(see Agriculture also)
This author's family has farmed for eleven generations since 1630 in Jamestown, Virginia and points west.
Likely, they farmed in England for millenia before that.
My father was the first in the family to attend college. He grew up in Oklahoma.
In the Great Depression. In the Dustbowl. The greatest ecological calamity ever created by mankind.
Attributable to poor farming practices. Three years of rain convinced farmers they could plow the arid Oklahoma Panhandle.
It then reverted to no rain. The freshly turned soil became dust and the rest is history. That was the 1930's.
When he was nine years old, he had a mare and his job was to bring canvas water bags to the threshing crews in the field.
That was before everything dried up and blew away.
They came to Illinois in 1938 and couldn't get over how green it was.
My father went to University of Illinois right before Pearl Harbor
After Pearl Harbor, he did a stint in the Army for five years in Kunming, China running diesel generators for the Signal Corps.
After the war, he enrolled at SIU-C (it was called Southern Normal then). Class of 1947.
Graduated with and married my mother who was a sewing and tailoring teacher.
He became a Physics and Mathematics professor.
He never lost the ability to harness a team of mules and every chance would help his father farm on a quarter-section over by Olney.
After my Grandpa died, we bought a small farm south of Belleville near Millstadt.
Large portions of it were eroded and there I planted 2000 Walnut, 500 Pecan, 500 Pnin Oak and 10,000 Cypress.
The flat ground was left in traditional agriculture (row crops) to pay property taxes.
Tree farming is not corn farming, but one is still wedded to the soil and to rain falling properly.
I was driving to town the other day and the neighbor was discing. I could smell dirt.
That makes no sense to city people nor young people. It is a smell from earliest youth.
Fits right in with the cooing of mourning doves on a soft Summer morning.
Poetry nor media cannot convey the deep meaning of this.
We are a nation of farmers.
All two percent of us.
We are the most productive workers in the world.
We have combines that cost as much as a yacht and we get to "sail" it for a week per year.
When we do really well, we are penalized and put back in our place with low commodity prices.
There are two cents of wheat in a loaf of bread. The bag costs more.
On Wall Street, more Corn Futures are traded in a day than has been actually ever grown in the history of the Republic.
Does that constitute "farming" (much less constitute work)?
Check their hands for calluses.
We owe farmers every bit of help we can give them to rationally pursue their
They in turn owe us a proper stewardship of the land and respect for the environment.
There is always the possibility of misuse of technology as amply proven by over-plowing the soil at the dawn of mechaniszation.
Also things like DDT and various other compounds applied indicriminately have required copious remedial efforts.
There is a new bug-a-boo on the horizon. That is named GMO's or "genetically-modified-organisms".
There is all manner of promises by the corporate food giants how this will change our lives for the better.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is all manner of hysteria about mutant caterpillers eating the planet.
The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.
The first efforts at GMO's are well-known in the form of Round-Up Resistance seed varieties.
This has worked tolerably well for a first effort and this is given as an endorsement for all such efforts.
That is too early. First, Round-Up Resistance is fading due to adaptation and mutating resistance.
As a panacea, Agro-industry is seeking to re-introduce a potent cocktail containing a sixty-year-old herbicide.
Variously known as 2-4-D, Atrazine, Crossbow and most famously as "Agent Orange".
Really? They want to spray this on America after it worked so WELL in Vietnam!!
I remember my father and grandfather discussing 2-4-D in the 1950's when it was first introduced.
It was miracle chemical in that it would attack broadleaf weeds and leave grasses intact- namely corn and wheat- which are grasses.
There was a tiny problem with it. It didn't affix well and washed into water supplies and bodies of water.
It was heavier than water and intensified in the bottom layers.
Autopsies of catfish livers were horrendous.
As such, it fell out of favor. Not, of course, with Agribusiness which would still love to sell it,
but with regulatory people, scientists and the common-sensical general public.
Now, coupled with the decreasing effectivity of RoundUp and the fact that there are few blockbuster replacements in the
Agribusiness pipeline, they are promoting catchy combos like "Duo" which is part RoundUp and part Agent Orange.
Permission for these has been denied, but given the current ear big business has with government, they should be coming soon to a field near you.
It is the responsibilty of the farmer to resist these simplistic solutions and lobby for sensible solutions from Agribusiness.
It is your land. Why would you spray Agent Orange on something you intend to leave to your heirs.
Unless you are a farmer who is one of those Citizens United persons.
Then you have no care for the land because you are a corporation.
Waste it. Move on. Kind of like strip-mining without moving anything.
Another GMO product worthy of concern is seedstock with BT interwoven into
This is a really BAD idea. BT stands for Bacillus Thuringensis. (And, no, it's not the sausage, so put away the horseradish.)
It is a toxic bacillus component which becomes part of the plant and when pests munch on the plant they are poisoned.
Does this make it into the corn kernels? Feel like gambling? Do you believe Agribusiness would tell you if it did?
The risks are two-fold on this.
First, it kills innocent bystanders such as harmless insects which further impacts the foodchain for larger creatures like songbirds.
Most visible and iconic of these victims are Monarch Butterflies and their larvae which are in a precipitous decline.
Will you be the one to explain to you grandchildren "why there are no more butterflies?"
Second there is the risk of "gene-hopping" whereby characteristics in one plant (BT) get transferred to another plant by interbreeding
and are released into the wild with devastating implications.
Along these same lines, consider what goes by various names "Calfer-Corn", "Canola", "Silage", "Milo".
(The Europeans call it "Rape Seed", but we Americans know rape is voluntary, so we use a different name.)
It is a grass. It looks like stunted corn. You can find Canola oil in the supermarket.
Its closest genetic relative is Johnson Grass which is the scourge of farmers everywhere with a capital "S".
Billions of dollars per year in problems.
Suppose genes altruistically woven into Canola for poison leaves jumped to cousin Johnson Grass
and the whole world became covered in poisonous plants.
I've got a better idea. Let's cross-breed it with Poison Ivy also so everyone can enjoy it.
Are we stupid or what?
I suspect the "or what" is indifference, greed and/or evil on the part of Agribusiness.
Okay. Enough nay-saying. What is good about GMO's?
Here is a sterling example, long popularized by this author.
Soybeans and other legumes have nodules on their roots that have colonies of bacteria which fix Nitrogen in the soil in an available form.
Nitrogen is a cornerstone of plant life. It exists as N2 as a gas in air.
Nitrogen is the most common pure element in the earth, making up 78.1% of the entire volume of the atmosphere
The extremely strong triple bond in elemental nitrogen (N=N),
the second strongest bond in any diatomic molecule, dominates nitrogen chemistry.
This causes difficulty for both organisms and industry in converting N2 into useful compounds.
Synthetically produced ammonia and nitrates are key industrial fertilisers,
and fertiliser nitrates are key pollutants in the eutrophication of water systems.
Ammonium Nitrate (NH4NO3) is produced using copious quantities of natural gas.
It requires 17,200 cubic feet of natural gas to make a ton of Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer.
Approximately three percent of our natural gas goes into fertilizer production.
A ton of Ammonium Nitrate will cover about ten acres.
An average US home uses 61,000 cubic feet of natural gas per year.
Fifty percent of Ammonium Nitrate is imported even though we have copious quantities of natural gas.
Now imagine if all of the above numbers became meaningless.
Imagine when Science is able to create corn and wheat plants with nitrogen nodules on their roots.
This will be difficult because legumes are Dicotylodons and grasses are Monocotylodons.
This author has a standing bet with the Emeritus head of the Biology Department at Kansas University when this will happen.
The bet dates from 1985. Still waiting. He says it is impossible for the above reason.
Flying also used to be impossible. It will happen. I will collect that bet.
When it happens, it will transform agriculture in a second "Green Revolution".
It will end the pollution from fertilizer run-off. It will end the expense of fertilizing period.
This is why we need to have intense research in specifically this field and Congress needs to push it.
This author has another brilliant idea and this one will save the planet and
you heard it here first. It is copyrighted by me BTW.
(When this idea does save the planet I insist on being installed as Emperor in place of the Orange One.)
Your gratitude should know no bounds. Send lots of chocolate!!
There is currently afoot research to produce ethylene precursors in the stalks
This means stalks of corn would be harvested to make plastics.
This a good idea in and of itself except for one minor problem.
It removes organic content from the soil thereby depleting it.
This is why farmers disc under stubble or leave it in place for no-till.
Organic content feeds earthworms, creates casts, holds moisture, allows the soil to breathe.
Without organic content the soil becomes a dead matrix of hard putty like that modeling clay from childhood.
It requires greater and greater inputs for less and less return.
Or you can recycle the organic content. Removing the organic content is the opposite of that.
This author and his father laid above-ground polyethylene waterlines with embedded
carbon black for anti-UV-deterioration properties.
That was in 1985. It has gone through thirty-two hot, bright summers and thirty-two cold, miserable winters.
It is not embrittled or otherwise compromised.
What if we genetically engineered corn to produce polyethylene (with a dab of carbon) instead of just ethylene as mentioned above?
What if we plowed that stalk back into the soil every year after the corn was harvested.
Polyethylene is 86% carbon by weight and weighs about one gram per cubic entimeter.
The chemical equation for polyethyene is C2H4. Pure organic.
Thus, you would be fixing and burying copious quantities of fixed carbon (which wouldn't decay or escape) by the simple act of farming.
There are approximately two tons of corn stalks per acre.
At one-third efficiency, that would be the carbon dioxide equivalent of two tons per acre (carbon dioxide is 27% carbon).
An American releases 2.3 tons of carbon dioxide (or a half ton of carbon) into the atmosphere each year.
One acre of plowed-under polyethylene cornstalks negates the carbon footprint of four Americans.
Corn is America's largest crop. We grow almost 14 million acres of corn per year.
That's 28,000,000 tons of fixed carbon per year
With no addition expense other that the initial research, we can knock off almost ten percent of our carbon footprint.
This amount is equal to our growth of carbon contribution not eliminated by the seas.
It might make us carbon dioxide neutral.
You heard it here first. Address to mail chocolate to forthcoming.
These are the kind of things Congress needs to fund for Science to explore.
You often hear "Oh the corporations can do that for us." BS!
(BS is what some cattle farmers make a lot of as well. They put it on their fields. They don't feed it to their constituents.)
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