Monday, September 22, 2014

Farming future

I saw a quote that really struck me where i live, when I think about farming.  It was this:

"“We’re going to have to produce more food in the next 40 years than we have in the last 10,000,” says William G. Lesher, former chief economist for the USDA.

Let me restate that; if you take all of the food produced for the last 10,000 years and total it all up, we're going to have to produce that much food, an equal amount,  in the next 35 years.  

Farmland, arable land, is a pretty precious commodity, and it'll get more precious as time goes by.  I just got done spending 3 weeks in arizona  and I was reminded when I was there what a precious thing my green fields are.  How lucky I was to live in an area where irrigation hasn't been neccesary, and in fact, where it's least likely to be impacted by climate change.  My farm, through happy chance, is in one of the areas estimated least impacted by global warming.  
Elko County, NV alfalfa crop
Click on the link below the picture, and scroll around there.  Take a look at the area around that green line of forage you see on the horizon.  

On the drive back I took some backroads through Nevada and Utah, and just at the time of year that most of the producers were harvesting their crops.  They produce some really nice forage here -- you have basically endless sunshine (at least compared to my area) and apparently plenty of water.  

Well, not really.  When I stopped at a store to buy a soda, I struck up a conversation with a local.  Given that the non-irrigated acres are all sagebrush desert, where did the water come from?  

"Wells", was the one-word answer.  Drilled 300 to 500' down, and big pumps to bring the water to the surface.  300 feet seemed very deep to me -- and I asked about the price.  "oh, we pay about $100 a foot to drill a well, all included.  ".  So $30,000 to $50k a well.  And what about the water table?  "Well, it's been going down for years; now that they've got the new mine going again it's going down pretty fast.  "

What happens when they run out of water?  Or the water that they have is too deep to economically tap it?  Or a growing city, like las vegas, buys up the water rights?    "well, I guess we'll all be out of business".  Said with a relaxed drawl, but he meant every word.  

Most of these crops are raised on fossil water -- water that isn't being replenished.  And on fertilizers based on fossil fuels.  And this is the state of a lot of commercial agriculture in our desert southwest.  Your romaine lettuce and handful of smoked almonds, too.  

There's been a drought in arizona for 15 years now.  I'm wondering when they're going to stop calling it a drought and just say "this is the new normal -- this is the way it is".  

What I do in my farming practice is that I strive to maintain an integrated system, and to minimize the inputs as much as possible.  So no chemical fertizers, no herbicides, no pesticides.  Manure, sun and water are the primary inputs, and the sun and water get here by themselves.  The manure I have to move around a bit, but that's ok.  

I look around my little valley and I see perfectly good farmland being cut up into little tiny housing parcels, and going fallow.  Or worse than fallow - growing useless lawns - it's tilled and fertilized and irrigated, but benefits no creature except the owner, who thinks that a big lawn is a sign of prestige.  

My neighbor came over one day and offered to mow my front yard area; and I thought to myself "why would I want to waste that forage?" and declined, but he saw my meadow grass as an eyesore.  A week or two of cows on it cleaned it up, and I did end up brush hogging it to cut the thistles down that the cattle (and I) don't like, but and it showed me a basic fundamental gap between what they thought of the land and what I think.  

Farmland, foodland, is held in trust.  And if you own a good chunk of it, I think you're duty bound to produce food from it.  And if you can't, maybe you shouldn't be on foodland.  Because we're going to need every single acre soon, and they're not making any more of it.  


Steve said...

Good thoughts, and your observations on the Nevada farming sounds like a description of the Central CA valley I live in. Pumping our way to oblivion. said...

Good thoughts, but major points are still: 1)Food waste-want to be floored? Do some research in this area. The amount of food wasted in N. America alone is staggering 2)Population-this is actually the real problem that almost everyone is afraid to address.

As usual...interesting post.