. These schemes often draw water from sources from neighbouring provinces or even nations, with all of the political fallout that can produce. When you understand just how much water is needed to grow a single walnut, or enough cotton to make a pair of jeans the importance of getting the Short Water Cycle right is vital
5.2 The long water cycle
This is the one we all learned about at school, with water evaporating from the world’s oceans creating the major weather structures like prevailing weather patterns, seasonal monsoons, and dry seasons. Notice how it some small (Local) water cycles fit inside the long cycle. Typically, the “Long Cycle” rains come from water created over oceans and falling on land..
The jet stream, oceans, land masses, deserts, and icecaps, together with their position, temperature, and elevation above sea level, all play a part in what happens to water in the atmosphere. When, where, and how much it rains or snows or how often we have fogs and mists, in the long term all have the long water cycle to thank for their strength and frequency. The long water cycle is also influenced by numerous localised short water cycles. Man has little direct effect on the long water cycles. (But some men are trying very hard to change it using cloud seeding and a variety of other Weather changing techniques.)
This has grown to the extent that neighbouring nations are beginning to accuse each other of stealing each other’s rain. Nobody has a clue about the long-term safety of doing this and the people doing it do not seem to care much either. For those interested in the problems with this process there is a wealth of information here.
I emphasise that locally man had little direct effect on the long cycle, but globally speaking, man had a very big say in it, take a look at the NASA image below showing the world lit up at night. The bright areas define where we humans are at our busiest, and where we use our energy most.
We only have to look at the way our activities are strung across the northern part of the globe compared with the southern hemisphere. During the daytime all of those big “Bright City Lights” will be switched off, but during the daytime those cities (heat islands)will still be there, and still burning energy, in fact much more energy than they burn at night.
Thousands of Heat Islands all joined together broken only by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Both the long and short water cycles, broken or not, are driven by the radiation from the sun that creates the heat and drives the climate and its weather patterns, and it also drives the system that supports life on earth, photosynthesis.
Correctly structured topsoils have an immense capacity for storing water underground but our efforts are focused on managing water above ground, with costly flood control and water management schemes that do not take natural storage into consideration.
When we compact topsoil with heavy machinery, and strip it of green cover, it no longer has the ability to soak up water. Any rain runs off the surface rather than soaks deep into the soil. While we seem to think that we cannot affect the long water cycle with our activities, it is painfully obvious that we can, sometimes even stopping the short water cycles completely. Naturally the long water cycles are also affected, only we don’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that we had a hand in it.
We did, and we can just as easily have a hand in fixing it too.
The default colour setting for the land on planet earth is green. That is no accident, it is called photosynthesis, and this is a quick primer on how it works:
The sun gives us energy, and the amount varies on the time of year and where you are on the Earth during that yearly cycle.
If the sun is low down on our horizon you receive little energy from the sun, if its directly overhead, with no clouds in the sky, or erupting volcanoes in the neighbourhood, you will be getting all the sun can give you from 150 million Kilometres away (93 million miles), which measures +/- 1.3 kilowatts of energy on one square metre of ground.
What we feel on our face though is not heat from the sun, it is radiation, electromagnetic radiation to be precise, and it is made up of 42.3%, visible light, 49.4% infrared radiation, and 8% ultraviolet light.
The heat that we feel is mainly the effect of infrared radiation, the heat that gives us sunburn and makes our skin fall off is the Ultra Violet variety.
Where does this energy go when it reaches planet earth? Well, there are 3 ways:
6.1 Nature’s Way
80% of it is soaked up by plants and trees (as well as phytoplankton and seaweeds in shallow water) powering photosynthesis. Part of this process is called transpiration, simply put it is the “sweat” of trees and all forms of plant life. This cools down the neighbourhood. No matter how hot the sun is, it is always cooler under a tree. One square metre of forest or lush vegetation releases around 3 litres of water per day in this way, adding to the short water cycle.
This is the same cooling effect we experience stepping out of a warm shower. Our body heat makes the water evaporate quicker from our skin and as the water goes away it takes the heat with it too, making us feel much cooler.
6.2 The Town planners way
I mentioned earlier how the stuff that makes up our modern society, our homes, towns, the tarmac, steel, bricks, glass plastic, humans, airports, cars, dogs, and garden sheds are all heated up by the suns radiation. That heat then rises into the air forming “Heat Islands”. Even quite small heat islands can affect the local environment and weather patterns, but the bigger the island the bigger the effect. The big difference between this way and natures way is that the heat rising from these islands isn’t taking up any water with it, it is bone dry and hot
The heat island effect has more negative meanings than positive ones. This link will take you to the US EPA site for a run down on some of them.
Localised weather systems moving across the face of the earth are pushed away from heat islands where there is a constant updraught of heat from them.
Heat islands tend to repel the lighter rains of the short water cycle, but big weather events like monsoons and hurricanes just roll right over heat islands and kick sand in your sandwiches. Heavy This type of heavy storm cancels the heat island affect giving us gale force winds and very heavy rains often causing flooding. Storm drains are overwhelmed and river banks can no longer hold the weight of water, buildings are damaged, power lines downed and lives lost. Both the soil and the chemicals we put on it, ends up in the ocean.
6.3 The industrial agriculture way
When we plough and cultivate land it releases Co2 and moisture to the air. Without a green covering of plants, the energy is no longer absorbed by photosynthesis. With the soil exposed to direct radiation, it heats up, and loses moisture even faster, drying the ground in the process. The radiation has now turned into heat and is reflected back into the atmosphere, where else can it go?
Meanwhile back inside the soil, the top layer is getting baked, and hardened, and yet another heat island is being created, no city necessary. The damage being done by this process is incalculable. Microbial life, as well as worms and insects that live in the top of the soil perish. The short water cycle is now well and truly broken, and it was all our own work, not a natural phenomenon.
Soils hardened by the effects of continuous heavy machinery passing over it, and now baked through over exposure to the sun will cause any major rainfall to run off the surface instead of soaking deep into the ground.
In this way topsoil is eroded and ends up in the ocean. This is the start of desertification, and unless the problem is dealt with and remediated very early in the process, such land will no longer support agriculture. We can replace a lost harvest with a new one next year if we get lucky with the weather, but we cannot replace the fertile topsoil we need to grow it.
Each square metre of the planet receives about 1.3 Kilowatts of radiation energy on it whenever the sun shines.
Much of that energy reaches the planet even when the sun doesn’t shine. Without this energy, plants do not grow on land or in the shallows waters of oceans. Life grinds to a halt if the sun is blocked
The latest technology in use across the world today is known as SRM (Solar Radiation Modification. For some strange reason a group of scientists have come up with this idea for “fighting” climate change. This has been going on for some time, often denied and nearly always in a secretive and furtive manner. “The public are not intelligent enough to understand the science” we are told.
To understand the science the public first need to have the science made public.
SRM (Solar Radiation Modification) has been widely touted as the work of conspiracy theorists. It isn’t! Research projects are underway and have been for years. SRM-related research has been supported by public and private funding in Australia, Canada, China, Finland, the EU, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, India, Sweden, the UK, and the US.
There are no controls and nobody is accountable for any of these actions.
This paper by the Carnegie Climate Governance Institute (C2G) clearly demonstrates that SRM is no theory
There seems to have been little work done to study the effects of such actions upon photosynthesis, but it seems logical to me that if you dim the sun by 20% you reduce photosynthesis by 20%. Please tell me I am wrong! Or could this be why a billion people go to sleep hungry every day?
7 Oxygen – in general terms
We just saw in the photosynthesis section above how Oxygen and Co2 fit into the process of building the trees and lush green growth, including our food supplies.
The 2 gases are 2 sides of the same coin, [or leaf] if you prefer, and once again, in nature, you cannot have one without the other.
This is the chart plotting the percentage of Oxygen in the atmosphere over the last 600 million years, [we added the green band representing oxygen levels between 19.5% and 23.5% oxygen, considered the upper and lower safe limits for our life on earth].
Around 40 million years ago our atmosphere seems to have settled down a bit allowing millions of life forms to evolve to the modern day.
7.1 The role of the forests
I was taught in school that we owed our existence to the oxygen produced by rainforests, “The Lungs of the Earth”, but we now understand that the majority of oxygen is produced in the oceans. There still seems to be some discussion on which does how much of what.
Some say Forests produce 30% of our Oxygen and some say The Oceans “between 50% and 80%” and there are lots of other fuzzy numbers in between.
This is not a criticism on my part, it is the way science is, a continuous learning curve, as new evidence comes in, the curve is altered. What we do know “for certain is that “The exact volume of oxygen contributed to the earth’s atmosphere by oceans and by forests is not yet fully understood.
Yes there are some numbers but it would be unwise to take them to the bank when they range from 80%/20% to 60%/40%.
Any form of plant life that uses sunlight as an energy source (photosynthesis) gives off a steady oxygen flow for at least part of its growing cycle. Even a football pitch made of turf will do the trick. Not Astroturf though, that just adds plastic to the environment and yet more Co2 to the atmosphere.
This is an overview of the worlds rainforest regions with 2 insets, the left is the Amazon and the right one is Borneo.
You can see both of the areas have been heavily de-forested so it is logical to assume that their oxygen generation capacity has been equally reduced. This has all happened within 2 generations of man. Incidentally the Amazon map came from a WEF site dated 2018 which starts with the words, “The forests have withstood a multitude of human impacts”.
This all sounds very heroic, but the map above doesn’t show that, it shows the Amazon rainforest getting systematically trashed.
While ‘us humans’ were indeed hanging on to the end of the chainsaws and driving the logging trucks to the export harbours, but somebody was paying them to do all this. Somebody was also paying a very high price for the timber that was cut down. The same people also paid a high price to fund the lobbyists and tame politicians to deregulate the protected areas and open them up to big business concerns like mining and oil & gas exploration.
Notice how this mad rush to cash in on the plunder of the rainforests is now being blamed on “humanity”, like thge man ion the chainsaw, as though we must all accept the blame.
When was the last time the public went on the streets to protest about not enough rainforest being destroyed?
Have we all got a solid mahogany dining suites? Most of the people I know have an IKEA chipboard version, or at worst a solid wood type from a managed sustainable forest.
I put this down to the people that paid for this plunder, as always, follow the money. The ones who now sit behind desks made of exotic timber in mahogany lined corporate offices or on yachts with expensive teak decks tut tutting about what the WEF should do to rectify a situation that was created by the same people sitting behind those same desks.
All plant life gives off oxygen at some point in its life, and the massive equatorial rainforests around the world have often been dubbed “the lungs of the planet”. Many major cities have deliberately selected woodlands around them for a similar reason
There is no clear understanding of exactly how much of our oxygen is supplied by them, it ranges from 30% to 50%, but either way it is a substantial contribution.
Removing them at the rate we are doing right now is endangering all life on the planet, and removing them to profit from the timber, or natural resources that may be under their soils is simply criminal.
Often these interests are the same ones that control governments to ensure that there are no obstacles put in their way. This chart represents one years’ worth of murders in S America alone. When I used the word criminal I meant it.
8 Co2 – in general terms
Co2has been a controversy throughout my entire life. It always seemed ridiculous to me that science had singled out one bogeyman to be the cause of all the world’s problems while ignoring all of the other elements and interactions going on.
It really does not matter if you believe in man-made climate change or not, the ongoing arguments on both sides have been hijacked by vested interests and the issue so tangled up in propaganda that the whole Co2 debate has become meaningless. So has the Paris Climate Agreement and most of the other COP type Climate Summits we have had in the last half century. When Big money talks integrity walks.
I have seen the Co2F arguments swing both ways in the last 50 years and in my opinion it was just another “Divide and Conquer” trick designed to keep us all yelling at each other while the usual suspects made off with the loot. I think this way because I watched it happening.
According to Dr Rattan Lal, winner of the World Food Prize 2020 and a professor at the Ohio State University, we humans have put 500 billion tons of Co2 into the atmosphere since we began farming and ploughing the land around 10,000 years ago.
In the years since the industrial revolution (circa 1850) we started to seriously exploit fossil fuel reserves, starting with coal and steam power, and moving on to oil and all the engine variations that it gave birth to.
Both fuels came from carbon that had been stored underground for millions of years helping to keep nature in equilibrium. Once we got hold of the coal, oil, and gas we burnt them releasing another 350 billion tons of Co2 into the atmosphere. (Half of that amount was produced in only the last 40 years)
In total then, in the last 10,000 years, give or take a century, we have added 850 billion tons of Co2 into the atmosphere on top of the natural carbon cycles the planet already has.
The earth has some very sophisticated balancing mechanisms in place which control every aspect of its evolution. Nothing happens on earth just for the sake of it and Co2 is no exception.
In the late 1950’s Charles Keeling produced evidence that Co2 levels in the atmosphere were gradually increasing, and he plotted this on the following curve – The Keeling Curve as it is now known for some reason, is shown of the chart to the right…
He also noticed that night-time sample measurements contained slightly more Co2 than daytime measurements because during the daytime plants are taking in Co2 for photosynthesis to work, and at night when the sun isn’t shining the plants give Co2 back out.
This led to the natural progression that during a whole year he could see the seasonal pattern represented by the saw tooth effect on the main curve above. See the inset.
The planet was breathing in and out according to the seasons, and this isn’t a plot from the druids and hippies of the world it’s a bog-standard observation of science, and it goes like this:
Most of the worlds land vegetation is north of the equator and has the same northern hemisphere spring and summer seasons.
Starting in May the Co2 levels begin to drop as the summer growth of vegetation gets underway and as the plants and trees suck Co2 from the atmosphere [by Photosynthesis] and give off oxygen in the process.
By September the rate of removal has dropped as the plants now slow down with less and less sunlight each day and prepare for autumn and winter. Leaves are shed or plants die off and decay giving Co2 back to the atmosphere. The summer and winter levels only differ by between 5 and 7 parts per million, but it shows how growth promotes oxygen and decay promotes Co2.
Since he started measuring it in 1958 Charles keeling noted that each year the world gave of a little more Co2 than the last year, creating the upward main curve
Atmospheric Co2 is climbing steadily.
40 years ago, two major oil corporations published reports on how climate change was possibly a fossil fuel issue. One made this video, and the other was subject of an investigation which demonstrated that it had known about the climate issue for 40 years and consistently down played it.
The earth ‘breathes’ during each day and night cycle and during each spring and autumn cycle
9 The role of the Oceans
“The term ocean acidification is used to describe the ongoing decrease in ocean pH caused by human CO2 emissions, such as the burning of fossil fuels. It is the little-known consequence of living in a high Co2 world, dubbed as the “evil twin of climate change”.
We know that Oxygen comes from the oceans, though it is not sure exactly how much. Most sources claim “at least 50%” and some “estimates go as high as 80%”
Whatever the number, it seems it is more than half of the oxygen we use.
A proportion of the Co2that has been put into the atmosphere gets taken up by the world’s oceans, where it transforms into carbonic acid. This causes the oceans to slowly acidify, opening up a whole new story.
This chart has the Keeling Curve that you saw earlier, with the rising Co2 levels plotted on the land-based observatory at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and a nearby marine station at ALOHA records both the levels ofCo2 in the ocean (Green Plot) and the de-creasing pH, acidity plot (Blue Plot).
This quote is from a 2015 study by Southampton University, UK,
Worth a quick note here that the UKOARP programme [linked here] was closed down in 2016 according to a note on the top of the above webpage. (Maybe the British politicians and money lenders didn’t think it was worth doing anymore)
If the prediction for 2100 is only half true, and we do not act upon it immediately we may be in a different kind of trouble, only this time we have it well within our power to fix it in time
We assume then that the main providers of oxygen in the ocean are plankton, and there are 2 main types: –
These little critters are classified as animals, or protozoans, and eat other zooplankton as well as phytoplankton, bacteria, and tiny segments of plant material. Together with Phytoplankton they are tremendously important to the health of oceans, helping keep them stable. Plankton react to changes in temperature, acidity, pollution, and chemical in a variety of ways which are now being closely studied and interpreted to help give early warning of future problems
Zooplankton are also one of the principle food supplies of a very wide range of marine life from fish larvae to fully grown whales. They live in deeper waters but can be found rising to the surface at night time in order to feed. I see no references to Zooplankton supplying the worlds oxygen reserves.
Phytoplankton are a different kettle of fish (Sorry) They are neither fish nor animal, but instead likened to plants on land, they use sunlight and despite being in the water they can photosynthesise up to 200 metres deep (This is the limit of the euphotic zone or Useful Sunlight Zone).
Included in the marine oxygenators we also find seaweeds like kelp. They are coloured green due to the chlorophyll they contain, and like green plants on land these algae play a massive role in converting carbon dioxide into food and oxygen. Again, the same photosynthesis process that plants employ using the energy from the sun.
One particular model of phytoplankton is called Emiliania huxleyi and she looks like this:
Emily here is very clever, and I introduce her to show just how complicated the natural world can be. Emily covers herself in lace doilies made of calcium carbonate (Think Chalk, Limestone – CaCo3) to protect her single celled self from harm.
She has been around for 200,000,000 years or more and her main claim to fame is her ability to fix inorganic carbon, in the carbonate, and having done so, when she dies she carries it deep to the ocean floor removing carbon from our human world in the process.
That isn’t all though, there is also evidence that Emily contributes to the cycle of a trace gas called dimethyl sulphur by releasing it to the atmosphere. Dimethyl sulphur is a global cooling gas, it helps marine cloud formation and climate cooling regulation. (I told you it was not all bad news)
Some scientists claim that up to 70% of the worlds oxygen is created by phytoplankton. Phytoplankton live in the shallower, sunlit, water because they have to, there is no such thing as deep sunlit waters. Phytoplankton really don’t like water that is too acidic, it dissolves calcium carbonate. This presents far more danger than a change of climate when you think about it, and the idea of such a disruption is something I reall dont want to think about just now.
I have a small confession to make here, Emily… is a man… well two men in fact – Emiliania huxleyi was named after Thomas Huxley and Cesare Emiliani, who were the first to examine sea-bottom sediment and discover the coccoliths within it.
Childish I know, but it helps me remember the story
Co2, becomes carbonic acid when it enters the oceans. Over the last 3 decades, which is when modern recording began, the acidity of the oceans has increased from a pH of 8.12 to a pH of 8.07.
This acidity is already having a negative effect on marine life, and if it continues …the effect will grow worse.
The “Lungs of the World” rainforests have been cut down to a large extent. The island of Borneo was almost entirely forested in 1950, but by 2020 more than half the forest cover was gone, equating to almost 400,000 km2 in 70 years.
The Amazon Forest of S. America has had an average of 10,000 acres per day, cut down since 1998 = 73,000,000 acres or 300,000 km 2 in 20 years. (It is estimated that the forest will be gone by 2064)
Now we read that the other biggest source of oxygen for life on earth is phytoplankton and that acidifying oceans are threatening them with a watery grave…..maybe as soon as 2100.
The Sum of all damage we are doing to our Forests + Sum of the increasing areas of desertification + Sum of the decline in health of phytoplankton
Total = Zer0 Oxygen
None of this takes into account the pollution runoffs from rivers bringing fertiliser residues or biocides into the shallow waters of our oceans. That is a whole other story.
We have very little time to deal with this issue and increasing storms and sea level rises will be the very least of our problems if we have all stopped breathing by then.
(The picture shows the fan of materials brought to the Gulf of Mexico by the Mississippi river)
10 A quick word about Methane
Methane stays in the atmosphere up to 12.5 years, a shorter time than Co2 [some scientists say Co2 could be up to 1000 years]. This makes the calculation of how we compare the effects of each gas rather complicated.
Co2 has a smaller effect but it can last much longer and Methane has a greater effect over a shorter period of time. And I am just going to cop out and say “Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than Co2 during its lifetime in the atmosphere”.
With this in mind why did the American EPA, tasked with “Protecting the environment”, put a set of rules together in 2016/Amended 2018, that eased the rules for the Oil and Gas industry in terms of controlling methane escape. These changes reduced the frequency of oil and gas well monitoring, and installation inspections, amongst other benefits to “significantly reduce regulatory burden, saving the industry tens of millions of dollars in compliance costs each year.
In what world is this protecting the environment? Don’t O&G Producers have accountants to worry about their finances, why is the EPA even involved in their finances?
Right now, it is November 2022, and this just caught my eye regarding the Oil and Gas Industry.
Inefficient and unlit natural gas flares both emit large quantities of methane. That is what happens when you don’t do regular checks and inspections. Easy to see whose side the *EPA are on though.
10.1 But what about COWS?
Cows have also had a rough ride in the Methane stakes lately, but it isn’t just cows, it is all Ruminants, any animal that eats grass and is happy to chew the same wad of cud over and over. Cows are ruminants, and so are, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, elk, giraffes, and camels.
They all have a stomach with four chambers, the first of which is called the rumen, which acts as a holding tank where the chewed grass is held for a while and softened up. It’s called cud at this stage and is brought back up to the mouth for chewing again, breaking down the cellulose content, and now ready to be passed on down through the other 3 chambers to be dealt with by bacteria.
At some point in this digestive process methane is created and leaves the animals body in the same way that unwanted gases leave us humans.
Cows have been selected for special attention because they come under “Agriculture” in the pollution statistics, but nowhere is it mentioned that it is INTENSIVE cattle farming that is mainly at fault here.
Luckily it seems not to have taken over Europe at the moment but the US model of CAFO, [the romantically named “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation”] seems likely to be on its way.
Up to 100,000 animals live in Feed Lots crammed together in close confinement and fed mainly on Field Corn (Maize) fodder, which is not a natural diet for cows.
They often live in filthy conditions which bring the additional risks of pests like flies and sickness quickly passed on in the cramped conditions. This in turn makes it necessary to crank up the antibiotic/pesticide administration which also boosts the likelihood that some of this stuff will find its way into our food chain.
This increased dosage also drives the immunity spiral…requiring further increases of dosage ad infinitum. An outbreak of Foot and Mouth at such a place would be catastrophic.
The manure and urine mix from these operations goes into huge lagoons, (and often into rivers, Ed.) where it is allowed to evaporate, sending methane into the atmosphere, to meet up with the cow-burps. The slurry left behind is highly concentrated and much more potent than a cow pat left behind in a pasture.
Compare this to grass fed cows in a moving grazing system, who leave their dung and urine deposits scattered over an area where natures assistants can go to work. The dung beetle, with 30,000 species across the globe, and the specialist methane munching methanotrophic bacteria, and a hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere that oxidises and breaks methane apart. And it isn’t just cattle who are the bad actors here, it is the industrialised cattle, the CAFO mob who should be under close scrutiny, and not just for methane but for nitrogen and ammonia too.
What is often overlooked with these CAFO units is that most of the feed is grown off-site, sometimes even off-continent. It may also contain GMO feedstuffs and will certainly involve significant food miles, farming costs, biocides and NPK applications to grow the food to feed the cows.
We just entered “There’s a hole in the Bucket” Territory here, which is all the cows fault of course.
Cows take a lot of blame for methane emissions but this is mainly true when we talk about Industrial type CAFO facilities where cows are kept indoors with dense populations. Their urine and dung is combined and fed into storage lagoons to evaporate or get transported off site. The methane that ends up evaporating into the atmosphere takes some water with it too and this has the effect of concentrating the remaining slurry even further
Cows kept outdoors in pastures and rotated in a regulated manner randomly drop their waste where it is spread by their movements. Once on the ground the methane is drawn down into the soil by insects and bacteria. There is no methane signature from the cows manure managed in this way.
In the US Humans generate 106,000 tons of city produced compost each day, while US cows generate 2.4 million tons each day. When it comes to supplying award winning compost, cows take the gold medal every time
This is by economic sector only, as though the only valid way to inform policy is through the lens of economists.
That 3.7% slice of the piece labelled ‘Cow Burps’ comes at what cost? Imagine a world with no butter, cream, milk, yoghurt, cheese, or beefsteak and try and imagine what you are going to give people to eat in place of it all. Insects? Laboratory constructed flesh? Soya beans?
Now take all the cows away and your soil can no longer grow beans.
11 Farming – Business as Usual
11.1 3M-Alchemy Today – Turning Maize – into Meat – into Money
Animals kept indoors and fed on manufactured corn-based products convert those feedstuffs into proteins (meat in this case) which can be measured in terms of efficiency in the conversion.
- For chicken the efficiency is around 30%,
- For pork that conversion ratio is around 10%
- For beef it is an appalling 4%.
This percentage means little until you understand that it means that in each case only 30/10/4% of the protein from the original maize food stock is turned into meat on each animal.
The protein left over from the feed simply produces Poo. This not a measure of efficiency it is a catalogue of a disastrous inneficiency, its like a sleight of hand trick, an illusion.
This whole weird world of growing something to transport halfway round the globe to feed an animal that is going to get minimal value from the product and produce a lousy 4% return on protein investment is apparently the UN, USDA, EPA, Corporate model for “feeding the world”.
When the USDA produce the stats though we see a very different use pattern emerge and I dont see “Feeding the World”on it.
Taking it one stage further I find it despicable that we allow this to happen under the pretext of “Feeding the World” when just under a billion people still go to sleep on an empty stomach.
For the last 75 years our global leaders have been pushing the production of food way beyond sustainability and into the realm of science fiction. The section on desertification at the beginning of this piece should be a warning enough to everyone in the sector, but we are too busy arguing between ourselves if climate change is real or is Co2 or Nitrogen really to blame for all our problems.
Today’s farmers have been pushed to supply ever more “Product” using topsoil that is slowly but surely becoming exhausted. Adding powders and liquids to the crops or the soil is only effective in the short term, and its necessary to do it all over again next year or for the next crop.
Ploughing and tilling the land releases carbon from the soil, starting the cycle of loss, and crops planted in rows which leave bare soil between them only helps maintain that loss.
The constant chemical “battle” to keep crops fed with NPK, (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) while keeping them free from weeds, pests and fungi does nothing at all to replace what is being taken out of the soil each and every year…the Humus or SOM, soil organic material.
When we keep repeating this cycle every year we will hit the wall, the one between our farms and a barren sterile desert. It came as a shock to me to learn that the US is losing topsoil ten times faster than the natural replacement rate, and if you think that is bad, both China and India are losing theirs thirty to forty times faster still.
Globally, 1.5 billion hectares of former farm land have been abandoned in the last 40 years
Europe is marginally better in this regard, but the same farming practices they use in the US are gradually becoming normal in Europe too, and the damage to topsoils has already started.
No topsoil = No Farmers = No Food.
You can put as much NPK on the land as you like (or can afford) and it will not make a difference, in fact too much will at some point become toxic.
GMO won’t save us, nor will labs or greenhouses, there will be 10 billion people on the planet by the year 2100, and they will all want food. Besides what is the point of all this when there is a perfectly good solution to the problem right under our noses?
If Professor John Crawford is right, and we continue business as usual, we only have 60 years of topsoil left, which might sound gloomy in the extreme, but what if we could turn the whole thing around in less than a decade? What if we could stop desertification in its tracks and move to regenerative farming, where we put more back in the soil than we take out of it?
11.2 Farmer versus nature?
We have somehow managed to change farming from being a part of nature into being the enemy of nature. Industrial scale agriculture, especially the livestock management has become a just another corporate investment opportunity and a very expensive one for both the farmer and the environment.
Anyone who dares argue with that position is classed as being a Luddite and anti-science, and I can think of several other branches of science in which the same accusation is being used to control dialogue today.
In the 1930s there were +/- 6.5 million working farms in America but today its about 1 million and getting fewer by the day. If CAFO’s are allowed to control the landscape, we will not get those farmers back again.
When that happens maybe 2 or 3 corporations in the whole of America will control 95% of the global food supply, which is similar to what is happening in the seed industry, with 4 large corporations controlling the global market.
11.3. Some statistics
In his 2017 book ‘Kiss the Ground’ by Josh Tickell, the author has a conversation with a hardworking US farmer. Quoting the farmer himself, he owns 2000 acres on which he currently grows field corn (Maize), primarily because he gets a guaranteed sale price from the government (At the time of the interview).
His harvest was actually used as follows: –
- 43% Animal Feed*.
- 28% Ethanol (Fuel).
- 13% Export.
- 5% processed food, corn syrup etc.
- 5% Industrial Chemicals and items like Bio-Degradable cups etc.
The farmer concerned had a “relatively small” farm by today’s standards, and by his records each acre requires 140 lbs of Nitrogen (Ammonium Nitrate), 60 lbs of phosphate (Phosphorus) and 80 Lbs of potash (Potassium) per year
I started to do a calculation of the cost to the farmer that had to foot the bill.
In 2017 the NPK alone was close to $300,000, who knows what the cost of 2.7 tonnes of biocides came to. Then I came across this piece about rising prices of ‘farm inputs’, as they are called.
Note that the 2.7 tonnes of Biocides used on this 2000-acre farm are applied for the sole purpose of killing, Insects, weeds, and fungi. What do we now expect to happen to all of that micro-life that takes place under the surface in the topsoils?
3 pounds of pesticides are sprayed for each American, every year. The total of 1 billion pounds used in the US each year is now starting to indicate serious health problems.
Each Year 3 pounds of pesticides are sprayed
for each American alive
A total of 1 billion pounds used in the US each year is now starting to indicate serious health problems.
Maps are pounds of glyphosate per Square mile between 1992 and 2015
A study in which pregnant mothers were tested for their levels of organophosphates went on to monitor the children they gave birth to at ages one, two, three, five and seven. For each increment of rising exposure to the mothers while pregnant, the IQ of the children dropped by 1.4% and their working memory tests dropped by 2.8%
A large number of studies have been conducted into relationships between pesticide exposure and population health issues, and a number of them show a direct co-relationship between birth defects related to pesticides.
Who is accountable for this murderous toxicity? Government? FDA? USDA? Does anyone even care about the American people anymore?
11.4 The ‘resistance’ movement?
Liberal applications of NPK are not selective, the crops get a boost but so do the weeds, and by golly we have the technology to fix that too. Enter the chemical cavalry, and there are thousands of versions of this army in all strengths and toxicities. We go to work with tankers full of an assortment full of biocides, spraying the weeds morning noon and night.
Enter mother nature, with her very strong will to live, and the evolution of these weeds and pests go into overdrive to build versions of the weeds and pests that are resistant to the chemical attacks. The solution? Make stronger biocides and spray more often!
In amongst all this death and destruction the insects that feed on the decaying vegetation and the smaller animals and insects that live in this environment begin to become a nuisance to man and his livestock. This brings sickness and disease into the spotlight, so we counter those with increasingly heavier doses of antibiotics and old Mother Nature fights them with a counter resistance to the antibiotics… in both man and beast.
I find this dance of death ludicrous in the extreme, and so do an increasingly large number of people, including farmers themselves. But Profits are soaring and shares are changing hands at higher and higher prices, and neither the corporations or their shareholders will ever have to pick up the cost to the environment or the people of the world
11.5 The Corporate top 10
When it comes to safety violations Agribusiness corporations have an impressive record since 2000.
The results here have been filtered to reflect safety violations in the Agribusiness sector for each corporation.
** I just put this column in for a laugh
Farming has been promoted as an industry rather than an extension to nature itself, and like most industries in the 21st century the focus is on economics. In the case of farming the public are told that its “all about feeding the world”, yet the evidence says not.
Since WW2 agriculture has been bombarded with new innovations, machinery, and chemical solutions to “conquer” the weeds and pests that destroy a farmers bottom line. In the short term we can see that while some of this innovation has been very effective, but the strategies of monoculture, irrigation, and chemical inputs has been extremely damaging in the long term
Globally, 1.5 billion hectares of former farm land have been abandoned in the last 40 years
All this after 2 marvellous “Green Revolutions”? This is not something to boast about, nor are the two maps above, of the US and its addiction to biocides. In the 15 years between 1992 and 2017 the situation seems to be completely out of control.
The chemical inputs that have created this entire situation have not been subjected to independent research and scrutiny for safety. We simply allow the industries that make the product, bring it to market with little in the way of robust safety testing and we are happy to take their word for it that everything is OK.
It often takes many years to gather enough data to understand the effect of chemicals on humans, and for many people the studies and remedies will arrive too late to be of any use. This is a site that has gathered studies from around the world over a prolonged period of time. The reports are all linked to the original research papers and focus on cancers and their relation to pesticides. There are over 500 studies here and as far as I can see not one of them would make a great advertising case for the safety of pesticides.
Recently we have seen Nitrogen take over the role of villain, especially in the UK and Netherlands, where they have even appointed a Stikstof Minister (Stikstof = Nitrogen in Dutch). There is barely a news bulletin on any Dutch TV channel that does not refer to the “Stikstof crisis” at the moment…so what is all this new fuss about?
It is claimed that nitrogen is poisoning the environment, especially in the areas where “Agriculture clashes with Nature”, ignoring the fact that farmers, and the rest of us are a part of Nature itself.
Excess nitrogen in topsoils, rivers and ocean run offs comes from 2 main areas.
12.1 Excessive application of artificial fertilisers.
Nitrogen is made in a factory claimed to be the biggest fertiliser factory in N.W. Europe at Sluiskil, NL.
In addition to knocking out 4.5 Million tons of Fertiliser each year it uses a mere 2 billion cubic metres of natural gas to help make it[ Gas now reported to be 4 times the price as it was in 2021], so farmers will be in for a treat soon no doubt.
In this article from 2020 this factory seems to have ‘reduced’ its Co2 emissions from a mere 3.8 billion tons in 2017 to a remarkably low figure of 3.6 billion tons in 2018. Only around 10% of the fertiliser made is used in the Netherlands, the rest is exported. Lets hope they exported the gas bill too.
12.2 The Application of concentrated animal slurry.
Large numbers of cows are now being held indoors late for longer and longer periods. It is moving in that direction in Europe, although it hasn’t quite reached the stage of the chillingly named American style CAFO’s, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
Being confined indoors requires animals to drop their urine and dung through a drainage system into large tanks below ground. This itself is unnatural, as animals free ranging out of doors do not drop manure in the same place at the same time, it is scattered over a larger area and is absorbed into the topsoil in a less concentrated way, the natural way, over a longer time period.
By contrast, this concentrated slurry, in the Netherlands for example, is injected into the topsoil with one of these: …..
This is the agricultural equivalent of carpet bombing.
A highly concentrated slurry injected into the top soils in neat lines a few inches apart. Natural patterns of dung spreading by cows grazing outdoors are vastly different to what is happening above.
Almost every square inch of the land that is injected in this manner receives a dose of concentrated ammonia/ nitrate mix that is the product of maybe hundreds of cows kept indoors for hundreds of days all injected into a pasture in a single day. Boom! What price that finely tuned ecosystem that lays under the surface facing that kind of chemical bombardment?
The tanks that catch this slurry have to be ventilated to prevent methane build up, and that has the effect of concentrating the slurry. Get up close and personal to this system and the smell is a cross between turpentine and creosote, and very much stronger than any cowpat I have ever trod in.
Where does the methane go? In some cases, its captured and used as a fuel, in other cases it just vents to the atmosphere. The technology to capture it and use it is well known and developed years ago…but it’s expensive.
Also worth a mention here is that the cattle urine mixed in here is the major source of Ammonium and Nitrogen, not the dung itself.
In Europe farmers are now being encouraged to keep their animals penned indoors, pumped up with concentrated feed. Levels of antibiotics are higher in proportion to the increased risk of infections spreading in such a confined space and in return we get milk and meat with traces of pharmaceutical products in it.
What happens to their pasture? It is seeded with grasses that are selected for fast growing [GMO?] and contain no ‘weeds’. On a regular basis, up to 5 times a year, the grass is mown down as low to the ground as possible and carted away. To achieve this rapid regrowth between cutting, regular feeds of nitrogen must applied.
In the Netherlands there are several grass drying facilities where the moisture content is reduced, the excess water sent up in the air as steam, and the dryed grass is wrapped in enormous plastic rolls that are trucked back to the farmers for feed. I wonder if the natural gas energy needed to make this happen or the harvesting and transport emissions that follow it are taken into consideration when the “Nitrogen Crisis” stories fly around the media.
This entire intervention is in the name of production. Many farmers have now become industrialists, and any idea of duty of care to the land or the animals has been wrapped up in PR, it is “Man versus Nature” all over again.
Apparently raw nitrogen and ammonia are polluting areas of “Nature” in the Netherlands and it is all the fault of the cows, with little mention of the plant down the road turning out 4.500.000 tons of Nitrogen every year, or the feed miles travelled, or the millions of m2 of plastic packaging materials [made from oil], which is used once and thrown away.
We add nitrogen fertilisers to soil to boost crop yields, and not surprisingly it also boosts weed yields to. Now we are on the chemical treadmill, we now need to add weedkillers to the equation, and of course the increased weed population brings other pests with it too, enter the pesticides. Once on this treadmill its almost impossible to get off, remarkably similar to drug dependence and addiction. In fact the only real way to get off it is to quit farming altogether for some.
I just read that in these trouble times, NPK and some pesticide prices are likely to increase by as much as 100% this year. I bet they are, and who benefits from this? The Farmers? The consumers? The Nature?
13. The Conclusions
For 10,000 years man has been attempting to farm land and provide food for growing populations. The populations have been growing because there has been a plentiful food supply, and since the Industrial Revolution and the 2 world wars, which created mechanised farming and chemical interventions, our ability to feed people has increased. The quality of the food has declined dramatically though.
Vast areas of farmland across the globe have been ruined since the Industrial Revolution, almost beyond repair. The cause? Two Green Revolutions. The first one, 1960’s was all about selling Farm machinery (+ the fuel and oil to run it) plus huge amounts of synthetic NPK, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
This was a direct result of the end of WW2 when US industry didn’t have a war to supply anymore. American Corporations, who had been coining it for nearly a decade, simply had to turn Tank assembly lines into Combine harvester lines, and the derivatives of Mustard gas and Zyklon B into herbicides and pesticides. The CIA even imported a large number of former Nazi scientists after the war to help with the tasks at hand.
Farmers found themselves growing purely for quantity, and to achieve this, 30% extra land was put under the plough, 2 crops in 1 season became commonplace and a massive increase in the amount of man-made fertilizers and biocides had to be applied. High yield crops were bred, machinery improved and much larger harvests were achieved, but the fertility of the soil was being maxxed out. The organic materials were used up and replaced with chemicals in various formats, many of which became toxic over the long term.
Life below ground turned out to be much more complex than most people knew back then so this life deep within the soil became an inconvenience, another example of the biggest luddite of them all, Old Mother Nature, getting in the way of industrial progress.
Corporations cannot take out patents on Old Mother Nature…even now, so there had to be a way round the obstacle.
Same chemicals, same industrial farming and in fact now some of the chemicals were bound hand and foot to the seeds themselves, like Round-Up Ready Maize and Soya Bean, which of course can be patented
With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight we can now see that Green Revolution1 was primarily about capturing the agricultural marketplace and filling it with machinery and artificial Fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. That is when the world’s first topsoil victims fell, and farmers all over the world had to quit their land and take up begging for a living.
Green Revolution2, the GMO revolution, was all about patents, and patents are all about controlling the market…in this “Free-Market Economy”that we do not live in. (Does a truly Free Market Economy allow the price of corn to be fixed by traders on Wall Street?)
Year by year millions of acres of what was once beautiful fertile soil is being turned into barren sand and rock, that will take decades to repair, assuming we ever get the chance.
- Business as Usual has to stop, farming and all things connected to our food production has to be completely turned upside down.
- Chemical additives should be eliminated completely.
- All farmlands must have a covering of Green, living breathing plant material, and a no-plough/no-till culture applied
- The revision and regeneration of the worlds soil resources must be given priority over all else.
An all-inclusive regenerative agriculture, a way of doing things that puts back more than it takes out. The word holistic has been applied but I prefer wholistic, it starts with the notion that farmers, and their customers are all a part of nature too and are all dependent on each other.
First and foremost, the new approach must treat the soil like the living organism that it is. This requires a green cover over all soils on a permanent basis, and where animals are concerned their grazing of pasture must be managed to copy the lessons we have learned from the Bison and Wildebeest.
Cows themselves are not the problem, they are in fact the solution. The problem is the way we manage them. A growing number of agricultural scientists believe that cows can be a powerful part of the solution.
Biologist/Ecologist Allan Savory learned his lesson the hard way, a very hard way. This video is the key to the answer and I urge you to spend 22 minutes watching it. The video is 9 years old, and has had 5.5 million viewers, yet still global corporations and governments are selling the machines, GMO’s and toxins that are pushing our animals out of the picture, bringing destruction to the land, and removing farmers from their livelihoods.
Those people that study regenerative agriculture have demonstrated clearly that the Industrial/CAFO/Factory type of animal farming in use is indeed a net producer of Co2 and methane gas. We have no argument with that, it makes perfect sense. Now change the method, with slightly fewer cows, and as soon as they are put back on pasture and allowed to imitate the wandering herds of days gone by, the roles are reversed. Co2and Methane are no longer emitted, they are captured and stored underground, and used as food for our crops, and create a vast reservoir for water storage, and a massive carbon sink at the same time.
An ideal scenario would be to set realistic targets for SOM content in soils that get progressively higher each year aiming to get the content somewhere between 5% and 7%.
At this point we are drawing down carbon that was put into the atmosphere hundreds of years ago, and certainly more than what is being put into the atmosphere each year from now on.
The short water cycles we have spoken about begin to repair themselves, water storage in the soil increases in direct proportion to the amount of carbon stored in the ground, kick-starting the local weather patterns, and building lasting resistance to drought.
“WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH CARBON IN OUR SOIL.
FIX THAT AND EVERYTHING GETS BETTER”
It must also be taken into consideration that not all farms or farmers are the same, and we must avoid massive interference from governments and business sector to force and control the transition. Farmers need access to finance and customers, and a desire to build a better system, free of worry and debt. Farming is hard eough work as it is without the constant pressure of “Losing the Farm”
What works on one farm in one county may not work in an identical farm in another county, or even country. Each farmer needs to find for themselves what works best for them and their stock and produce. There are tens of thousands of small family run farms out there that are managing to earn a decent living from small well-run enterprises that do not require a shed full of machinery and a $million worth of chemicals to survive.
We need to encourage MORE farmers and farm businesses to set up, not less. They can supply local communities and members of those communities are now becoming shareholders in the local farms. All of the material I have read about such businesses supports the concept of healthy, pesticide free meat, and produce, grown locally. Well run and planned farmsteads actually produce more food than we can imagine.
A long-standing hero of mine, Jean-Martin Fortier who runs a farm of 0.8 hectares takes you through the numbers in this short video
This is not a lifestyle choice it is a matter of survival. Co2 is increasing, the data shows it, carbonic acid is already having a negative impact on the phytoplankton and when they are gone from the oceans the next great extinction is just a matter of time.
The solution to this is to put 800 billion tons of Co2 back in the soil where it came from and where it belongs. We will then be back in the position we were in 10,000 years ago in terms of food security
I was just trying to put this piece to bed to publish it this Sunday and somebody pointed this article from yesterday’s Guardian on the subject of land about ready to give up the ghost, “Drought threatens England’s fruit and vegetable crop next year, says report”.
I rest my case.
The next time you are told by your government, wherever you live, that there is a Co2 crisis, a nitrogen crisis, a PFOS crisis, or a climate crisis, it might pay to stop and consider that maybe we are being bombarded by crises to keep our minds occupied, to keep us worried and insecure, and to make bloody good and sure we don’t see what is really happening on planet Earth.
I want to thank Josh Tickell for his marvellous treasure of a book called Kiss the Ground, published in 2017 by Simon and Schuster (ISBN 978-1-5011-7025-6).
Much of what I have written here is as a result of reading that book, but the greater part is as a result of being raised in a family of very keen gardeners. In fact, they were a lot more than just gardeners. My grandfather, and his son, my favourite uncle both grew almost everything that was put on their dining tables. They had an encyclopaedic knowledge of nature and the land around them with strong connections to the farmers that worked it. For my part, I have lived in the countryside for 40 of my 74 years, the last 26 years in The Netherlands, literally surrounded by farmers and countrymen and immersed in the things that they do to make a living.
That said, Kiss the Ground taught me a lesson or two………. And I have tried to put those lessons in here.
Just for good measure, “Kiss the Ground” the Movie is now available on a variety of platforms, and free to anyone with a Netflix account. For the others this trailer explains how
Other books that helped me shape this piece, and with many thanks to all who wrote them
Hidden Agendas – John Pilger
Oxygen, the Molecule That Made the World – Nick Lane
The 6th Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert
The Flooded Earth – Peter D ward
Out of Thin Air – Peter D ward
Deconstructing Monsanto – Chris Kanthan
Seeds of Deception – Jeffrey M Smith
The World According to Monsanto – Marie-Monique Robin
Seeds of Deception – Jeffrey M Smith
The Market Gardener – Jean-Martin Fortier
Mini-Farming, Self-Sufficiency in ¼ acre – Brett L Markham
A Short History of Progress – Ronald Wright
Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Propaganda Blitz – David Edwards and David Cromwell (Media Lens)
Trust Us We’re Experts – Sheldon Rampton & John Stauber
LINKS in order of appearance
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