Agriculture: The Long View, and a New Green Revolution

By David Zirnhelt –

Many pastoralists and conservation farmers in the US voted for Donald Trump—by a strong majority, according to my reading. So maybe farming is a tribal activity and the resettler tribes of the land operate with a worldview that in part says we humans are a chosen race, destined by a higher power to dominate/steward the earth in our image, no matter what.

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David with two of his saddle horses. Photo: Pati Moreno

Farming cultures resettled much of the world, and some kind of farming has made it possible for societies to survive times of famine.

It has been argued that the psyche of current civilization is stuck at a human age of about four. The “want-want, my way” attitude of a four-year-old that wants nothing much more than to get enough to eat and have comforts to survive is what drives much of human activity. Survival, after all, is what the human species has been too darn good at. So, our population abounds.

Survival, after all, is what the human species has been too darn good at. So, our population abounds.

Now how are we going to feed all that survive, hopefully without savage collateral destruction of “enemies” and many of our own diseased or displaced in the name of a higher order? If we are “right” then we just might get our reward in a “heaven”. That justifies horrendous behaviour toward other tribes and “races”.

Our historical need to survive, and maybe thrive, led us to develop large complex societies in which farmers had a particular place to produce a lot of food. This food could be stored for the bad times, for war to expand our boundaries so that in a competitive world it would be our group that survived.

I would submit for the sake of argument that the pastoralists who voted for Trump felt government, liberal thinkers, and progressive believers had badly constrained the production of food. Farming operations by regulation and a different worldview meant the very constitution of the United States (at least the spirit and intent of the Founding Fathers) was breached. “Get them out of the way,” is their rallying cry.

I want society to honour the best of what a healthy farming worldview has to offer. The problem is, for so long many farmers in the industrial age see no limits to growth and production.

The collateral damage to the substrate of the earth that supports food production is treated as an externality to the economics of food production, that is, it is not accounted for. This is what is catching up to us as we industrialize agriculture more and more.

So, really, what am I getting at?

Modern farmers’ desires to produce more, produce quicker, meet the market demand, and make a decent living long ago started to have a negative impact on the very basis of food production: the soils of our farms and the larger ecology of the grasslands, savannahs, forests, and oceans. Some have made a virtual religion of this farming.

Farming gets blamed for a huge footprint on the earth. Much of this blame is deserved, but those same food production activities hold a promise of making a rapid change from gross emitter of carbon dioxide to net fixer of carbon back in the earth, so has said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and many others.

“Sustainable practices” would be the watchwords of this approach. Farmers, gardeners, and even the cowboys of the western range can, in the space of several years, turn agriculture from a net emitter of carbon to a net “sequesterer” of carbon the world over.

To accomplish this would be nothing short of a new Green Revolution in farming.

We may remember that the much-vaunted and now failed Green Revolution sought to industrialize farming in the Third World, essentially by wanton application of fertilizers and pesticides to radically enhance production, thus using up valuable organic matter in the soil.

Too much too fast, and without the long view of sustainable practices, has got us into a cycle of dependency that holds destruction as a possible outcome, so serious is the need for the new Green Revolution in agriculture.

This is my view of the problem. The second part of this article in the April/May issue of TheGreenGazette will address possible solutions.

David and his family ranch in the Beaver Valley where their boys have a small sawmill that supplies their Zirnhelt Timber Frame construction business at the 150 Mile House. David served in government as an elected representative for 11 years, two of them serving as Minister of Agriculture in BC. He also chairs the Industry Advisory Committee to the Thompson Rivers University Applied Sustainable Ranching Program.

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