Farm Progress

We now face two agricultures

The long-term model is exploitive and degenerative, while the new model is regenerative and more profitable.

Walt Davis 1, Editor

December 5, 2018

4 Min Read
We now have the knowledge to build soil rather than destroy it. The choice is yours.Alan Newport

I have been following a thread on a discussion group to which I belong, the subject of which is what happens when well-intentioned but poorly informed people who command a wide audience get involved with setting policy.

The larger underlying topic is the spread of industrial type agriculture into third-world countries. Some wealthy and very influential people are promoting this to "help the small farmers." The rationale is that with modern fertilizers and pest-control materials, the subsistence farmers of Africa could produce much more and live better lives.

I would suggest that these people look at what happened in Mexico and in India when the "Green Revolution" took place in these countries in the 1970s and 1980s. Production, especially grain, increased dramatically and the world was atwitter with the success of modern agriculture replacing antiquated methods of production.

Things looked very good for a number of years before major problems began to appear: Abundant grain brought low prices, which along with the expense of the new required inputs made small farmers unable to compete. In India and Mexico they went bankrupt by the hundreds of thousands, lost their land and moved to city slums. Larger farmers survived but with greatly reduced profit margins and increased risk. The soil deteriorated as soil organic matter and soil life were destroyed more quickly and pests of all sorts exploded as biodiversity was laid waste.

Industrial agriculture, with its prime focus being "kill the pests," badly needs lessons in basic ecology.

It also needs education on how economics work in the real world. For example, how is real wealth created? We have been poorly served by the very common philosophy of taking the short-term gain and letting the long-term take care of itself.

The academics counseling farmers to get rid of livestock and replace their manure with high-analysis chemical fertilizer and the ones preaching "get big or get out" were leading agriculture into unknown regions. These prophets no more understood the real situation than does the Judas goat leading sheep to slaughter.

We producers fell in line to adopt all the new practices and materials because we were assured that they were "research proven." We should have been suspicious; anyone who has worked with land and animals for more than fifteen minutes knows that if something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

Industrial agriculture has had a 60-70 year run and its negatives are rapidly overwhelming its positives. However, this demise may be good news because there is now a fast-growing body of producers who, with help from each other and their own intellects, are hammering out a practicing philosophy instead of a "system." This new philosophy changes the mining process that industrial agriculture has been into a regenerative biological process. Applying the new philosophy (which in part is quite old) regenerates natural resources rather than consuming them. This has to happen! We can no longer afford to give up two bushels of soil for every bushel of corn harvested. It also needs to happen so that agriculture once again becomes wealth generating and a good way to live and raise a family.

Regenerative agriculture is spreading because it addresses all of the components of the soil-plant-animal-wealth-human complex that makes up an agricultural operation.

Productivity is necessary but it must be profitable in two ways: It must be fiscally profitable (put money in the bank) and it must be biologically profitable. It must strengthen rather than deplete the health of the soil-plant-animal parts of the complex. It must build biological capital as well as fiscal capital. It is this biological capital – the healthy soil, the healthy plants, the healthy animals – that is the true wealth of a farm or ranch.

Biological capital is what produces productive soils, healthy water cycles, healthy productive animals, and healthy bank accounts. It is what allows us to substitute management for purchased inputs. The key is to create the conditions that foster healthy, productive crops of both plants and animals rather than attempting to force production through the use of inputs from outside the local ecological system.

There are producers in many parts of the world that have excellent production with little or no expense for fertilizer or pest control of any sort. The key mindset is to manage in a way that promotes what you want rather than fighting against what you don't want.

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