Even though this has been discussed by many people over and over again, I still interact with lots of people in different places and platforms who argue for industrial agriculture. Not all of them are money-loving or greedy folks. Not at all. Some are dear friends, some are sincere and many of them are very smart. I agree with them on many areas except for food.
Though I don’t look at them as less or inferior to me in any way, I think that they are, in most cases, misinformed. Some people might not care, but I am not attempting to appeal to that group. Let me respond to what are, in my experience, the three most common arguments for industrial agriculture and against regenerative farming.
1. We need industrial agriculture to feed the world
This is maybe the most common argument for industrial agriculture and also the most easily refuted. It is amazing that it is still used as a line of argument. I think the reasoning behind this simply comes from the fact that industrial agriculture has revolutionized agriculture indeed.
The industrial age did add a lot of efficiency to the work back in the days. But what many fail to take into consideration is that along with helpful innovation also came a lot of other problems that we are first seeing unfold now. With all the innovation and modern technology we have now, regenerative farming also becomes easier and better than ever.
The argument that we need to feed the world is one that is built upon fear. Fear controls people. Fear makes people buy GMO’s and chemical fertilizers. The truth is that we are producing more food than we can eat. We could feed nearly as many people again with the food that never reaches the mouth of a hungry person. Wow.
Secondly, consider the enormous potential that parks and lawns would have in many places if they were used to grow edible plants. In my interview with Joel Salatin, he pointed out that the lawns in the US would be enough to feed the entire country. Wow.
Thirdly, there is an ever growing number of regenerative, land-healing farms that produce healthy food with higher yields than industrial farms. Yes, it is more labor, but what is wrong with employing people if everyone makes a living, land is healed and healthy food is produced for people to eat? Small-scale agriculture yields more than large-scale agriculture.
This means that if a 5000 acre farm would be managed as if it were many little farms with different enterprises that work, it would be much more productive. I know it isn’t always that easy to implement, but my, oh my is there room for change and improvement or what?! It has been done over and over again, so it is possible!
2. Through the industrialization, including food, we live stronger and healthier lives.
This is something I have heard several times. I don’t understand at all why this argument is brought up so quickly as soon as I mention that industrial agriculture produces poor quality food. It is only in that context that this argument is brought up. Ironically, if you mention that food doesn’t taste as good anymore today, or that food from Grandma’s garden tasted so much better back then, everyone agrees and nods their head.
Imagine, food without MSG actually tasted good back then. Food was actually stored without all the E-numbers added to the ingredients list to preserve it. But is it true? Does industrial food make us live longer? I couldn’t disagree more.
Yes, our lifespan has been getting longer the last decades, though that trend has slowed down and even taken a step back in the US. But we live longer due to a lot of factors that have little to do with food. The biggest factors here are our improvements on hygiene, the medical system, better work conditions, less wars in our society and many more. In regards to food it is quite different. We are looking at an epidemic-like outbreak of different issues, that is incomparable in history. Diabetes, food intolerances, allergic reactions… all are reaching numbers and levels that seem overwhelming.
I can’t wrap my mind around folks who don’t find it alarming that 3 out of 4 people have measurable traces of pesticides in them. Is it just me or does our society seem to be plagued by chronic diseases and cancer? I know of many people who have treated those sicknesses and been healed by changing their diet.
We do live stronger and healthier lives for many reasons, but they could be much stronger and healthier if we’d eat healthier. Your body can only be as healthy as the food is that you put in it.
How can a person truly believe that one chicken is just as good as another chicken? That a chicken which never saw sunlight, breathed dust and manure its entire life and was kept alive with drugs is just as healthy as a chicken that got to express its natural behavior, eat grass and insects, breathe fresh air and take sun baths? Really? What do you think happens in your body when you eat one or the other?
Do you think an egg is an egg? An egg can only be as good as the health of the chicken and the feed input of the chicken. Eating an egg can be anything from very harmful to very healthy for you, depending on the chicken it came from. How can someone really believe that it doesn’t matter which one you eat?
3. We don’t need to worry about sequestering CO2 as much as you say
Folks often ask me why we are so focused on sequestering carbon. And I am. I talk a lot about carbon sequestration and it is one of my most important subjects. Let me talk about this from a way that most people don’t think of when this subject is brought up. They think in the terms that media and the world is discussing this subject right now: We need to lower CO2 or we’ll all die. I want to stay out of that discussion right now and focus on some other really important points in regards to sequestering CO2 that should get anyone on the train.
- Sequestering CO2 is what nature naturally wants to do. All plants need carbon and sequester it in order to live and grow. Nature naturally wants to do this. In general, the healthier a plant, the more carbon it sequesters. A pasture that is managed incorrectly and is continuously overgrazed will actually leak carbon instead of sequestering it in many cases. What nature models for us is the opposite. The ecology of functioning grasslands, as well as forests, sequester carbon at their maximum potential or strive to do so. We should mimic this because nature strives for it. ‘Nough said!
- Sequestering CO2 prevents droughts and floods. By sequestering carbon, the plant grows. Biomass is being accumulated both above ground and under ground. The carbon that is being stored underground through the root system’s adds organic matter to the soil. This organic matter functions as a sponge as it can hold lots of water during rainy times and release it to the plants in times of drought. There are different numbers out there but what we can agree on is the fact that organic matter, which is 45% carbon, holds a lot of water.
We should sequester as much carbon as possible to make our fields more weather resistant and productive in harsh conditions. I don’t know of a single farmer who would complain about better growth in a drought or less muddy fields during rainy seasons.
- Sequestering CO2 builds soil. The carbon in soil, which mainly comes from the annual die-back of the root system during winter time, is what adds the long-lasting carbon to the soil. Over the years and decades, sequestering lots of carbon as close to maximum potential as possible will increase and build your soil significantly faster.
Agriculture’s biggest concern today is not climate change, it is the fact that our top soils are disappearing. They blow and wash away from tillage and the constant disturbance of the ground makes the soil sterile. The oxygen added to the soil makes the carbon unstable and it is released again. Our soil disappears.
- Sequestering CO2 increases harvest. A recent work of the Swedish University of Agricultural Science points out the important factor of organic matter in soil to increase harvests. Farmers come to the point where no matter how much or how good of a fertilizer they dump on a field, the harvest will be limited due to the fact that the percentage of organic matter in the soil is very low. Increasing the organic matter is done by sequestering carbon which will increase your potential for higher yields in the future. I like higher yields.
If you don’t attempt to sequester and store carbon and rather choose to follow the industrial approach, you will not just lose these benefits, but it is actually harmful and has the opposite effect. There is no “sustainability” in that sense. There is either land healing or land depletion.
While this subject certainly is much bigger than these points that I just discussed, I hope that this article can help to show my position in this. As a really good read on this I would recommend Joel Salatin’s books “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” and “The Marvelous Pigness of the Pigs”.