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rainbowgardener
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Feeding the world organically

Just thought I'd post an explanation re my new signature line, since there's no room in the signature for it.

John Woolman (1720-1772) was an early Quaker and a hero of mine. He was an abolitionist who went around to various slave owners and by sheer force of character persuaded them to free their slaves (really!). He lived simply, walked or rode a horse all over the colonized part of the country and when he went to England travelled in steerage with the sailors to hear their stories and help them in their plight. He went to live with the Native Americans for awhile, not to convert them, but to learn from them. Succeeded at every trade he put his hand to and then renounced them when he started making too much money.

Here's the whole quote which I had to abridge to make it fit 255 characters and spaces:

I have known landholders who paid Interest for large sums of money, and being intent on paying their debts by raising grain, have by too much tilling, so robbed the earth of its natural fatness, that the produce thereof hath grown light.

To till poor land requires near as much labor as to till that which is rich, and as the high interest of money which lieth on many husbandmen is often a means of their struggling for present profit, to the impoverishment of their lands, they then on their poor land find greater difficulty to afford poor laborers who work for them, equitable pay for tilling the ground.

The produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious Creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the earth now to Support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age.

- John Woolman
Conversations on the True Harmony of Mankind and How it May be Promoted



He had this no-till thing figured out by the mid-eighteenth century. Too bad it's taken us so long to catch up with him! :)
Last edited by rainbowgardener on Wed Mar 09, 2011 7:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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gixxerific
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Thanks RBG that's nice.

tedln
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RBG,

I'm not a farmer. I'm just a gardener, but I try to be an earth friendly gardener. I've read some on the different theories of nature friendly farming/gardening and while I don't disagree with most, I also don't fully agree with most.

I think my biggest problem is dealing with the fact that we must have an agricultural model which allows a few people to produce the food for five billion people who are occupied making computers, driving trucks, or teaching school. If we attempt to change the model to "no till" and other nature friendly methods, the production will drop so drastically, the teachers, truck drivers, and manufacturing specialists will need to quit their jobs and become subsistence farmers on land that doesn't exist or has become non productive. Most of the "Great Plains" of North America would return to semi arid desert which would only grow native succulents.

What am I missing in the blending of philosophy and agriculture that would indicate "earth friendly" agriculture could feed five billion people?

Just Curious. :D

Ted
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cynthia_h
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Let me get back to you on that; gotta dig up some productivity statistics. It won't be tonight....

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tomf
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Tedln it is getting close to 7 billon people. I till but I put more back than I take out of the soil.

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rainbowgardener
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yield from organic farming

"If we attempt to change the model to "no till" and other nature friendly methods, the production will drop so drastically," Who told you that? Can you give any data to support it? Read on...

There is one point in there tedlin... we probably can't feed the world population with so few people working the land with organic/ natural methods. It's only since world war II that we drove so many farmers off the land, in favor of gigantic machinery that compacts the soil. Organic/ natural methods are more labor intensive. But with 10% of the country unemployed and at least 30% of the country obese, would it be such a bad thing to put some people back to work, doing healthy physical work in the fields?

But as far as what the LAND will produce (as opposed to the people) it is just a MYTH that the land can't produce as much if we don't keep using chemical methods. Are you reading One Straw Revolution (OSR) with the book club? He talks a little in the introduction about scarcity myths and fear keeping people tied to the ways they are used to.

The ways of gardening /farming we are talking about here are NOT less productive. If you took the amount of produce I will get from 3 4x8' beds on a per acre basis, I bet it would beat any farmer. OSR says the Japanese standard is 1/4 acre feeds a family of four. I am a member of a Community Supported Agriculture farm. It is 5 acres farmed totally organically. Those 5 acres feed 100 families that are members. My partner and I get a half share and we do not buy any other vegetables during the season. We buy some fruit and grain and other stuff, but all our veggies come from the CSA farm (and we are vegetarian, so veggies is most of what we eat!) and we put some by for winter. But lets get back to DATA:

So about yield... here's a great article I found on the whole question of can we feed the world organically. I recommend reading the whole article it is very enlightening https://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/~christos/articles/cv_organic_farming.html , but here's a few highlights from it of studies of organic vs industrial methods for yield:

Soybean production systems were also highly productive, achieving 40 bushels/acre. In 1999 however, during one of the worst droughts on record, yields of organic soybeans were 30 bushels /acre, compared to only 16 bushels/acre from conventionally- grown soybeans (Rodale Institute, 1999). "Our trials show that improving the quality of the soil through organic practices can mean the difference between a harvest or hardship in times of drought"

A comprehensive review of a large number of comparison studies of grain and soybean production conduct by six Midwestern universities since 1978 found that in all of these studies organic production was equivalent to, and in many cases better than, conventional

Corn yields were comparable in all three cropping systems (less than 1% difference) (Drinkwater, 1998). However, a comparison of soil characteristics during a 15-year period found that soil fertility was enhanced in the organic systems, while it decreased considerably in the conventional system. Nitrogen content and organic matter levels in the soil increased markedly in the manure—fertilized organic system and declined in the conventional system. Moreover, the conventional system had the highest environmental impact, where 60% more nitrate was leached into the groundwater over a 5 year period than in the organic systems (Drinkwater, 1998). [RBG - we have had a system where the farmers aren't paying for that kind of damage they create, so it isn't counted in the cost, but that won't work much longer]

ETC!!

What we now call conventional agriculture, which again has really only been "conventional" since the 1950's, will not even be possible much longer. It is very highly dependent on petroleum inputs for petroleum based synthetic fertilizers as well as fuel for the machinery. Petroleum prices have been kept artificially cheap for a long time through lots of subsidy. But as all the easy sources get exhausted and we have to go more and more to extreme extraction (drilling miles under the sea, tar sands, etc) the production costs and environmental costs get higher and higher and the actual cost will have to also. So we are going to have to learn some new-old ways.

Cities pretty much import all their food from the country right now, but they wouldn't have to. If lots more people did backyard gardening, rooftop gardening, community gardens in vacant lots etc, the cities could at least come very close to feeding themselves. It's been done before. In both World Wars the cities mostly fed themselves ("Victory Gardens") while agricultural production went to feed the soldiers.

PS cynthia... still be glad to see what you come up with !!

PS more... gotta quit now, I'm off to go to healthy physical labor in the fields at our CSA! :) You pay for your shares with some $$ (much less than equivalent produce would cost in store) and some labor (15 hrs for the two of us for the season). If you can't do the labor, you can compensate by paying more $$.
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rainbowgardener
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Yield gets a little tricky here...

We are now talking about three different kinds of agriculture, briefly summarized as:

conventional - monoculture ( a field that is all one crop, e.g. corn), plowing, synthetic fertilizer, chemical herbicides and pesticides

organic - monoculture, probably still plowed/ tilled, compost / manure/ compost tea, hand weeding or things like vinegar, citrus for herbicide, Bt and things like garlic-pepper spray for pesticide

ecological/ natural - no monoculture, no tilling, composting in the field, mainly using only what comes from the field and mulch and cover crops, companion planting, trap crops, interplanting, beneficial insects, etc

The above studies are comparing yields of conventionally farmed monoculture to organically farmed monoculture and finding organic at least equal and higher yields in some conditions, especially drought.

If you were to try to compare conventional or organic to natural fields, you would have less corn (for e.g.) per acre from the natural field, because it isn't a monoculture. But you would have more of something else. Maybe you would be doing three sisters and also be getting beans and squash out of the same acre. Or maybe you would be interplanting with edible weeds and be getting purslane and lambsquarters out of the same acre. And you would likely be planting a spring crop before the corn and a fall crop after (maybe beans or peas) and then a winter cover crop after that. So on a year around basis, it would be pretty easy for the natural grown acre to produce a lot more total edibles in a year, even though it wouldn't all be corn.

Most of the corn we grow (continuing that e.g.) is not eaten directly by people. Much of it is field corn that goes to feed animals. If more of us were vegetarians, we would not need to be growing all the feed corn. A lot of what is left isn't eaten directly it is turned in to high fructose corn syrup, which is in almost every processed food product we eat and really helps contribute to the obesity epidemic. We could do with out all that too.
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tedln
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Please understand that I am not someone who believes we should simply accept and promote the model we currently use in the United States for agricultural production. We basically have 10% of the population feeding 100% of the population. Until we can convince 30% of the population to give up their addiction to Oprah and Dr. Phil, get off their fat, lazy rears and grow their food; this discussion is a waste of time. I absolutely believe a healthy, working lifestyle is superior to a couch potato lifestyle.

I’m not interested in comparing my economists’ predictions to your sensei’s predictions or pronouncements. They don’t speak the same language and consequently we won’t speak the same language.

If we can discuss proven facts instead of theory, the discussion will have more meaning. If you insist I prove my points with references, I can reference my Grandson’s college textbooks. He will be graduating from Texas A&M this year with a degree in Agricultural Economics.

I first want to dispel the myth that we are running out of fossil fuel energy.

We have the largest oil deposits in the world. These reserves exceed all proven reserves in the entire middle east. I don’t think it is necessary to explain why if we have them, we can’t use them.
https://www.nextenergynews.com/news1/next-energy-news2.13s.html

We have one of the largest coal deposits in the world. I believe we are second only to Russia in total proven coal reserves. Can we use coal? Germany fought WWII with nothing but coal and a very limited crude oil resource.
https://www.teachcoal.org/aboutcoal/articles/coalreserves.html

We have proven natural gas reserves which will last over 100 years. Estimates are we have available ten times the proven reserves in unproven gas fields.
https://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/18/business/energy-environment/18gas.html

Since we have the fuel, why can’t we use it? Because we don’t want to. We are afraid it will pollute the planet. I happen to agree with that philosophy. I don’t want this planet polluted either. We are making great strides in renewable energy, but unfortunately electricity will not grow corn or potatoes. I don’t want to find it necessary to recycle human waste water back into my drinking water as they do in Singapore, but if it becomes necessary; so be it. Until we can convince the world to stop having babies or doctors to stop saving lives, we must accept the fact that the most efficient methods to grow the most food is best for the most people.

Can I grow enough food in my garden in a natural, sustainable manner to feed my family? Yes I can. Can I grow enough food in my garden in a natural, sustainable manner to feed my community? No, I can not. Community food production is only sustainable when sufficient labor is available. Can a community garden feed a community? Yes it can if the community is willing or has sufficient motivation to invest the required labor and if the quirks of nature don’t interfere.

For me, the most reliable “expertsâ€
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rainbowgardener
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"If we can discuss proven facts instead of theory, the discussion will have more meaning. "

I agree and I gave you hard experimental data about crop yields grown on research farms with equivalent soil, climate, crop varieties, where the data shows (in many different studies referenced in the summary article) that the organic methods produced at least equal yields per acre and did better under drought conditions and increased soil fertility instead of decreasing it and produced less nitrate run off into the water table (which run off leads to eutrophication and killing rivers and lakes).

I didn't see you give me any comparable data: unnamed farmers and "experts" say is not data.

If we can equally produce or out produce yields with sustainable methods, then there is no problem about feeding the world (or the community) that way.
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rainbowgardener
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Just because I had never heard of the Bakken Formation, I looked it up.

Your article says "America is sitting on top of a super massive 200 billion barrel Oil Field " It was published 2/13/08 and references: In the next 30 days the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) will release a new report giving an accurate resource assessment of the Bakken Oil Formation that covers North Dakota and portions of South Dakota and Montana. With new horizontal drilling technology it is believed that from 175 to 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil are held in this reserve

Here's what Wiki says including what the results of the USGS report referred to above were:

An April 2008 USGS report estimated the amount of technically recoverable oil within the Bakken Formation at 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels (680,000,000 m3), with a mean of 3.65 billion.[4] The state of North Dakota also released a report that month which estimated that there are 2.1 billion barrels (330,000,000 m3) of technically recoverable oil in the Bakken.[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakken_Formation (and yes when they say technically recoverable, they are talking about using horizontal drilling techniques)


It's nice to know there is oil there. But the US (as of the year 2000) was using 6.6 billion barrels a year, probably more now. ( https://maps.unomaha.edu/peterson/funda/sidebar/oilconsumption.html ) If you accept the State of North Dakota figure of 2.1 billion barrels recoverable from Bakken, that is about 4 months worth of US consumption. We still need to change our consumption!

your next energy news site doesn't seem to give any information about who they are or where they get their information from.
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Ted, do you really think that they've tried and failed? I don't think most people are like that. I think most people do what they're told; they believe the advertisements and propaganda. As far as the higher education goes, I'm sorry but how much of the ag research is funded from predictable sources? I hope your grandson will have the opportunity to expand his field of study.

You're right, not everyone is interested in growing vegetables in their own backyard. ...I think most of us who regularly visit at HGG wonder why not? I'm looking at my piles of tomatoes and cupboard burgeoning with jars of my own canned and preserved goodies, thinking I'll never pay someone else for inferior food again unless I'm desperate.

tedln
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applestar, you are right. What we believe depends on who we trust to tell the truth without ulterior motives. I know I can fill my pantry and freezer and my neighbors pantry and freezer with bounty from my garden. I can do it using non environmentally hazardous, totally sustainable methods. I simply don't believe the results from my garden or yours can be extrapolated out to include commercial agriculture without a massive influx of manual labor. I don't believe that labor is available. I consider my garden a boutique enterprise. Would many people be willing to expend the labor to reap the rewards that I have? I don't think so unless they were starving to death.

I don't automatically believe anything my government, or officials from any political party, or special interest group feeds me as propaganda. I especially don't believe corporate news releases. I attempt to maintain a balanced input of information. It seems everyone has information they want published today. Most have a self serving reason for publishing that information.

RBG pointed out the differences in some reports on the Bakkan oil repository. The differences in opinion lie in the term "technically available". I live on top of the "Barnett Shale" gas reserves. The natural gas was technically unavailable until the natural gas industry determined it's technical availability would not depress the existing natural gas price on the market. When we read the Bakkan oil is technically not available, we are only reading what the industry wants us to read. If it is there, it is technically available. I can say that because I spent thirty years in the oil industry. There is no fossil fuel energy shortage. There are political and economic reasons not to change the status quo.

Back to food. I have a hard time understanding why farmers and universities would not recommend changing their practices if the economics are present to support it. Every farmer I have ever known operates on a very thin line of profitability. Since most have to borrow money to produce next years crop, they would jump at a chance to increase their profit margins. Those people are searching constantly for ways to decrease their costs. I know farmers who declared bankruptcy when the cost of diesel went up and they could no long afford to till their land. I don't believe there is some great farming conspiracy to deprive Americans of healthier food. It is simply a matter of economics.

I know my Grandson. He will do well with any kind of economics degree.

Ted :D
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I know my Grandson. He will do well with any kind of economics degree.
Ted, being your grandson, I've no doubt that he will. I meant more that he would not limit himself to what he learned in school. but if you've had any influence, I don't think he would. :wink:

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rainbowgardener
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"Back to food. I have a hard time understanding why farmers and universities would not recommend changing their practices if the economics are present to support it. Every farmer I have ever known operates on a very thin line of profitability. Since most have to borrow money to produce next years crop, they would jump at a chance to increase their profit margins."

Agreed that farming is a business and often a giant agribusiness that is run strictly for profit and that is part of why/ how we have the system we have. Food costs are so low and labor costs are such a huge part of any business's expense, that to do something that requires more labor, even not massive amounts more just some more, reduces the profit margins. Because of the low prices farmers get for their crops, even if they could get higher yield per acre with more labor, it may still be less profit per acre. So we have a system that is based on using the least human power possible and driving people off the land whose families lived there for generations.

But it all works because of lots of subsidies that distort the true cost of what we are doing. Petroleum is subsidized. But also the farm business does not pay for any of the environmental impact of what they do... the nitrogen run off, the poisons in the environment, the environmental costs of mining all the metals for the giant machines, etc etc. If farm business had to pay the true costs, it would no longer be economically feasible to do the kind of farming we do and sustainable agriculture would be come relatively a lot cheaper.

But in the meantime, people do want good food and to be able to feed themselves and lots of them will work hard for it given the opportunity... the community garden movement, especially in urban poor communities, "farming" vacant lots is huge and growing.
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tedln
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RBG,
Since this discussion originated on the subject of tilling, I thought you might appreciate the following comments from a source I trust. The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is a research foundation dedicated to researching all things related to agriculture. They have no political agenda and no axes to grind. I did read the data you provided, but couldn’t comment on it because it came from UC Berkley. Anything originating at UC Berkley has a political agenda and they do have a lot of axes to grind. I do however trust the Rodale Institute. I do have a problem with their studies resulting in conclusions that all things “organicâ€
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rainbowgardener
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From https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4166:

"The biggest misconception is that organic farming does not use fertilizer, herbicides, or pesticides. Of course it does. Fertilizer is essentially chemical nutrient, and the organic version delivers exactly the same chemical load as the synthetic. It has to, otherwise it wouldn't function. All plant fertilizers, organic and synthetic, consist of the same three elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Referring to one as a "chemical" and implying that the other is not, is the worst kind of duplicity, and no intelligent person should tolerate it."

Not true. Yes ultimately synthetic fertilizers and compost and other organics both add NPK to the soil. But that is ALL the synthetic fertilizers add. The compost adds tons of trace minerals etc, plus lots of living biology from earthworms to microbes, protozoans, fungi, etc, plus tilth that is structure to the soil and helps it to hold water. That's why in the research I cited above the organic agriculture did so much better in drought conditions. The synthetics add only chemistry. The compost adds biology and the biology is what actually feeds the plants. Read Teaming with Microbes, the first book we did in the book club here.
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Alan in Vermont
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rainbowgardener wrote: But it all works because of lots of subsidies that distort the true cost of what we are doing. Petroleum is subsidized. But also the farm business does not pay for any of the environmental impact of what they do... the nitrogen run off, the poisons in the environment, the environmental costs of mining all the metals for the giant machines, etc etc.

I need a little clarification on a couple points. Granted there is a small boatload of subsidies in agriculture, some of the subsidy programs are what make it feasible for big business to be involved in agriculture.

But, I do not understand the "Petroleum is subsidized" thing at all. Where/to whom are the subsidies paid? If this is a broad payment to the oil industry then we all benefit from it being there. If it is keeping the costs of agricultural products down then we, as taxpayers, are seeing that as a return (lower prices) on investment (our tax dollars).

Also "the environmental costs of mining all the metals for the giant machines" is questionable. The mining and milling people get whammied for those costs. Farmers pay a piece of that buried in the cost of the machine, just because there is no line item there doesn't mean it isn't a factor.

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feeding the world

This is a thread from last year. My initial post won't be too comprehensible, since I have changed my signature line since then. But most of the thread was about yields. I hear over and over again, " I like the idea of organic methods, but of course we can't feed 7 billion people that way. " The of course marks it as an unexamined assumption.

Just thought I would share something I was just reading on this topic:

For years now, the most-asked question by detractors of the good food movement has been, "Can organic agriculture feed the world?" According to a new United Nations report, the answer is a big, fat yes.

The report, Agro-ecology and the Right to Food, released yesterday, reveals that small-scale sustainable farming would even double food production within five to 10 years in places where most hungry people on the planet live.

"We won't solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations," Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, said in a press release. "The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers' knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development."

The report suggests moving away from the overuse of oil in farming, a problem that is magnified in the face of rising prices due to unrest in the Middle East. The focus is instead on agroecology, or eco-farming. "Agroecology seeks to improve the sustainability of agroecosystems by mimicking nature instead of industry," reads a section.

The report shows that these practices raise productivity significantly, reduce rural poverty, increase genetic diversity, improve nutrition in local populations, serve to build a resilient food system in the face of climate change, utilize fewer and more locally available resources, empower farmers and create jobs.

Read more at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/paula-crossfield/un-ecofarming-feeds-the-world_b_833340.html?ir=Green

and they give a link to the original UN report.
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As someone in the ag business, there are a few points and questions i have:
When no-till farming started there was a saying, No-till, no crops. You can figure out why. it is more successful now, but still cannot be applied to all types of soil or landforms; weather has a big impact on its success each year.

I haven't seen anyone plow for decades. Everything is low-tillage, chisel-plowing, or no-till. Buffer strips are a widely used practice to prevent run-off and erosion.

I still don't understand where the 9 million people in NYC are going to grow their own food. And does "growing your own food" only apply to produce? Can't picture every family having its own acre of wheat...not to mention the fact that wheat for bread can't even be raised in most of the U.S. Or are we just not to eat bread? And does this mean everyone has to become a vegan?

Is all this discussion just aimed at developing countries, or industrialized ones also? Does it just apply to rural areas? Are we asking families with both parents working one, if not two, jobs just to make ends meet to have time to do this? Are the rich going to grow all their own food, too? Seriously doubt that will happen.

The subsidies for ag are very small,regardless of what you read in the press. Ag right now is an easy target since we only constitute 1% of the population. Ag is the only business that i know of that sells wholesale and buys retail. Also, 80% of the federal ag budget is for women's and children's nutrition, translated meaning WIC, food stamps and the like. Very little is for the farmer. That is a fact.

It seems like the picture of the farmer is some dumb goofus who just goes out, jumps on his tractor and proceeds in any which-way. To survive, the farmer has to be educated and stay up with technology.

Many farmers use the GPS/grid sytem to fertilize, plant and harvest their crops. This systems "breaks down' a field into 2-3 acre sizes so to speak and apply the fertilizer perfectly as it goes across the field, even if the field is 100+ acres. The auto-steering/computer on the tractor guide it across the field, tying into the grid for that land.

As far as manure goes, no one can just put it on the same field year after year...causes phosphorous build up.

To think that once the quaint family farm wasn't interested in profit is a mistake. Unless you're talking each person living on what just they grow, ag is about making a profit, whether 100 years ago and today.

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I've reformed! I use every fiber of my body to resist commenting on political subjects even when the subject is initiated by a moderator. I simply can't resist this time.

Any reports generated by the United Nations (with the exception of UNICEF) and reported by the Huffington Post are automatically questionable for intent and accuracy.

It's time to get off the backs of Farmers and if you want to grow organically for your friends and family, thats great. If you want to grow organically and sell it as organically grown, thats great. The reality is sufficient food can not be grown organically to feed the masses on small family farms or large commercial farms.

I think a good experiment to prove the validity of growing organically for mass consumption would be to stop the massive subsidies provided to grow corn for the production of ethanol. Then only accept for sale to the public ethanol fuel certified as "grown organically". If they do that, it may be possible to feed the masses organically.

Ted (the new non political Ted)
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