Friday, December 28, 2012

Industrial Agriculture More Efficient, . . . Really?

"The standard rationale for industrial agriculture, energetically promoted by the multinationals that profit from it, is that it is more efficient; it can feed the world and do so cheaply. Yet, in fact, small farms everywhere, in North America and also in the Third World, are more productive than large ones, for multiple reasons. An industrial soybean farm may produce more beans per acre, but the small-farm, planted with six to twelve different crops, has a much higher total yield, both in food quantity and in market value. Plants do favors for each other. In agrarian cultures in Mexico and northern Central America, farmers have traditionally interplanted 'the three sisters': corn, beans, and squash. The corn provides trellises for the beans, the squash leaves discourage weeds and retard evaporation, and the beans fix nitrogen that enhance soil fertility for all three crops. Polycropping and even the planting of diverse varieties within a species also help with pest control; the different crops create more habitational niches for beneficial organisms, and harmful organisms are unlikely to have an equally devastating effect on every crop. Small farmers often integrate crops and livestock, rotating pasture and planted fields in a single system of recycled biomass and nutrients.

The difference in productivity between small farms and industrial farms is not slight. In every country for which data is available, smaller farms are shown to be 200 to 1,000 percent more productive per unit area. Moreover, small farming is more productive because the quality and even the quantity of labor and land care is higher when workers invest themselves in their own farm and community. Farmers who expect their families to have a future on the land do not willingly mortgage that future by robbing soil and water of their long-term health. Productivity and cost-effectiveness are durative qualities, although the short-term 'success' of agribusiness depends on ignoring the truth.

Small farms also generate more prosperity for nearby rural towns, where farmers buy supplies and in turn find markets for their produce. . . ."

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