One of the greatest threats to the future of the planet is the industrial agriculture. Practically every aspect of it is dangerous to the planet. But it feeds the planet? Actually, its main effect is to make corporations like Monsanto rich; feeding the planet is an incidental side-effect. Most agricultural produce, at least in America, goes to feeding livestock rather than feeding people.
Many farmers claim that they actually care about the future of the planet but they are trapped into industrial agriculture—they cannot afford to do it any other way. They would like to convert to responsible agriculture: to interplant their crops (polyculture), to use natural pest control, control soil erosion, etc. But, they claim, they are trapped by the economics of industrial ag.
But let me tell you why I do not believe them. It may indeed be economic suicide for farmers to convert suddenly and completely over to ecologically responsible agriculture. But surely they could do it at least a little bit? They could at least do a scaled-down form of polyculture, by planting wide strips—still wide enough for their equipment to handle—of different kinds of crops rather than huge fields of each. They could reduce their pesticide and fertilizer use a little by precision application. They could choose crops that are better suited for their regions; for example, to grow maize in eastern Colorado or the panhandle of Oklahoma takes a prodigious amount of water, which they pump out of the already-depleted Ogalalla Aquifer. Couldn’t they at least do one or two of these things?
And many farmers do. As I drove in the summer of 2014 many miles through the Midwest, I mostly saw huge monoculture fields with wasteful irrigation, on which crop dusters poured pesticides. Once in a while I would see strips of crops. I saw this just often enough to show me it could be done.
The land is unhealthy. If a person is unhealthy, it might be too much to expect for him or her to suddenly convert to a completely healthy lifestyle: to exercise a lot and eat less fat and sugar and prepare more foods themselves. But at least the unhealthy person could do a little bit of one of them. And many do, to their benefit and (as many of my students have found) their pleasant surprise.
A farmer may not be able to heal an unhealthy land in all possible ways, but at least they can do a little bit of something. And a small percentage of them do. The fact that most of them do not indicates to me that most of them really do not care about the future of the planet—the world that their children (whom they claim to love so much) will inherit.
As Jesus said, by their fruits you shall know them. Not by what they say, but by what they do. Conservative farmers can talk all they want to about how precious are the lives of their children (and all children) but I do not believe them until they start farming in such a way that does not destroy the world those children are supposed to live in.
And for farmers that do what they can, thanks! And try to do more—you can probably figure out how. But the Monsanto sales rep won’t help you to do this.