A Growing Problem: Agriculture, Climate, and Trump

[NB: Check the byline, please, thanks! /~Rayne]

I’ve been thinking about the Green New Deal and how policy will meet the turf when it comes to agriculture.

Fortunately I have a farmer in the family I could ask about one issue in particular — that of tillage.

Average Americans munching away on their toasted bagel at breakfast, their grilled cheese sandwich at lunch, and their crispy nachos at dinner don’t think about the amount of soil preparation — tillage — which goes into the crops they consume over the course of three square meals. They not only don’t think about all the fuel and oil soil prep requires, they don’t think about the additional passes over a field for seeding, weed control, and harvest to follow, all of which require more fuel and oil, and chemicals derived from or with oil in the case of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer.

There’s been an increasing amount of interest in low-till and no-till farming as part of conservation farming because of the amount of oil required along with concerns that tilling may do more harm than not when turned-up top soil is washed or blown away.

An equally important benefit is carbon sequestration. In the simplest terms, plants are carbon capture mechanisms. They take in carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O), and nutrients to build tissues. The produce we harvest is carbohydrate — carbon, hydrogen, and water stitched together in a compound we consume. What’s left in the field after our harvest, all that plant waste matter, is mostly carbon compounds lying on the surface of the soil.

When left undisturbed, plant waste matter left to decay releases nutrients, provides mulch to reduce moisture evaporation, stabilizes top soil against erosion by wind and water, while acting as a carbon sink. The more carbon we can sequester in organic material, the less carbon there is in the air in the form of CO2. No-till farming allows the carbon sink to accumulate rather than disturbing it with cultivation which prevents its accumulation.

Not to mention the soil develops a more complex microbiome freeing additional nutrients from the earth and the compost mixture above, potentially increasing nutrient value in crops.

No-till sounds like the method we should already be using as widely as possible, yes? Sadly, we aren’t.

The rate of no-till’s adoption has been problematic. It’s used more frequently in the U.S. than in Europe, but studies in Europe have been used to shape the approach to no-till’s adoption.

One issue affecting farmers attitudes is weed control. They end up using more herbicides on no-till which may offset any environmental gains made by reducing oil consumption. It’s not clear from the studies I’ve read whether the problem is weeds reducing crop yields — in the case of wheat, no-till results in a 5% reduction and in corn, 7.6% reduction — or if it is in part a long-held bias against weeds and for action to eliminate them.

The bias has been documented in research and appears to be based in education. Farmers with a higher level of education are less reluctant to adopt no-till, but these same farmers may be more efficient and not experience the same level of output reductions as less educated farmers.

There remain concerns about crop yields which could be mitigated with use of methods like allelopathic cover crops — like planting rye to winter over before planting another crop over it in the spring. Rye inhibits the growth of broadleaf weeds. Unfortunately, rye also interferes with corn productivity depending on when the corn is planted. A season like 2019 makes it very difficult to manage when planting will happen due to the amount of moisture from snow melt and rain.

There aren’t many identified alternative allelopathic crops either, for use as cover or not. It’s an area ripe for research but we all know how the Trump administration is toward any science which may affect corporate donors like Big Ag and Big Pharma (the latter has strong overlap with the former).

All this brings me to that conversation I had with the farmer in the family.

They grow one fairly simple crop: hay. That’s it. That’s their specialty, that’s all they’ve done on their small farm for decades. The entire family pitches in some way and they earn enough to pay the property taxes on the small farm and the family home along with covering home heating, electricity, and maintenance. Not big money but subsistence level.

I asked about no-till and if they could use it on their farm. They explained the type of soil they had — gave me a name for it which I won’t share because it can too easily be used to identify a part of the country. This type of soil didn’t do well with no-till, they explained, while looking at me skeptically because I’m a suburbanite.

This set me off researching soil types. I didn’t know there were more than 20 in my own county and they were all different from the soil types in the subject farmer’s county

Look for a soil survey of your own home county; it’s highly educational and may even explain somethings you might never have noticed or attributed to something else. Like the layout of towns and cities and their relative organization compared to soil types; I had NO idea that the location of my town wasn’t dictated solely by a couple rivers’ paths but by the adjacent soil. Some areas that remain heavily wooded also happen to be near soil which is difficult to farm and/or in flood plains; other areas which have great soil remain wide open, undeveloped, and under cultivation. Still other areas which have crappy soil according to old maps were built up with businesses and residential developments.

But in the course of researching soil I learned something unfortunate: the farmer in my family was wrong about the type of soil on which they farm, or they were misled/misinformed about the type of soil on which they farmed, or they didn’t want to answer truthfully about the soil because I was some lefty suburbanite nosing around about no-till farming.

I don’t think I want to ask any more questions of them for fear of stirring up a rat’s nest in the family. But I do want to stir the pot a bit here, because this has proven to be a far more complex topic than the average American realizes yet depends on every day and agriculture policy will be critical to the Green New Deal.

Just looking into soil preparation to grow crops opened up a huge can of worms, touching on so many different issues.

Like culture — is some of the bias against no-till based in cultural identity which may prove resistant to change whether about farming techniques, agricultural policy, or the Green New Deal?

Like education — how will we ever develop more and better approaches to efficient, fossil fuel-free crop production without more and better education?

Like economics — can we provide enough incentives to pay farmers an offset for their reduced yields until they become practiced at no-till and other conservation farming techniques? Can we do it with carbon offsets?

Like politics — can we push back against Big Ag and Big Pharma so that farmers can migrate toward more aggressive conservation farming without corporate-captured policy working against them?

The worst part of this dive — which is by no means comprehensive and probably shot through with errors of my own understanding — is that the clock is ticking. We don’t have much time, like a handful of years. We don’t have enough research and we’re fighting the highly toxic combination of ignorance, bias, corporatism, and corruption to overcome this insufficiency.

The worst case could already be upon us if we look at the mid-section of this country. 51% percent of corn is late for planting, and with the rain expected from Texas through Iowa this week, the percentage may not shift much. This past week only saw 5% of the corn crop planted, while only 19% of the country’s soybeans have been sown.

Imagine a couple years of this, combined with the additional pressure Trump has placed on farmers by fomenting a trade war with China. What crops they’ve grown, especially soybeans, earmarked for export have gone unpurchased. In some cases they spoiled in this spring’s floods. Farmers who might have been on the bubble before and during the tariffs might not be able to swing the cost of late planting if it cuts into yields. How do farmers budget when the season is so out of whack that forecasting pricing let alone yields seems impossible?

Not to mention the cost of capital equipment like tractors. Farmers must already have slowed or halted their orders because tractor manufacturer John Deere is cutting production by 20%.

At what point do we begin to worry about global food shortages due to crop failures here in the U.S.? The U.S. is the largest producer of maize, which may take a particular beating this year due to the wet planting season.

What really gets my goat after reading about all the challenges farmers face trying to make a living using traditional or conservation farming techniques in the face of now-unavoidable climate emergency and unnecessary political hassles: that Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf course draws $80,000 in tax credits for farmers because his course keeps a handful of goats and a small hay patch within the course’s property. His “farm” may even receive more credits post-tariffs since it’s small scale and I’m not certain anyone is looking to see if Bedminster qualifies or not.

Enjoy those nachos while you can, folks.

This is an open thread. Bring all your non-Trump-Russia issues to this thread.

120 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    In west Texas, they’ll use winter wheat instead of rye, and they also may have cattle in the same field, because winter grazing isn’t a problem for the wheat. (And lots of center-pivot irrigation, which reduces the water use, but not enough. My mother said the worst thing they could have done for the Great Plains, besides steel plows, was irrigation.)

    • Rayne says:

      Apparently they use rye for grazing as well and the grazing suppresses some of the rye’s allelopathic ability. But timing is crucial to this process. Winter wheat as a cover crop is pretty common, used here in Michigan a lot, but I don’t think it has allelopathic ability and may constitute a weed itself if a farmer planted soys over it, for example.

      I have a suspicion that rotation would be critical to effective use of rye for weed reduction — like rye > soy > clover > corn > rye — with clover or some other nitrogen-fixing crop in the middle of the mix to reduce fertilizer use.

  2. Philo T says:

    Soil depletion is responsible for around 40% of all anthropogenic carbon emissions since the start of industrialization, and as Rayne says, farming could be a carbon sink instead of a carbon source.

    Dirt: the Erosion of Civilizations by David R Montgomery is an excellent, and horrifying, popular history of soil resources that I highly recommend. A search turned up a more positive sequel I need to read.

    No-till is in many ways a half-measure. Annual staples are simply not a sustainable source of calories over the long term.

    Wes Jackson’s The Land Institute has created a perennial wheat, but such research happens on a shoestring and deserves real funding.

    Eric Toensmeier’s Carbon Farming is a popular book & website collecting perennial-based carbon sequestration farming methods globally, and offers some real hope.

    The great thing about soil restoration is that even if we don’t stop climate change, we increase the water absorption of soils and our food resilience in the face of disruption.

    All we need is imagination, funding, and some new cookbooks.

      • Greg Hunter says:

        Classic Long Pig Genre. When people explain that they understand the “Big Picture”, I state “You know every civilization ends in cannibalism” That truly is the Circle of Life.

        PS Most do not acknowledge the “Big Picture” like the end of Rome, Chaco, Donner… et. al.

        Interesting times… We could mechanize farm life and release wildlife….Yellowstone Eco System needs to be free of the cow, while the only thing in in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas is GPS controlled Farming Devices…

        Comment on the Custer Gallatin Forest Management Plan, selecting Option D so the Bison can inhabit our America. It is in the Common Good.

  3. Eureka says:

    It feels like a long week already, and this post landed nicely on my person. Lots of meandering thoughts… the smell of silage… rolly bales (not sure if your farm fam bales it into the circles, or rolly bales as I fondly call them). I was leaning on your last explanation as to the soil-type discrepancy (reminds me of many folks I know), though later wondered if they’ve possibly tilled into a different layer/not sure how deep the layers are there.

    You went from soil to land use; I learned from land use to soil types: ‘everybody’ reuses the same lands for living and growing food. Lots of layers of American eras lay upon their priors, including especially those of Native Americans. Many archaeological finds/prior presences are discovered by tilling farmers…some would call their local college if they found something. I used to help with that stuff out on a couple farm sites (mainly ‘garbage’– broken projectile points, chert chip flakes/debitage, in highly acidic soil).

    (And on that topic, add the truism (in my observation) that it’s industrial land or soil uses that tend to disturb prior occupants’ graves. I tried to put some of them back together once ago, and am forever changed by the experience.)

    A friend was into biodynamic farming decades ago, not sure how that relates to any proposed better-practices going forward.

    This post was a deep memory excavator…

    • Eureka says:

      I realized why I liked this post so much: it made me feel outdoors, and in another life (one having nothing to do with the presence or possibility of the current admin and its overgrown ‘machine’ <—agentive, but robotic nonetheless).

      • Tom says:

        Reminded me of my younger years when I would spend summers and other times of the year working on a local farm, several hundred acres of mainly potatoes and tomatoes. I enjoyed the outdoors and being in tune with the rhythm of the seasons. In retrospect, I also did my share of heating the planet by driving a tractor up and down, up and down the fields belching out gas and diesel exhaust all through plowing, planting, and harvest seasons, not to mention the gallons of herbicide and pesticides I sprayed on growing crops–and also on myself, because when you’re young and stupid who wants to wear a protective rubber suit and filter mask in the heat and humidity of summer. Working on the farm also taught me valuable life skills, such as don’t pump diesel fuel into a gas engine tractor. I can still hear my bosses, Joe and his brother Sam, telling me: “If you do things right the first time, you only have to do them once.” Anyway, all that farmland was transformed into acres of suburbs years ago.

        • Eureka says:

          Memories and stories like these are so refreshing, with all of the mundane youthful escapades to boot (safety? what safety, lol). Proof-of-life: somehow we managed to survive both high-drama and failure to follow instructions.

          But then again, maybe it was one of the suit-and-mask wearers decades ago that ‘invented’ those weight-loss gimmick plastic sweat suits.

  4. Jaxon says:

    I was speaking with a friend at work and he turned me on to this process to recycle carbon from the atmosphere into fuel(gasoline, diesel). It’s at least carbon neutral and would prevent us from doing more damage until we can come up with better alternatives. Frustrating that there are so many answers out there just not the political will to use them.

    • Rayne says:

      I think this kind of research might be better used not in crop production because we don’t know what these genetic changes will do to produce. It would be a perfect approach to ethanol, though; if they can engineer plants that snag more carbon out of the air they can generate more sugars for conversion to renewable fuel.

      Very disturbing to see the Gates are behind this research, however, and pushing it on the African continent. Colonization rationalized by NIMBY to GMO research.

  5. schepaitis says:

    Someone should point out the differences between no till and organic no till. Obviously, any organic program would eschew the use of herbicides. Organic no till consists of the fall planting of a cover crop (usually hairy vetch) which grows into early winter and resumes growth very early in spring. The vetch is then killed with a roller crimper which leaves the nitrogen fixing roots in the ground. The top growth dies and forms a dense mat of mulch into which crops can be seeded with a drill. The program is not as easily adaptable to a mixed vegetable market farm like mine, but I am slowly working out the details as I convert to this. Aside from significant reductions in chemical use there is much less tractor time and the dense mat of mulch over time becomes a great carbon sink. I could go on about the benefits of this approach, but maybe someone else wants to pick up the ball here.

    • Rayne says:

      Nice to see you again and thanks for sharing about organic crop cover — vetch wasn’t mentioned at all in any of the articles I read for non-organic farming though I’ve seen it used.

      I didn’t spell out organic versus non-organic farming, perhaps naively assuming the community here understands that organic farms do not use chemical herbicides and pesticides and that non-organic farming remains the overwhelming majority of US agriculture.

      I wanted to focus on reducing fossil fuels when I began looking at agriculture, and both chemical herbicides and pesticides are derived from fossil fuels in whole or part. With more than 90% of US agricultural product sold produced by non-organic methods, I didn’t plan to look at organic.

      That said, organic has issues with fossil fuels, too, and I don’t think there’s adequate attention paid to the subject. Plastics are made of oil and any time organic farms use plastic to replace chemical herbicides and pesticides they are merely shifting oil around. Like plastic sheet mulch used to keep down weeds, or spun polyethylene row cover to keep out insects — it degrades in sunlight, breaks down under handling, and eventually becomes a new pollutant in the form of microplastic particulate. Or plastic used to create hutches for animals — how are these handled once they, too, have degraded under exposure to ultraviolet light?

      And vacuuming, like that done with strawberry plants, sucking up insects instead of using pesticides, is also problematic as the process consists of running a tractor up and down the rows. More oil.

      One answer to both non-organic and organic farming’s use of fossil fuels is a shift toward electric tractors, but manufacturing is slow to move on this. John Deere only showed an electric tractor as a concept in December 2016. Seems ridiculous we’ve had hybrid cars for more than a decade but still no hybrid tractors. There were hybrid concept tractors about ten years ago; we’re only now seeing them commercialized. I hope like hell it won’t take ten years for Deere’s all-electric tractor to reach commercialization from concept.

      Thanks again, look forward to hearing more about organic farming from you.

      • Philo T says:

        We are trying to do too much work with machines and synthetics, when that work should be performed by ecosystem services. Tweaking the current paradigm might move us from our current rate of about 20 fossil calories for each food calorie produced, but it won’t get us into generating net calories through agriculture.

        Compare that to integrated agricultural systems on the island of Java, where over 100m people eat mostly local food on an island smaller than Britain. Their farmers are generating 20 calories of food for 1 calorie of input.

        Ducks and fish do a lot of their weeding, not vacuum cleaners.

        Focusing on how to produce giant fields of monoculture crops efficiently is not going to result in a sustainable system.

        • Rayne says:

          Ducks are great if your culture eats ducks. Fish are great if you’re eating a lot of rice. This is a HUGE ask of a multi-cultural country like the US; this works in Java because the majority of the population is closer to a monoculture. It’s dominated by two main ethnic groups, Javanese and Sundanese, and the largest percentage of immigrants to Java are Asian/Asian-heritage. They appreciate and expect ducks and fish as part of their diets. In contrast I’ll bet the overwhelming majority of Americans regardless of ethnic heritage have never eaten a duck or a duck egg. Fish is more common but there’s still the problem of scale and the crops fish would service.

          Jesus, I can’t even imagine how many ducks we’d need. It’d pose an entirely new set of problems like infrastructure to contain ducks.

          That said, I have seen ducks used to keep insects down at a South African vineyard. The approach works on a limited basis. I’m also aware of research studying freshwater prawns fed on nutrient-rich runoff from farming — not certain if they would also eat pests. How can we do something like ducks-as-debuggers but using another approach which respects the cultures, crops, and ecosystems of this continent?

          • P J Evans says:

            Chickens and geese have also been used for that – though you need to keep them out of seedlings. (Wild birds also will eat some insect pests.)

            • Rayne says:

              The bottleneck will be labor. Imagine what it takes to contain 5000-10000 chickens in a corn field at one time.

              We really need immigrant labor; we already use quite a bit in agriculture now before shifting to increased conservation farming. Racist conservatives are in deep denial about this.

              • Amers says:

                quoting from Masanobu Fukuoka, Sowing Seeds in the Desert: Scientists have historically assumed that it is acceptable to control nature using human will. Nature is seen as the “outside world” in opposition to humanity, and this idea forms the basis of modern scientific civilization. But this fictitious “I” of Descartes can never fully comprehend the true state of reality.

                • Rayne says:

                  Humans are a part of nature and have been interacting with both animal and plant kingdoms to obtain what they desire to succeed. Picking the sweetest apple, harvesting and resowing that grain, domesticating and breeding the most receptive ungulates — it’s a feedback loop, all part of the interaction between humans and the rest of nature as part of nature for more than 10,000 years. Now we must be conscious of that role and what damage has been wrought by failing to remember our role within nature; ultimately what we did thoughtlessly we did to ourselves. If we have driven much of the planet to extinction, we’re next. We are at the cusp of a leap in consciousness when we begin to think as a collective single organism encompassing earth; we can’t make that leap until we come to grips with the damage we’ve done at a lower stage of awareness.

          • Philo T says:

            Real respect for tradition would involve eating “new foods.”

            The west coast should be eating camas bulbs and acorn flour grown on restored oak savannah if we had any respect for tradition.

            This is America, we can solve dietary change with TV cooking competitions. My grandma got most of her protein from squirrels. Dietary change IS our tradition.

            Less radical change would focus on beneficial insects. Multiple species of parasitic wasp have evolved to attack maize pests. They need
            Nectar-bearing flowers that I’ve heard will clog harvesters. So we spray pesticides rather than redesign the harvesters.
            In rangeland management, dung beetles can store a prodigious amount of carbon, but are highly susceptible to pesticides.

            You’re right that many practices are labor-intensive. The conservation corps came out of the New Deal, and a jobs guarantee would go great with a reinvigorated conservation corps.

            • P J Evans says:

              Most of that comment is pretty much “WTF”.
              (They don’t run harvesters through flowering fields. There’s nothing there TO harvest.)

              • Philo T says:

                You have to intercrop flowers with maize to attract the wasps. The wasps are tiny and need to be close to the maize to find pests.

                Mechanized maize harvesters choke on the flower stems. I’m talking heresay– this is where my last conversation with a maize farmer about this topic went.

            • Rayne says:

              West coast should NOT be eating camas bulbs if it interferes with First Nation’s diets. Cultural appropriation can destroy cultures as it finds new ways to colonize.

              This is America, which has a fucking hideous history of destroying other cultures by failing to respect their right to exist. I say that as a member of a people almost obliterated by whites who deliberately destroyed and stole my antecedents’ culture and nation.

              I’m not going to go along with advocacy for new ways to destroy for the sake of preserving destroyers.

              • bmaz says:

                WTF are camas bulbs anyway? The effort to look that up made me hungry for some cow. Burger it is!

                  • bmaz says:

                    I did look them up. Made me want to immediately eat a burger. Blech, I am not eating that flora.

                    • Rayne says:

                      Camas can be absolutely gorgeous. A writer/artist in Vancouver area shared a photo last week which was breathtaking. But they’re wild with limited in-the-wild cultivation by indigenous people, not ready for commercialization. Picking the flowers or digging up the plants may be stealing them from tribe members who’ve been caring for them in situ.

                      Bad enough indigenous people have to deal constantly with other indignities like “Why do Indians put burial grounds under golf courses?” Argh…

                    • Eureka says:

                      Great thread, Rayne, by Joanne Hammond. Encapsulates many issues I wish were more often part of broader conversation.

                      I have (as have, would assume, many others) used that line about ~How would you feel if someone went to the cemetery and dug up your grandparents (ETC., ETC.). Some faces of deep ~ empathy; others with hoo-boy indignance.

                    • Rayne says:

                      Yeah, makes me sick reading it, though, thinking of my own forebears who’ve been undisturbed up to now but may not remain so once my father passes on. I’m living that George Clooney movie The Descendants, with my dad in Clooney’s role. The rest of the family just wants to sell and with such a sale goes the old ones buried on the property — probably under a hotel or golf course.

                      p.s. The Descendants is a perfect example of whitewashing and erasure of indigenous. None of the major roles were cast with Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, or hapa people.

                    • Eureka says:

                      I’m sorry to hear that for your family. Funny thing was I was going to add before, on the topic of growing empathy, this less common version of Big Yellow Taxi, where Mitchell ends it with additional verse: big yellow tractor came and took away my house and my land (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJIuP7zEVeM). Eeks, may be literal with your family plot, if not in Mitchell’s sense.

                      With variable state laws and layered local ordinances, I wonder if they will ultimately have to be moved or cordoned (instead of built over).

                      Again, I am sorry to hear that. Bummer in many regards.

                    • Rayne says:

                      Thanks for that. Not exactly going to scale up from the looks of it, though. I’m amused at the site’s lack of warning about the deathcamas which can be mistaken for edible camas. LOL

                    • Eureka says:

                      LOL, all I can envision is a field of chipmunks (or whatever semi-subterranean creatures eat bulbs, like those of our now-deformed tulips (tho some new ones have shown up, ‘replanted’ over the years)). (Also deer chompering the leaves is not helpful.)

              • Philo T says:

                Ok, but you just said ducks/rice don’t respect American traditions. Please be more specific about the traditions you want to preserve. I’m obviously going a crap job at guessing.

      • schepaitis says:

        Thanks for your detailed reply.
        There is now available an excellent sheet mulch made of heavy duty paper which biodegrades over the season and leaves no rescue except carbon. Unlike plastic mulches, it doesn’t need to be wound up and discarded at the end of the season.
        As for reducing tractor use, I purchased an Italian made two wheel walk behind tractor 8 years ago and have not had my John Deere out of the barn more than once or twice since. The walk behind does everything I need with much less fuel and is more maneuverable. The next step for me would be to get the diesel model and use biodiesel for fuel.
        I would love someday to see a thread based on the mistaken notion that “organic farming can’t feed the world”, which I think is a falsehood that benefits those with vested interests.

        • Rayne says:

          Paper sheet mulch is exactly what I hope we’ll see used. I use brown kraft paper — cut from big yard waste bags — to cover my raised beds each spring before planting, then cover that with cocoa hulls (smells awesome when first laid down). The paper does a really great job suffocating any weed seeds already in the beds and the cocoa hulls do a nice job retaining moisture.

          Let me guess your Italian tractor doesn’t restrict you from fixing it yourself. That’s another problem we still have to address as part of GND, control of intellectual property so tight that farmers can’t repair their own equipment.

          Once upon a time all farming was organic — no corporate-made herbicides and pesticides. It’s just a matter of scaling up.

          • schepaitis says:

            On my farm, if it breaks, I fix it. No time or $ to do otherwise.

            As far as the scaling up idea goes, there are two different equations. Either one farmer grows more, or many more farmers each grow what one farmer can with sustainable methods. The second way is how humans have survived for millennia.

      • earthworm says:

        A good look at carbon farming and other methods, as of 2014, and one that outlines positive programs some dirt farmers have already undertaken, is Kristin Ohlson’s “The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet,” a 2014 Rodale Press book.

  6. harpie says:

    I always appreciate the topics, questions and depth with which you pursue them here, Rayne. Thank you for that.
    This topic in particular is SO important, and yet, my days seem destined to be spent pinging back and forth between all the breaking crises and the pervasive feeling of the sheer impossibility of even making a tiny dent in the work that needs to be done.
    …like, today:
    12:13 PM – 21 May 2019

    Thousands of immigrants forced into solitary confinement by ICE for being physically disabled or gay.

    If I ever hear another smug, self congratulatory American
    wondering how on earth all those “good Germans”
    could “allow” Hitler to happen,
    I expect the resulting explosion will be visible from space.

    • Rayne says:

      I have to get back to the topic of asylum refugees in illegal detention, especially after the death this week of another kid at the border. It’s on my list. Makes me sick knowing the deaths reported to date can’t possibly be all the deaths under Trump’s watch, that there have been more but they have been literally buried.

      • Jenny says:

        Yes, another death is always disturbing and disheartening. I cried.

        Morality is America’s biggest problem. We neglect children at risk, lock them up in cages, abuse and kill one another, let people go hungry, judge people by their skin color, spew fear and hate at those who are different, rip people off through greed and corruption, cheat and lie to get ahead and are war makers rather than peacemakers.

        Good news, this is all surfacing with the rising of the gunk to be exposed. Healing as a nation involves all people addressing the toxins within. The other good news is being civically engaged in order to create change. Change starts within. Change is created with We the People.

    • Eureka says:

      Related– add to the enormous list of this admin’s *dehumanizing programme,* blighting the rights and dignities of the vulnerable of the vulnerable. (Cruel aside, so many of the current staged situations depend upon W’s “Faith Based Initiative” having gotten government funds for religious groups to perform social services/ meet community needs.) Of course this does not end with the intersectionally vulnerable, and to continue and pivot harpie’s analogy, it does not end until we end it:

      ACLU: “BREAKING: The Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to allow taxpayer-funded shelters to turn away transgender people experiencing homelessness based on a number of factors, including the shelter provider’s religious views.”

      “Many transgender and non-binary people experience pervasive discrimination in the workplace and in housing, made even more heartbreaking by violence and rejection at home.

      Shelters funded by taxpayers should be open to all. Period.”

  7. Van McConnon says:

    I work in the cannabis industry. Our industry’s legal, gray and black markets account for one to two percent of electrical consumption in North America. The reason is that 75% of the cannabis consumed in the United States is grown indoors. Why is it grown indoors? Because it used to be illegal everywhere and once humans form a habit, it is hard to get them to try something new.

    The same is true for no-till agriculture. If you’ve ever worked a large grow, one of the most satisfying steps is tilling it and then running the dirt through your fingers.

    We need to break habits based on reason and the future of the planet and our species. We could stop cultivating cannabis indoors tomorrow and no till should be dominate. Need to change some minds.

    • Rayne says:

      Welcome to emptywheel. Thanks for the perspective from the cannabis industry; at one time Americans could have expected to see fields of hemp as a completely normal agricultural product for use in fiber production. But in a little over one lifetime that perspective changed. Last commercial hemp crop was in the late 1950s even though it had been grown for rope making during WWII.

      If we’re going to reduce plastics and tackle microplastic pollution, one of the first things that must go is polyester fabric. The largest source of microplastic is from poly fiber. We’ll need something to replace it and hemp seems a really good fit. We’ll have to radically change our perspective to realize this.

      Not certain what it will take to break attitudes about tilling. Cash incentives to make up the reduction in yields may not be enough. What will it take?

      • Van McConnon says:

        Long time lurker. Been reading Marcy since 2005. This is the first time I’ve posted.

        I think mandating that cannabis be sungrown is one of the simplest ways to immediately reduce electrical use by 1% to 2%. Cannabis is already heavily regulated in the states that are legal and this is a simple addition to the laws and regulations that already exist. Growing a pound of cannabis indoors consumes has the same carbon footprint as a car driving 2500 miles.

        • bmaz says:

          Hi Van, and welcome. Please comment more often. Hard to disagree with the thought that pot ought be grown outside and that it would save electricity. But think that is a general idea and it would be also far cheaper for many growers. But there have always been some very high end growers that would still use indoor hydroponic methods.

          If people really want to reduce electrical use, they would ban Bitcoin mining.

          • Amers says:

            I read that article about bitcoin mining in Wenatchee on the Columbia River. So crazy. The current banking system uses more kilowhatts, does it not?

        • Rayne says:

          Is that indoor farming carbon figure based on traditionally sourced electricity or on solar energy? I think we’re going to see increasing numbers of year-round indoor vertical farms using efficient LED lamps and hydroponics in concert with solar energy.

          At some point climate change will make crops difficult in some locations; they will have to move north and inland, and with that shift will come a need for climate control under cover because of the difference in natural daylight hours. Here in Michigan we might have nearly 16 hours of sunlight at the height of summer compared to 13.5 hours in the middle of Florida, but our growing season is nearly four months shorter — average last frost where I am now is this next week. It may be warmer earlier/later in the year but the volatility is only going to get worse; there was snow north of here last week for example. Better to increase efficiency indoors and cannabis and hemp both are opportunities to experiment to improve techniques for other crops.

          • Van McConnon says:

            Even if you go with a controlled environment glass house, your energy consumption will be dramatically lower than an indoor grow using artificial lights. This is a big topic and I have to cook dinner.

              • Van McConnon says:

                I didn’t like that article. Seemed like marketing for a lighting company.

                Using electricity to generate light, cool the equipment, dehumidify a grow space, and maintain a climate indoors is inherently less efficient. Not only does it consume energy, it provides light that is inferior to the light the sun provides. It is true that hydroponic growing is 75% more water efficient than traditional soil systems, but growing outdoors or in a greenhouse does not preclude the use of hydroponics.

                Using solar to run an indoor grow is crazy. My rough estimate is that it will take eight acres of solar to drive one acre of indoor canopy. That is not an efficient use of space or energy. The other thing is that every five to eight years you have to replace your lighting/cooling/dehumidification gear as it is wears out. Suns got another five billion years.

                I think we would be better off focusing on moving the food shorter distances and using electric vehicles to do it.

                When you are talking about photosynthesis, the sun wrecks all comers and it does it for free.

                • Rayne says:

                  You’re ignoring the cost of freight, regardless of type (fossil fuel or electric); more handling is more cost, more loss due to shrinkage. These indoor systems will optimize both space (because multiple harvests can be planted vertically) and transportation. The green roof movement may help this effort — why truck vegetables to grocery stores and restaurants in cities when they can use the acreage across rooftops to grow indoors?

                  I also don’t think indoor growing with LED lamping using solar collection precludes growing under natural daylight — use the standard 12 hour daylight in a greenhouse, then use LED lamps to extend the light exposure 6-12 hours, realize yields in a much shorter growing season. Oh, and use different LED wavelengths to control plant output which is something that can’t be done using natural daylight outdoors.

                  Look, not every crop should be grown indoors. The overwhelming majority of grains should be grown outside. But traditional truck farm crops should be transitioned to market garden model, close to the point of consumption to reduce transport — and for necessary transport-safe packaging.

                  • Van McConnon says:

                    I can move one pound of marijuana 2500 miles for the same amount of energy it takes to grow it indoors and that is assuming I only move one pound at a time.

                    Growing cannabis indoors is a disaster. I feel guilty that I have burned so much coal and gas to grow weed.

                    Most efficient lettuce grow I ever saw was a greenhouse using aquaponics to feed the crop using a irrigation system powered by solar panels. Even the fans were solar powered. They sold the tilapia and the lettuce

                    • Rayne says:

                      If I had the wherewithal I would do vertical farming indoors just like that — aquaponics and fish/crustaceans. There was an old military equipment factory nearby which has gone through multiple iterations since WWII. It was a fascinating and massive facility, had a floor made of cross-cut oak deeply embedded with machine oil over decades, would be crazy to try and replace it because it’s survived so much and still has plenty of life in it. The roof had skylights which were part of the original structure; it was one of the rare buildings of its age offering natural daylight indoors. It was sold at one time by the local municipality for $1 after going through several different but failed uses. When I first thought of using it for indoor farming it had two tenants, an office and a powder coating business, leaving a huge amount of open plant floor space. I wanted to set up a heat exchange to collect the waste heat from the powder coating ovens and use that to keep the aquaponics-greenhouse warm. Would have been a perfect symbiotic relationship.

                      Except the powder coating business failed and I just don’t have it in me to launch something that big right now. But I can still see in my mind that huge old shop floor flooded with daylight and rows of vertical hydroponic plantings mixed with aquaponics raising fresh water prawns and tilapia.

  8. Jenny says:

    Rayne, thanks very much for this conscious post. Humans have been poor stewards of Mother Earth. This is a wake-up call to create change. Change starts with the self.

    I am more mindful of recycling, my food purchases and use of energy. Just going with what I need. Downsizing and giving away items no longer in use. Feels good to share with others – the exchange of give and receive. Feels good to lighten up.

    • Eureka says:

      Agreed, Jenny. We have a culture-wide inflammation to heal; stuff becomes body burdens in many ways.

  9. Vern says:

    I stopped eating grain of any kind about 5 years ago. This is a big reason why:

    Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup?
    Weed Killer in $289 Million Cancer Verdict Found in Oat Cereal and Granola Bars


    Bonus fun fact: Glyphosate is now routinely used to dessicate wheat just prior to harvest. Makes it easier, doesn’t gum up the combine as much. EPA increased the allowable residue and here we are…

    • P J Evans says:

      Actually, farmers would prefer not using stuff like that – it’s another expense as well as a time-killer. The regulations say it shouldn’t be used that close to harvest.

  10. Blueride27 says:

    My family’s (small) farm switched to organic milk production a few years back. I remember coming home after basic training and seeing signs next to every field that stated not to spray anything on the field for the next 3 years. (Nothing was planted, whatever grew would just get tilled back into the ground at fall)
    I’m thankful to my cousin for switching the farm. (He took over after after his father died) My father and his brother have Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I suspect it’s thanks to whatever they sprayed on the fields when they were younger (Roundup maybe?). Hell, I can remember being a kid and my grandpap knocking on the door to warn my mom to close the windows and keep the kids inside while he sprayed.

    • Amers says:

      I would love to post signs for three miles! The spraying happens here in vermont to kill the rye. the rye is seeded after the corn is harvested in the fall. the corn is harvested as “silage” for the dairy cows. I can smell the spraying. Also, the anearobically digested cow shit sprayed onto the corn field before planting is delicious.

    • Rayne says:

      Oh man, Carson came off like he was on some doozy sedatives. Not just Katie Porter (D-CA) on REO but Joyce Beatty (D-OH) gutted him on OMWI. I can’t even imagine being so arrogant and careless that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to discuss a topic I’d been asked about by the House on a previous occasion. Just incredible.

      • Jenny says:

        “Doozy sedatives.” Good description. LOL!
        He was rude, arrogant, disrespectful, smug and uniformed. Way over his head and doesn’t care. He tried to laugh it away with a picture holding a bag of Oreos. Perfect example of someone who is unqualified for the job. Ugh!

  11. Kick the darkness says:

    It’s very cool to see a post on soils. Here’s a question-in no till soil management is the idea that CO2 and nutrient fixation is largely anaerobic, or do you still need good soil aeration?

    In general, it’s starting to be appreciated just how much microbiotic RubisCO is really in the ground, with clever CO2 concentrating strategies to boot. Estuarine sediments like those found in salt marshes for example are amazing at dark carbon fixation, and are potentially a type of habitat that could be shepherded to thrive as sea levels rise.

    In terms of relative rates, though, the fossil fuels we tap into represent carbon fixed over millions of years by what were likely to be highly productive ecosystems. On a geologic time scale, we are releasing that carbon and energy in the equivalent of an explosive combustion reaction. Its interesting to think that, once we are over the CO2 hump, good soil husbandry may help fix our societies just as much as re-fix the carbon. But the key thing is to stop the burn.

    • Philo T says:

      Check out the Marin Soil Carbon project for more details on rangeland carbon storage. There need to be more studies of that sort.

  12. gmoke says:

    Soil carbon sequestration is real and important and quickly becoming a topic of conversation and part of policy in the climate change community.

    Here are some resources

    Geotherapy: Innovative Methods of Soil Fertility Restoration, Carbon Sequestration, and Reversing CO2 Increase
    This is a hefty, peer-reviewed text which may be useful to farmers as it gives a wide variety of existing methods of increasing soil fertility while sequestering more carbon

    Biodiversity for a Livable Climate has been organizing conferences on other aspects of geotherapy for the last few years and all their conferences, with world-class experts and practitioners, are available through their website

    Soil 4 Climate deals specifically with soil carbon sequestration with close connections to Allan Savory’s ideas on “holistic management” for grazing

    As someone who has followed climate science for the last 40 years, these resources have shown me that there are ways we can slow and even reverse climate change, repair the damage we’ve done over the last 200 years in the next 200 years, if we practice them consistently and globally. Not so incidentally, these efforts will improve the soil, increase biodiversity, expand the ecosphere, be more profitable for farmers, and provide healthier, more nutritious food for all people.

    Too bad the fossil fools are still in power.

  13. tjallen says:

    In this area (Virginia), landowners farm only part of the land they own. The rest is allowed to grow wild as woods. Every few years, several hundred acres are sold off as timber, cut down and hauled off. The (scarred, eroded, unimproved) land regrows its trees in 35-50 years, and is cut down again (by the farmer’s children). The woods act like a bank or a safety net, for lean years on the traditional farm; it is key to have enough land in timber. This isn’t often considered a crop, but by percentage of land, it is a large part of many local farms.

    • P J Evans says:

      I’m assuming all theyr’e selling is the trees.
      It used to be that people would do that kind of thing routinely: cut some trees for their own use, and leave the rest. Or have some that were regularly cut (“coppiced”) for use as smaller-diameter wood. (My parents had a small cabin in the Sierra, on three acres of woodland, and they cut the older oaks as they started to die back (or fall) for firewood. They also took out other trees that were dead or dying – they had mostly oak, pine, and cedar on their parcel, which backed up to National Forest.)

    • Rayne says:

      Managed woodlots aren’t an unusual practice in other parts of the country. One family member had a tract they cycled through 10-20 acres at a time. They’d have the largest hardwood trees cut and milled leaving behind saplings; this portion would attract wildlife particularly deer. They had a nice supply of venison every year so long as the uncut mature oaks supplied ample acorns. I rather miss visiting this piece of property because it had a nice trail suitable for cross country skiing though it would be a black diamond across portions because of its slopes. More than half the tract would be poor for farming if completely cleared because of its up-and-down topography, probably formed by old dunes.

      • Tom says:

        Native Americans managed parts of their woodlands the same way. Settlers of the early 17th century found parts of New England looking like the deer parks of English gentlemen’s estates. This was because of the fires the Indians would set in the spring and fall to burn off the forest scrub and underbrush, which over time would leave only well spaced mature trees standing in extensive grassy meadows, which in turn attracted deer for hunting. See “Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England” by William Cronon.

        • Rayne says:

          Interesting. I guess I hadn’t heard of controlled burns used in established woodlands by indigenous North Americans. I’ll check it out, thanks!

          • Tom says:

            You’re more than welcome! North America wasn’t exactly the untouched primeval wilderness described by an earlier generation of historians when the white man arrived. I seem to recall reading once that the Indians’ land management practices were responsible for encouraging the large herds of bison that early Western explorers found, but I could be wrong about that.

            • Eureka says:

              There’s some nice writing by the archaeologist Thomas Patterson on the dually-racist tension between “noble savage” and “savage savage” interpretations of Native Americans that you might like; I can’t find what I’m looking for online, so fyi if you come across the name in your literature meanderings. Both the “pristine wilderness” notion you referenced here, and the Joanne Hammond thread elsewhere on this page (she mentioned golf club members’ expressed pride at golfing on the burial ground of an ‘Indian Princess’) brought this to mind.

        • P J Evans says:

          I understand they did that in California, also, to keep the oaks happy (they don’t like competition). When acorns are a big part of your diet….

        • Eureka says:

          Traces of these practices are sometimes found in underground “root burn” patterns, though there are constraints on interpreting land management as the cause. Not coincidentally found in areas with broken projectile point tips/edges… (and back to memories comments) I happened to observe these co-occurrences at one of those farm sites years ago.

  14. BobCon says:

    I’m intrigued by the latest generation of soy burgers — one going by the name Beyond and the other by the name Impossible.

    I’ve read multiple reviews by people saying they were traditional red meat eaters, but thought these were really good. As in, not just grading on a curve compared to awful traditional veggie burgers, but compared to actual meat. Evidently Burger King and White Castle are rolling out soy burgers in the coming year.

    The difference is that they contain a recently developed plant protein called Heme which duplicates the iron/blood/meat juice flavor in meat, and the results are supposed to be impressive.

    Now, I realize that the massive cultivation of soybeans is not great for the world, but the advantage of soy based meat substitutes is that it currently takes about ten pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef. Meaning that switching a significant amount of beef consumption to soy would have major environmental benefits, including in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Obviously, people will still demand steaks and ribs, but Americans eat huge amounts of hamburgers and sausage. The price of the substitutes is currently high, but the cost of the raw materials so much less than what goes into producing a pound of beef that I believe we may see a major change in the way people eat in the next decade, for the better of the environment.

    If, of course, Red State legislators don’t pass socialistic controls over the means of production, which I wouldn’t rule out.

    • Rayne says:

      I would be first in line if/when lab-grown meat reaches commercialization (I would be even happier if I could 3D print a steak to order). I don’t know if the meat substitutes are going to be the answer though they are becoming more appealing. Given the number of people with allergies to some plants including soy, soy-based products may not succeed at replacing meat at scale.

      The other problem with soy is playing out before us with the manufactured trade war. While soybeans rot here in the US, that fascist jerk Bolsonaro is pushing to clear more rainforest to grow soybeans to sell to China — literally ripping the lungs out of the planet because of Trump’s stupidity. Better that we develop demand for soy here to smooth market shocks but not necessarily as meat substitutes.

      That said, I often use TVP (textured vegetable protein made from soy) as a meat stretcher and a way to reduce animal fat consumption. I’ll hydrate TVP in broth and season to increase umami, then mix it in with browned ground beef/bison/turkey and use in dishes like spaghetti and chili. Haven’t had a family member notice yet, but then none of them are sensitive to soy products.

      • e.a.f. says:

        not everyone is sold on soy as a good product for all humans to eat. Many people have allergies to it as some have pointed out and some believe it plays with our bodies, soy and estrogen is still not a finished story, in some people’s opinions.

        My take on the push for soy as a protein source, is some body needs to buy it and argi business has a lot of money to make from it. I’m still in the group who isn’t keen on eating it. Organic meat from a local producer works for me. Our society eats a lot of meat, which we actually don’t need. But again, beef and pork were big business.

        Growing soy beans also requires a lot of land, fertilizer, herbicides, gas, machinery, etc. Don’t think any of that is too environmental.
        Some I know have gone to vegan diets and have done well, some are vegetarians and appear really healthy. None of them are eating a lot of soy.

        As to soy beans rotting in the fields in the U.S.A. word of advise, never invest too heavily in trade with a country who could cut you off at the knees. china is one of those countries. it always comes down to greed. Farmers, thinking they would make money, started growing soy beans, then the Chinese government along with their own government pulled the rug out from under them. Now we will see more farmers go out of business and more agri business buy up those farms. Once that has been completed and more family farms are out of business, expect China to start buying American soy beans again. Don’t be surprised if some of those argi businesses have origins in China.

        Once a country has lost control over their farmland, they have lost control over their country. Lack of food security is never a good thing. The U.S.A. might want to have some anti trust laws in place to break up these huge agri businesses. Had to laugh when the news reported some of the money trump was tossing around for farmers was going to non American corporations. Yes, American tax dollars going to non American argi businesses. You do have to wonder how much they donated to the Republicans.

        • Rayne says:

          First, I’m the one who pointed out the allergies.

          Second, I think we have plenty of evidence over three millennia what regular soy consumption does to humans (who aren’t allergic or sensitive to it). Let’s ask the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese et al how badly they are suffering for it, especially those folks who are Buddhist and eat no animal products.

          Third, yes, agribusiness makes a profit from agriculture. That’s the entire point of farming beyond subsistence level. Some agribusinesses are individuals and families, not just mega corporations.

          Fourth, the problem isn’t agricultural trade. The problem is concentration of capital and an administration run by a corrupt idiot. You might think carefully about what you’ve written — swap out soy for lumber, for example.

          • BobCon says:

            I recognize that there is a percentage of people with allergy issues for the new soy burgers — in addition to soy, there are other plant oils used in them, as well as the Heme, which I believe is a yeast product, and people potentially have sensitivities to any of them.

            On the other hand, I don’t believe it’s a large percentage. One cite I’ve seen puts soy allergies at below 1%, although I recognize that allergy testing on a mass scale is not highly reliable, so the number could be several times higher.

            At any rate, meat consumption certainly won’t go away simply because of these, but on the other hand, the amount of beef consumption is staggering. One cite puts US beef consumption at 50 pounds per year per person. Cutting any significant amount of that figure will have an impact, in part because of the energy involved in feeding, transporting, butchering and preserving meat, but also because there is a very large amount of soy, corn, and other plants that are grown to feed cattle. Switching from beef to soy means not only saving pasture land, but shrinking the amount soy that is grown as well (along with other grains).

            I’m not sure it will happen easily — the ag business is powerful, and anything which threatens to put a dent in cattle and grain sales will get a lot of objections. On the other hand, cutting the greenhouse gases related to hamburger seems like a no brainer to me.

            • Amers says:

              If you want to cut back on beef consumption you would have to consider a cut to dairy products as well. beef is a “waste” product of breeding for dairy.

            • P J Evans says:

              For me, beef is a treat – I eat more poultry. (My beef consumption at this point is the small amount that goes into a 4-ounce bean-and burrito, which is 2 to 4 per week.)

      • Tom says:

        I find that adding plain old cracked wheat to vegetarian chili and pasta sauce gives them a nice hamburgery (hamberdery?) texture.

        • Rayne says:

          Haven’t tried that, but with a family member sensitive to gluten, I’d have to be careful when I tried this, can’t even use barley because it also contains gluten. I wonder if steel-cut oats might work if prepared as I do with TVP?

          • Tom says:

            Never thought of using steel-cut oats, but I’ll try it. I like them with dried cranberries in the morning. Cooked, I mean.

            • Rayne says:

              Try cooking oats as a savory dish rather than a sweet one. I often mix my grains — one part each bulgur, brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats cooked in broth with some garlic — and then use them as a side dish or as part of a salad. Yummy in a tabbouleh with flat leaf parsley, fresh tomatoes, cucumber, green peppers, scallions.

              • Tom says:

                Never thought of that way of preparing grains either. Sounds like it’s worth experimenting with. Thanks for the tip!

                • Rayne says:

                  I cook them separately in batches using my rice maker. Takes a little experimentation to determine the correct ratio of water/broth to grain but most work at nearly 2-to-1. I check it at the very end of the cooking cycle and add a 1/4 cup more fluid if the grain isn’t quite done enough. Once they’re finished cooking I let them cool then mix together and refrigerate or vacuum pack and freeze. I use them seasoned alone or mix them with TVP and browned ground meat for filling in nachos/burritos/tacos, lettuce wraps, cabbage rolls. Delish.

                  • Tom says:

                    What can I say? Thanks again, Rayne! I enjoy cooking and you’ve opened my eyes to a whole new way of preparing grains. Plus, they’re often about the cheapest thing you can buy at the local bulk food store.

  15. P J Evans says:

    I haven’t had bisonburger, but I once had pizza made with (ground) bison (and real Mozzarella), and it was incredibly good.

  16. Eureka says:

    Thanks to all of the farmers with different ideas, practices, opinions throughout the many discussions above.

  17. Eureka says:

    Heads up, flyers- this will be on “CBS This Morning” this am:

    #CTM: “THURS. ON #CTM: Whistleblowers within the FAA tell @tonydokoupil FAA inspectors across the country are being pressured by FAA management to delete findings against airlines, ignore compliance issues & stop looking into things that would force airlines to make changes in operation. (brief preview clip)”

  18. PeteT says:

    Excellent topic and post Rayne. It immediately brought back many discussions at the now long departed website “The Old Drum”.

    There would frequently be topics on farming as a consumer of hydrocarbons – the creation of fertilizer not too mention the application of it (as you mention) is a tremendous user of hydrocarbons.

    IANAF any more than IANAL, but you can google “The Oil Drum farming” for some good threads and I’d point out that Sharon Astyk, who posted under the pen name jewishfarmer, was/is, like you, a favored contributor. I’ve kind of lost track of her, but her site is: http://sharonastyk.com Her ideas would still be apropos today regardless. Her posts here https://www.resilience.org/resilience-author/sharon-astyk/ are old too, but the site has many posters from the The Oil Drum as well.

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