The Barstardisation of Agriculture
The concern for the non-renewing resources of Nature which liebelow the earth has not been how they can be used more rationally and be made tolast longer, but principally a matter of finding better and faster ways of gettingthem out and using them up. The highly efficient and scientific application of thesame exploitive principles to the renewing and renewable resources of the soil hasopened wide the road to global catastrophe.
There is a critical need that a firm line be drawn between thelegitimate use of the surpluses of Nature and their straight-out destructure exploitation.But who is to draw the line and who could maintain the line? Authority? Not likely!Youth then? Perhaps they had better, because they and their children are the peoplewho will be worst affected.
Mankind generally has never come to terms with the soil. Allthrough history the fertility of the soil had been squandered and great areas haveeroded away and were abandoned. But there were also some notable and oft-times accidentalsuccesses in reversing the process of soil destruction and recreating soil of thehighest fertility. However on the slow road to advancing knowledge of soil, one scientificobservation of considerable moment was misunderstood and applied wrongly. An avenueof great profit was disclosed in the misapplication of the scientific discovery.The pushing aside of the farmers' practical knowledge and love of the soil, startedthe bastardisation of agriculture. In the years since, the process has been one ofalmost constant acceleration.
The scientific event was Leibig's "Chemistry in It's Applicationto Agriculture" in 1840. By analysing the ash of burnt plants he disclosed thatthey contained chemical ingredients. This was a great scientific advance in knowledgeof the soil at a time when science had not started its intrusion and its compartmentalisationof agriculture. Knowledge of scientific law was somewhat confused in those days butthe previous discovery of oxygen and something of its provinces in soil and in plantgrowth had at least established a foundation for the advancement of knowledge aboutthe soil and its various processes.
At a time of such little knowledge Liebig's teachings appearedwide and illuminating. Soil and humus were now regarded as dead things. There waslittle appreciation that soil was a community of living things or that bacteria andfungi peopled the humus of the soil and played a critical role in the productionof plant life.
The function of chemicals in the soil dominated this intrusionof science into farming where formerly it had been the sole province of the experienceand the instincts of the farmers themselves. Now farming could be taken by 'scientists'into the laboratory and in pots of sand, plants could be grown by adding to the sanda little of this and a pinch of that, dissolved in water, and then show how theyshould be grown on the farm. Even today, when it should be apparent to everybodythat the great bulk of farming research and experiments should have been done onworking farms under the watchful and critical eye or practical farmers, the researchermostly avoids the wind and the rain for his pots and tubes in the laboratory.
The analysis of the ash of burnt plants to disclose their chemicalconstituents was a good story and there were those who did not wait on the farmers'demands but went out and made much profit in telling the story. They sold artificial'fertilisers', (in reality plant stimulants) nitrogen, N, phosphorous, P, and potassium,K (Kalium). The N.P.K. mentality came to dominate agriculture.
It all worked very well. The skills from the land had foundedthe industries. There was a new demand on the farmers to satisfy the machines, theworkers and the rapidly rising population, and the regular farm worker had left theland to work in a factory. Artificials have little effect on the production fromfertile soil, but because soils were depleted or were poor, the farmer, with a fewbags of the plant stimulants, was able to increase production with less labour. Butthe use of artificials started a great change. The eco-systems in the soil, whichdepend on plant roots for their source of energy, became starved because the rootsstay nearer the surface where the drugs are. The plants become hooked and eventuallycan not grow without them. Progressively more artificial fertilisers become necessaryas the eco-systems collapse and fail in their task to feed the plant. Thus the cycleof fertility in the soil is destroyed by a process of artificial defertilisation.
The dominance of artificials did not prevent further discoveriesof the natural truths of soil and its functions. Darwin's "The Formation ofVegetable Mould Through the Action of (earth) Worms with Observations on Their Habits"(1882) established the interlocking nature of life. But it did not affect the 'Chemicalson the March.' Nor did Pasteur's discovery of the part played by the microbes, whichwas so profoundly to effect great new fields of science, have any greater influenceagainst the abuse of the chemical fragment of knowledge of the soil.
So-called scientists with superb arrogance said they had onlyto put the ashes of burnt plants in a test tube, analyse them, and scatter the equivalentquantities of chemicals over the soil to produce successful crops.
After the First World War ended, every authority--education,science and government--advocated artificial fertilisers. The factories set up for'fixing' nitrogen from the atmosphere for the manufacture of explosives, turned tothe production of sulphate of ammonia which flooded the market and the farmlands.It greatly stimulated plant growth, depleted the remaining humus in the soil andstarted the process of poisoning the water run-off and eventually all food with nitrates.
Departments of Agriculture were installed in the universitiesand agricultural experiment stations were established over the world. All deliberatelyor unconsciously laid emphasis on the N.P.K. mentality and forced the farmer to believethem. Another great mischief was being added--the fear of the parasite, the pestand the weed.
This was a time of high-speed in the bastardisation of agriculture.
It was not long before the Strangest Depression in history engulfedand sickened mankind. But most people today won't know about that, they are too youngand the historical record is none too clear. It was the era of POVERTY IN THE MIDSTOF PLENTY. Traditional finance collapsed on the stockpile of abundance. It appearedthat over-production threatened sales. The ensuing loss of profits endangered theloans, so the banks called-up their loan money. When the money came into the banksit balanced off the overdraft ledgers and ceased to exist. Financiers and investorstried to sell out; hence the panic and the stock market crashes. On a national levelthere was insufficient money left in circulation to run the economy.
Economists and financial 'experts' advising governments, wereso naive they forecast that Germany could not fight a war because she had no moneyand Japan could never challenge anybody because she had no money. They thought moneywas the thing when it was only the token for real things. It was the time when confidencewas lost in the great confidence trick of traditional finance.
The United States was ever famous for its booms and busts typeof economy. But for three years before 1932 Uncle Sam had his hands full with thegreatest bust in history. In that year one name became heard above all the rest--FranklinDelano Roosevelt. The name of his game was "New Deal" and after a yearof campaigning, Roosevelt swept to the Presidency of the United States in 1933. Thiswas the birth of the Democrats.
"The New Deal was an undisclosed plan of change in thestructure and political procedure in the United States of America" (Webster'sUniversity Dictionary), but Roosevelt's plan gradually became clear. It was to getthe minds of people off the poverty and despair of the Great Depression by givingthem something else to worry about--the Menace of Soil Erosion: and with this asthe focus, issue the government credit to bring back confidence and beat the depression.
The publicity which then arose on the pollution of soil erosionwas greater than the hullabaloo of the space programme and the noisy present daystink about pollution combined. And the pictures of land devastation were dramaticand horrifying.
Roosevelt's plans were well laid. In one year, 1933, there emergedfirstly the New Deal which was sock-it-to-everyone'; billions of government dollarsfor the unemployed millions, for the impoverished farmers, and in loans to desperatebusinessmen; secondly Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett and the Soil Erosion Campaign--halfa million men were soon employed in the Civil Conservation Corp alone, and thirdly,David Lilienthal and T.V.A. (Tennessee Valley Authority). The cost was unbelievablealthough cheaper than the Second World War poised only a few years ahead. Then inMay 1934 the weather joined up with Roosevelt's Public Relations campaign: Out ofthe west, where South West Kansas, South East Colarado, the panhandles of Texas andOklahoma and North East New Mexico all meet on the great plans, the earth liftedand moved eastward across the Northern American Continent to be "sifted throughthe windows of New York Skyscrappers". (H. H. Bennett -"Soil Conservation").DUST BOWL! What a name for their Public Relations machine to play with.
Roosevelt succeeded in restoring confidence, getting the economyfunctioning and people back to work, and remained President to die in office nearthe end of the Second World War.
But what had happened to agriculture which had caused soil erosion--stillthe greatest soil remover of all time? What happened to the soil? It should havebeen the greatest programme for enlightenment on soil, its processes and its functions;instead it became just the opposite. H. H. Bennett, who was called the father ofAmerican Soil Conservation, invented a concept--THE IRREPLACEABLE NATURE OF SOIL.It was expressed in innumerable ways in every class of media throughout the greatcampaign and on into the years to the present day. It is still accepted widely, includinghere in Australia. Bennett wrote: "Once this valuable asset (soil) leaves afield, it is as irretrievably lost as if consumed by fire . . . . ." "Soilis produced from the parent material so slowly that we may as well accept as a fact,that, once the surface layer is washed off, land so affected is, from the practicalstandpoint, generally in a condition of permanent improverishment." And . .. "it takes Nature under the most favourable conditions, including a good coverof grass, trees or other protective vegetation, anywhere from 300 to 1,000 yearsor more to build a single inch of topsoil. . . . The time involved may be much longer;the building of the second inch may require many more years than the building ofthe first inch at the surface, and so on downward."
So the great cry of the soil erosion campaign was "Savethe soil that is left."
This false and utterly pessimistic teaching on soil may havesuited Roosevelt's campaign, the chemical fertiliser manufacturers and the financialinstitutions but it produced the least good for the colossal expenditure, and didnothing for todays world except add to its troubles.
There was little that was realistic in the whole razzmataz.Even the choice of the term 'soil conservation' was absurd since CONSERVATION ISNEVER ENOUGH.
Soil conservation first taught that clearing the timber causederosion; plowing up the grassland caused soil erosion, as if the answer was thatman should live only on nuts, fruit and meat. Other statements nearer the truth,said soil erosion was firstly the loss of the fertility of the soil. Even this isnot so since the soil on more than three quarters of the land surface of the earthnever was fertile, but it did not erode until it was occupied by man. In the semi-aridregions the soil had balance. The loss of the natural balance of the soil, causedby man's occupation of the land and his innocence of the soil, is the cause of soilerosion.
In 1933 the United States established the Soil Erosion Service.In 1935 Congress passed the basic Soil Conservation Act (Pulic Law 46, 74th Congress),which authorised the Secretary of Agriculture to establish the "Soil ConservationService" who renamed the Soil Erosion Service, the United States Soil ConservationService, within the Department of Agriculture.
The nation which was the greatest despoiler of soil in history--naturalsoils as fertile as any on the face of the earth had been so damaged in only tento 15 years as to be washing away--set out to teach other nations--how to 'conserve'their soil. Soil conservation was even elevated in America to a new "science"with its own graduates in 1948.
The essential fundamentals of American Soil Conservation are(1) to use the land in keeping with its capabilities and (2) to protect the landin keeping with its needs. The scheme of the Soil Conservation Service for "farmplanning" is based entirely upon capability as to land use. This "capability"classification places all land in one of eight soil classes ranging from Class (1)"Very good land that can be cultivated safely with ordinary good farming methods.It is nearly level and easily worked" to Class (8) It suited only for wildlifeor for recreation. This land usually is rough, stony, sandy, wet or highly erodible."All classes are based on the soil as it exists at the time of planning.
Superficially this may seem fair enough but it is completelyunrealistic. Firstly, no provision is made for the fact that soil can be quicklychanged for the better and secondly, their planning of each farm is based on theclassification of soil when soil is the least permanent of the principal factorsof the farming landscape. (See Chapter 6, Design for Environment).
Soil conservation is so well oriented to the chemical mentalitythat the whole scheme could well have had its basis in big business. Certainly, thedecreasing number of organically and biologically inclined farmers were being brain-washedto believe they were wrong.
And again Australia devotedly followed America.
The Great National Expenditure on Soil Conservation did somegood. It even appeared to do a great deal of good in places but it was a crime againstpeople and a crime against the landscape. Because of its wide miseducation on soil,it added greatly to the bastardisation of agriculture.
When the submarine menaced Great Britain in the Second WorldWar the farmers were urged to grow more and more food. It was the co-ordinated Defenceand Financial policy to force farmers to buy the chemical stimulants. The financegiven to farmers was in fact a subsidy for the chemical industry. The governmentitself became the partner of the producers of artificials to ensure their greatlyincreased use.
No one seems to have been concerned with what the final resultwould be on the soil, the crops, the livestock and the people, and who even mentionedthe environment itself? Or who said there was a better way? Plenty of people knewa better way, the natural and rational way, but they had only dollar voices, againstthe million dollar voices of big business. There are no huge profits for businessin health but plenty in disease and in controlling its symptoms.
During the Second World War a new array of chemicals were beingreadied for their onslaught on the farmlands and to be extended to a devastatingattack on the whole environment. Some of those which have come into use had beenbanned in warfare because of fear of the frightful consequences! While artificialplant stimulants continued their advance and the further farming departed from thenatural and rational way, the greater has been the rise of the pests and the parasite.Now the new and efficiently business oriented chemical sciences are those of thepesticides, insecticides, weedicides and the defoliants. These are the big exploitivebusinesses of the billions of dollars. Their great crime against Nature, the farmerand the normal life of man has been their introduction into the world environmentof chemical substances--particularly those of the chlorinated hydrocarbons and organicphosphates--which are not compatible with any form of life on earth.
It matters not how offensive the waste substances of life maybecome, which in its effect has been named primitive pollution, they are still foodsfor some other natural forms of life. Their disagreeable aspects arise from unnaturalaccumulations, or because they are out of their normal place in the landscape orbecause they have been prevented from returning to the soil where they belong. Butwith these foreign synthetic chemical substances, many of long life persistance,there is a complete departure from the natural and the normal. Until their recentintroduction, their synthetic molecules did not exist during the whole course ofthe millions of years of the evolution of life. They are food for no life yet alllife must eat them. All forms of life have protective mechanisms in their bodies,as we do, yet no natural defensive organs have genetic experience for detoxifyingthem and no process of elimination will get rid of them. That is why I have calledthem THE ULTIMATE FILTH. They are the filthiest things on Earth. They have now enteredevery form of life on earth to rape and debase it. They supplied the greatest accelerationof all to the bastardisation of agriculture. Today--now--we are well into the eraof the Utter bastardisation of agriculture.
In spite of the debasing effect on agriculture which attendedLiebig's discoveries, they were and still are of great usefulness. Firstly, the applicationof chemical fertilisers (except nitrogen) is an excellent way to ascertain quicklyif soil is fertile or infertile. If plant growth is markedly improved, then the soilis infertile. Secondly, they have their most important province in assisting thekick-off of a soil development and improvement programme. The best way to make soilfertile is to follow the way of Nature and hurry it up a little. The clovers andthe grasses can be stimulated to grow where they are reluctant to grow, by usingthese plants stimulants--once. When a start has been made with a satisfactory cropof grass and roots, then aeration of the soil and improved use of rain with the correctmanagement of livestock are the prime means for rapidly improving the soil. No moreartificial stimulants should be used. If they are used again they become agents ofdefertility and pollution.
But the chemical manufacturers promoted the more theory--"ifa little is good more is better" and instead of the plant stimulants assistingin the development of a healthy soil, the soil became a medium of holding the plantin place to receive the growth promoters. If there was still some natural fertilitybanked in the soil it was burnt up as ever more soluble salts are used to grow theartificial and unhealthy crop.
If plants nutrients were soluble in natural soil there wouldbe none left for any growth--it would have been leached to deeper levels aeons ago.The concept is that these nutrients exist in the soil "insoluble yet available"to plants by the final action of the plant roots themselves working with mechanismswithin the soil. The plants thus have the faculty of being able to select the nutrientsthey need in the proportions in which they need them; and this is the way it is forhealthy plants growing on fertile soil.
But plants which grow from chemical additives are not able toexercise in full this natural selection of its nutrients because they are all mixedtogether as salts in water solutions and are taken in by the plant out of the normalproportions in which the various elements are needed. The plant is not a normal plant,it is therefore something less--a diseased plant. Nature's way is for insects toattack the unhealthy plants and for weeds to grow in the damaged soil. "Scientific"agriculture replies with insecticides, pesticides and weedicides of ever increasingpotency and danger to the environment.
The simple and obvious way to measure the success of farmingis that there is no disease in the soil, the plants are free from attack by insectsand from fungus and virus diseases and the animals and the people who feed on theplants are healthy and vigorous.
Soil erosion and the creating of alkali lands are the finalmanifestation of diseased soil and show that the soil had been beaten to near death.The concept of soil conservation is to 'save the soil that is left' and pin the soilto the earth so they can continue to hammer hell out of it with all the techniquesof modern agriculture.
There are many signs of soil deterioration before good soilreaches the stage of destructive erosion or salting--and practically all are associatedwith the reduction of air in the soil. Year-after-year fine cultivation of the soilreduces the intake of water and more of it runs off and air is not drawn in by watermoving down deeply to keep the springs and streams flowing. But good crop rotation,which includes deep rooting legumes and grasses, maintains and improves the humus,the crumb structure, the absorbtion capacity and the aeration, and keeps the springsflowing. If stock are run and managed properly, the improvement of soil--the bankingof surplus fertility--will be continuous.
The living wonder of the fertile soil is its completeness andits durability, when it is properly managed. A mm. or two of surface soil moves oneach year to lower levels while a mm. or two of the subsoil below, with its storeof minerals, becomes a part of the fertile top-soil. Year after year and centuryafter century, good food can be produced and the fertility of the soil can remainintact.
Only through a fertile soil can the plants, the animals, ourselvesand our children, and the whole environment, recover from the effects of the bastardisationof our agriculture.