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Why Regenerative Agriculture?
Some time after World War II, people realized that they could use the same chemicals that were used to make bombs and poison gases in the war to make fertilizer and pesticides to spray on farms. This led to a huge boom in crop yields which led to cheap grains that could be fed to cattle in a feedlot to make cheap meat. All of this has been magnified and expanded to get us where we are today. Several decades of extractive farming have degraded so much of the farmland in our country and the world. Small farms have been sold and bought up by whoever can do it bigger and faster. Farming and ranching went from growing food and caring for the land to getting as high of a yield on as many acres as you can, while killing every plant and animal that isn't the specific genetically modified variety of corn that you planted that year.
Here are just a few of the consequences of the last century of conventional farming:
Topsoil is packed with organic matter and without topsoil there is no cycling of nutrients. As we lose topsoil we become more and more reliant on chemical fertilizer. A big reason for erosion is tillage, but also farms leaving bare soil after they have harvested their crops.
Another consequence of losing organic matter through the erosion of topsoil is a greatly reduced water holding capacity. Land is supposed to be like a sponge and water should be able to infiltrate the soil. Unfortunately due to compacted soil that is low in organic matter, much of our rain water simply runs down hill away from where it is needed. Every 1% change in soil organic matter equates to 25,000 gallons of water holding capacity per acre. When our soil can't absorb and retain water like it should, it makes us much more vulnerable to dry weather.
The government has been subsidizing farmers since the Great Depression. This has meant manipulated commodity prices and one track thinking in the farming industry. In the 1970's, Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz told farmers to "Get big or get out". The plan was to incentivize large corporate farms to grow more subsidized staple crops like corn and soybeans to grow the export market and make cheap food. The US government has spent more than $116 billion of taxpayer money on corn subsidies since 1995. There is no doubt this has made a huge impact on the way land is managed across our country. As corn and other crops are subsidized and incentivized, more and more healthy land has been torn up to grow these crops.
Loss of Family Farms and Dying Rural Communities
All of this corporatization of agriculture led to a lot of consolidation of farms. Small farms couldn't keep up and were bought out by big farms that were more efficient. More and more money began leaving small farming communities and going to big agriculture companies that profited on selling seed, chemicals, and big fancy equipment to these big farmers so they could keep farming more and more land. As money continued to leave the small towns, so did the small family businesses that once lined every main street in the country. Everything from small family feed stores, hardware stores, to restaurants has been replaced by regional, national, and global franchises and corporations.
Fragile Food System
As we learned during 2020, our food system in America is much more fragile than it should be. There should never be a grocery store with no meat. In most cases you could draw a circle around a store and find all sorts of farmers growing various meat and produce. The problem is that so much of that meat and produce has to be hauled around the country before it makes it to a store.
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