Commentary: 12 half-baked ideas for improving agriculture
Since when does the U.S. have a “broken food system,” as claimed by the Worldwatch Institute? What the U.S. has is the world’s most efficient food and feed production system. What the Worldwatch Institute would prefer is inefficient worldwide agriculture similar to farming in 1952.
The activist Worldwatch Institute, based in Washington, D.C., claims climate change is making it increasingly important to protect local agriculture in the United States and address the issues underlying its vulnerability to natural disasters, such as drought.
What happened during the Dust Bowl has something to do with failure of the old-time farming practices. In my opinion, a lot of the improvements in agricultural production practices of the last 20 years are contrary to Worldwatch Institute suggestions. Modern farmers of today are protecting the environment and doing a better job of feeding an expanding world population than U.S. farmers following most of Worldwatch’s outdated suggestions.
"Fixing our broken food system is about more than just food prices," said Danielle Nierenberg, director of the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project. "It's about better management of natural resources, equitable distribution and the right to healthy and nutritious food."
The Nourishing the Planet (www.NourishingthePlanet.org) project highlights 12 agricultural innovations that it claims can help make U.S. and global agriculture more drought resilient, as well as sustainable. (My comments about each of the 12 points are in italic type.)
1. Agroforestry: Planting trees in and around farms reduces soil erosion by providing a natural barrier against strong winds and rainfall. Tree roots also stabilize and nourish soils. The 1990 Farm Bill established the USDA National Agroforestry Center with the expressed aim of encouraging farmers to grow trees as windbreaks or as part of combined forage and livestock production, among other uses. (Pasture ground in general has some trees for livestock shade. Wind breaks are good around farm lots and houses. Trees around fields reduce the acres that can be planted, and crops grown near trees are much less productive because the trees pull nutrients and moisture.)
2. Soil management: Alternating crop species allows soil periods of rest, restores nutrients, and also controls pests. Soil amendments, such as biochar, help soils retain moisture near the surface by providing a direct source of water and nutrients to plant roots, even in times of drought. (Adding soil amendments can be good for soil, including manure, but there is the potential to overdue it and have pollutant runoff. Resting soil refers to leaving ground fallow in most agricultural terms, which would mean huge acres out of production at any one time, including acres that can produce yearly without negative consequences.)