In one way or another, all Americans engage in agriculture – a system that fuels our economy and feeds our families. Agriculture affects facets of our daily lives, our climate, and our health.
However, not very many people understand what agriculture entails. Over the last 7 decades or so, there has been a reduction in small farms across the country. Multinational industrialized corporations have dominated the food supply of the American people. Food organizations pitch the idea of “farm to table,” but the actual journey from the farm to the dinner table has a lot of stops along the way. This makes things quite contradictory, if not confusing.
Take grains, for instance. The USA is a leader in production of grains courtesy of the large quantity of Midwest soil, which has accumulated over millennia. A majority of grains in America don’t feed people, though. Most of it goes straight to the biofuel industry, and a big portion gets used for industrialized feed, both of which wreak havoc on our environment.
Create food instead of ethanol.
Crop surpluses are subsidized with over $16 billion every year, as reported by the latest US Department of Agriculture farm consensus. Approximately 7.19 billion of those subsidies are allocated towards soy, corn, and other commodities. The expense of growing them far exceeds what they sell for on the market.
Ethanol is made with this large surplus funded by taxpayers.
The biggest crop in the USA is corn. It comprises more than 90 million farmland acres in the country alone. 35% of corn (or more) is allocated to production of ethanol. Ethanol is quite an inefficient fuel: it requires 70% more energy (combustion) to produce 1L of ethanol than 1L of ethanol can actually make.
Because of the massive expense associated with soil fertility and the capital investment required, the amount of farms that deliver a profit in America don’t exceed 43%.
Production of ethanol is not worthwhile for corn production, especially since there are no shortages of the crop in sight. Our soil is being degraded by petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides, and improper corn monoculture practices. As such, our farmlands become less fertile with each passing year. Because of the substantial capital investment needed – in addition to massive soil fertility costs, a mere 43% of American farms saw a profit in 2017, according to USDA agricultural census data. Agribusinesses with deep pockets keep things how they are – status quos are protected by federal policies. These organizations make the argument that the population must be fed by industrialized agriculture since it keeps growing.
However, if that statement had any truth to it, farmland wouldn’t be used to produce biofuels that are inefficient. Instead, we would see implementation of regenerative agricultural systems. Crop diversity would provide the essential nutrients we need.
We endeavor to show the farmers of tomorrow how to operate healthy operations that generate a profit. We would put every effort into maintaining our soil instead of depleting it, since soil is the greatest resource in the nation.
Has there been any attempt to improve our food policies? Is there any support for the millions of farmers in America?
Government crop subsidy improvement.
Our agriculture sector is far from perfect. The government has the ability to make a difference by reallocating subsidies for commodity crops to the CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program). The program has experienced drastic cuts over the last few years, beginning in 2014 with the farm bill. Funds not only need restoration, they need to be increased as well.
The program was developed to incentivize farmers and train them to use systems that are more regenerative. Doing so can increase the production of biodiverse food, and subsequently, revenue for farmers. Consequently, commodity subsidies won’t be needed anymore.
For instance, if 20% of the yearly corn subsidy is reallocated to a redefined CSP (that’s been thoroughly researched and closely tracked), the requirement for tax subsidies would be minimized. Greater self-sufficiency inside of the farming industry would ensue.
Likewise, the government has the ability to support new and young farmers by allocating more funds to mentorship and training opportunities. This can be done via the CSP, as well as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, to modernize the industry. And rather than putting limits on benefits, government agencies are encouraged to help develop more food-related jobs. They can also expand education about food using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
We need to navigate away from an agriculture system that is dependent exclusively on resource extraction. Regeneration of fertile soil is essential. Levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide need to be brought down. These things need to happen sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, a more sustainable way to move forward is achievable. But we need to take action immediately. Regenerative farming is a strategy that enhances biodiversity, safeguards watersheds, improves ecosystems, enriches soil, and secures carbon within the soil. It provides the crucial solution we need.
Regenerative agriculture runs on a quartet of tenants to enhance land fertility. Agricultural systems that can function as self-sustaining economic programs should then be developed.
Develop healthier soil.
A transition to biologically sound practices (like no-till and cover cropping) is necessary. Crops that control soil fertility and soil erosion should be planted. Carbon can be isolated as it creates soil rich in nutrients. The land will become more drought-resistant, as established by the Rodale 40-Year Crop Report. An organic mass increase in soil enhances capacity for water retention. Healthier soil utilizes rainwater better, minimizes erosion, and safeguards watersheds.
Lentils, hard winter wheat, corn (non-GMO), and other crop rotations can be added, which will replenish nutrients naturally. Legumes have root systems containing healthy bacteria, and they fill the soil with nitrogen. Because this is achieved without synthetic fertilizers, farm input expenses are decreased, and natural habitats are preserved, much to the benefit of native pollinators (like bees) and wildlife.
According to the USDA, the crop value for both managed and wild bees are $15 billion annually. Quite frankly, food can be grown without pollinators. Natural habitat creation results in more efficiency with less acreage. This can be achieved organically with regenerative systems.
Pest management integration.
Ladybugs and other natural predators, in addition to practices like inter-cropping (where various crops are infused together) can substantially minimize any need for pesticides and herbicides (such as glyphosate), which have been altered to be pest-resistant. The negative effects to our health aside, these chemicals are responsible for soil fertility drops and the destruction of microbe ecosystems (which are necessary to keep soil healthy).
Conserve energy use.
Petrochemical fertilizer production warrants plenty of energy. By reducing use of such chemicals – which are harmful to watersheds, ecosystems, and soil fertility – the industry should endeavor to reduce consumption of energy, and subsequentially, their carbon footprint.
We can bypass any need to use synthetic fertilizers if we stick to the tenants of regenerative systems. Creation of natural inputs (mostly by way of enhanced microbial life via farming biodiversity and natural nitrogen) is necessary. Natural inputs will minimize carbon emissions while adding more value to our carbon sequestration.
In addition to modern technology and research, regenerative agriculture has the capacity to revitalize our soil as well as improve the farming community. Unfortunately, it’s a strategy that has been neglected.
We can make our planet healthier through regenerative farming. However, we must ensure the process is executed systematically. It must be done in a manner that replenishes the bank accounts of those who grow food. More importantly, a scalable system must be created.