Show older

I like this author's method of starting each chapter of his nonfiction book in the first-person present tense.

"[David] explains that the per acre yield or corn has skyrocketed since his grandfather's day. His granddad was lucky to get around thirty or forty bushels per acre. In contrast, today in the noisy combine 'we' harvested around 150 bushels per acre - and some of thr farmers he knows are pulling in up to 180."

"When asked about the inputs and the investment needed to squeeze that kind of productivity from the ligand, David they've all gone up too. Farm chemistry can get complicated but the basic roles of application, he says, are simple. The more dry weight of corn (or soy beans) you want, the more pounds of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium you add. But along more inputs only works up to a point which is called your 'maximum yield' (MY)."

"And gauging exactly where that point is so you don't spend unnecessary money on inputs? Well, says David, that's somewhere between a 'scientific guess' and a 'lot of prayin.'"

"He explains that the band numbers for application break down as follows. To grow an acre of corn today you apply around 140 pounds of ammonium nitrate (nitrogen), around sixty of phosphate (phosphorus), and around eighty pounds of potash (potassium). Added to that are about two to three points power acre of herbicides (like glyphosate, the primary chemical Roundup), insecticides, and/or fungicides."

"America loses about two farms every hour, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year."

"In other words, the great efficiency of modern now makes it possible for every 1 farmer to feed 317 nonfarmers. It's really a miracle."

"The first barrier to unlimited acres of the same crop was pests, the second weeds, and the third fungus. Without balanced soils, which have inside them all the microbial life needed to support plants, nature will cull a crop. In naturue, diversity is the norm, not the exception, so an ecosystem in a systate of unbalance (too much of the same plant) will, through bugs, weeds, plant disease, et cetera, attempt to restore itself to balance (diversity)."

This book is fantastic. I know the barest outlines of U.S. agricultural history, and "Kiss the Ground" tells it with humor, drama, and loads and loads of concrete facts. I'm really getting a lot out of it, and it's not a slog to get through.

Oh my god. Look at this 1947 ad in Life magazine for the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing company.

"The data suggests [pesticides] are in up to 98 percent of food. Sometimes it's in small doses, someimes large. The USDA, the agency responsible for testing our food, does not test for the majority of the worst offenders of these poisons (including 2,4-D, glyphosate, or atrazine) in the foods on which they are mostly sprayed (corn, soy, and wheat)."

"Washington, DC's 'revolving door' between big agricultural businesses, the regulatory agencies, and the Senate and House committees that are supposed to oversee them leaves little in the way of citizen protection from these chemicals. With nobody to shield them, Americans are the guinea pigs in the largest chemical experiment humankid has ever taken."

"Not surprisingly, up to 67 percent of the premiums for crop insurance are paid to private comapanies directly from the federal government. If that all sounds like mumbo jumbo, the bottom line is that private enterprise is soaking up most of the tax money that is supposed to be paid to farmers, who, due to an overbearing and outdated government finance scheme, grow the very crops that make Americans sick."

"The system of crop insurance works like this: RA releases its policy listing crop insurance prices. Based on the list of insured crops a farmer decides what they will grow. A farmer then certifies his or her production by making sure it conforms to the government mode. After harvest there's an acreage report. If, as is often the case, the crop produces less than the expected per acre quanity set by the governent, the farmer files a loss report."

"The insurance is calculated and the premium is paid by the federal government (mostly to a private company). The farmer receives his or her "loss payment" and starts again."

"... a Farmer must adhere to the federal insurance program's strict guidelines concerning the type of crop to be planted (i.e. patented seed), the methods used (i.e., chemicals sprayed), as well as where and when the crops are grown. Not surprisingly, farmers generally grow the crops with the highest per acre insurance rates ... Because it provies a guaranteed price for crops, the federal crop insurance program tells the majority of ... farmers what to grow and what not to grow."

"While it maintains one sort of food security, in its current incarnation the government crop insurance penalizes farmers who do the right thing when it comes to soil. Based in Washington, DC, where the average Senate seat costs around $10 million and where there are over one thousand lobbyists for every member of Congress, the FCIC is in lockstep with the major companies that profit and benefit from industrialized corn and soy and the chemicals and machines they require."

"In 2009, the the midsize - those grossing between $100,000 and $250,00 - averaged a net income of approximately $19,270, incuding government payments. Even those operations designated by the as "large industrial farms" (making a gross income of between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2009) netted only $52,000 on average, including $17,000 in government payments."

"A 2015 University of Illinois Department of Agriculutal and Consumer Economics (ACE) budget projection puts the net farmer income in 2016 for corn at negative $66 and soybeans at negative $97, respectively. Meaning, frowing corn will result in a loss of $66 per acre and soy will lose you $97 per acre. The ... recommendation? Cut costs by $100 per acre. Then at least you could make $3 an acre... In other words, the *only way* to make any money on these crops is with government [subsidies]..."

"With incomes like these, it's no surprise that farmers are leaving the land in droves. According to Farm Aid, 330 American farmers leave their land for good every week."

description of suicide trends 

"In India, the overproduction of farm commodities, overwhelming debt, and pressure to conform to chemical companies' use of expensive pesticides have driven many farmers to commit suicide. Since th early 2000s (when GMOs were first introduced in India), suicide has taken the lives of over 100,000 farmers in India. In a cruel twist... one of the most common forms of self-immolation is by drinking pesticide."

"Farmers in the commodity game of 'grow more with smaller margins' will find the tightrope they walk is getting more tenuous. Six companies now control 75% of the grain-handling facilities, forming a virtual 'sextopoly'... As in the days of old, this virutal monopoly of companies sets the price of grain, and have to accept it."

"Nutritional density is a difficult thing to access over time, but studies put the loss of in fruits and vegetables over the past sixty years at anywhere between 5 and 40 percent. Meanwhile, the size of our vegetables, grains, and protein sources has ballooned. This is called the 'dilution effect', whereby we eat more calories but receive less by the way of bioavailable nutrients."

" has been linked to tainted drinking water supplies, earthquakes, and extreme environmental degradation. But hydraulic fracturing is the only way America can produce enough natural gas to sustain the fatories that make synthetic (ammonium nitrate). And without that synthetic nitrogen, more than 90 percent of the grown in America would fail."

"More bad news: most synthetic nitrogen applied on farm fields in the United States is not going into crops. Recent studies put nitrogen uptake by crops at about 30 percent. This means that 70 percent of what is applied either goes into the atmospher or into water. Hence, 'two-thirds of the US drinking supply is contaminated or high levels with carciongenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all excessive use synthetic nitrogen ."

"As the city of De Moines, Iowa, has learned, synthetic nitrogen poisons water supplies. As Fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico and other river delta areas are learning, nitrogen-rich agriculture runoff creates an anoxic environment that kills life. The waters affect by poisonous levels of nitrogen are called dead zones because the majority of the food chain is killed."

"...In the middle of is the Central Valley, a 60,000-square-mile, mostly flat piece of open arid land that has been cleared of its former in order to perform large-scale . A small fraction of it is covered in plants and water (if we're being generous, say 10 percent). The remainder (say 90 percent) is bare, hardened, mostly unplanted dirt and reflective urban/suburban surfaces."

"During the day it reflects heat into the atmosphere and obsorbs heat, baking like a massive frying pan. All the while [the heat] is pushing clouds and rain away. Meanwhile its soils are eroding, which means food growers require ever more water. Now add to this manmade desertification the occurence of season after season of assisted heat waves."

"In contrast, the former ecosystem of the Central Valley, a mixed oak forest with redwoods to the north and bushland savanna to the south, held most of its water in its soils. In natural forest ecosystems soil organic matter (SOM, aka "organic matter") is anywhere from 3 to 7 percent. For each 1 percent of organic matter, an acre of ground will hold around 25,000 gallons of water in its soils."

"So before man practiced agriculture in , the soil was likely holding around 100,000 gallons of water per acre. Growing on top of that soil was a mixture of vegetation types, all of which pulled CO2 from the atmosphere and pumped it into the ground where the microbes used that carbon to buid the very pore spaces that stored water inside the soil. This is the ecosystem we removed."

" In a twist of fate, we humans 'reverse terraformed" our planet from a web of balanced, interlocking, lush ecosystems into larger and vaster deserts."

Oh thank God. I think i'm finally passed the "we're screwed if we don't do something" phase and into the "here's how you can save the world" phase of this book.

Saving these! Livestock on the go do less damage to the soil than livestock kept in one place, and are healthier to boot.

"All natural," "free range," "made with love," ... do not have a certification program. There is no set of standards for them. "All natural" applies as equally to motor oil as it does to potatoes. "Free range" can mean that chickens are grown in factory farmhouses with locked doors.

The USDA Organic label is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is the only food label that is backed by inspectors, standards, and a strict government program."

"[The USDA Organic label] is the only government-backed standard that lays the groundwork for .

To receive the USDA Organic label a farmer must not use genetically modified organism (GMOs), must not use sewage sludge on his or her fields, and must not feed his or her livestock plastic pellets, urea, manure, and 'slaughter by-products.'"

"Instead, the farmer must: be certified through a qualied agent, have an organic system pan including crop monitoring, keep detailed records of all inputs and sales, create land zones around the crops, rotate the crops, use organic seedlings or seeds, feed livestock only organic feed, provide livestock and poultry with living conditions that allow "natural behavior," including outdoor access, fresh air, sunlight, and space to exercise, and provide pasture access for cows."

"There's a push to make the practice of farming better, so much better in fact that amy one day mean that food isn't just free from hormones and chemicals, but that it's actually healing the soil and reversing ."

"These are the key to life as we know it. Human life would not exist without mycorrhizal fungi. We would still be in an aquatic environment without [them]. It doesn't mean that there wouldn't be a Planet Earth, it just means that we wouldn't be here." - Dr Kristine Nichols

"She says that through RNA analysis scientists have been able to determine that an ancient ancestor to [mycorrhizal fungi] was the thing that helped algae move from pools of murkey water onto land."

"...[] fungi are the things that can transport and provide for up to 90 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus needs of a crop plant."

"In many ways, is an ideal fertilizer. It's balanced for the soil, it is rich with beneficial microbes, and it helps soil hold up to twice as much moisture. When applied to the , the microbes in compost go to work like probiotics, helping to establish that rich humus layer of ."

"Collecting and composting all the food scraps and yard trimmings in the entire country every day of the year would produce enough compost to cover about 2 million acres with a quarter inch of compost. This is a significat area, but it is only about 0.5 percent of our agricultural soils. To make a lasting impact onour soils we would need more compost - lots more ."

description of death and compost 

"About 2.47 million people die in the United States each year. At an average weigh of 166 pounds, tht gives us about 205,000 tons of "compostable material". If we add to that the 7 million dry tons of bio solids from sewage treatment plants, we get about 7.2 million tons of additional "compostable material." Composting the 7.2 million tons gives us only enough to cover an additional 288,000 acres of land, or about one hundred modern corn farms."

description of death and compost 

"Even with all our sewage and dead bodies, under the most aggressive strategy, that time of compost could only cover a small land area in and around cities. To be fair, this would still be a marked improvement for our urban soils and would drastically reduce the amount of waste cities produce. There is no doubt that kind of compost is an important tool in in our soil repair kit."

I kind of like the idea of giving my body to be composted.

It's been a month an a half since had to return "Kiss the Ground", request it again, and wait for it to be returned. So, here we go, picking it up again!

"You see, it takes nature about five hundred years to bbuild on inch of topsoil. But the United States is losing soil ten times faster than the natural replenishment rate. (China and India are losing thirty to forty times faster.)"

Natural processes, yes - but humans can generate much faster, if we put our minds to it. Compost + Manure + Topsoil

"Homesteading families [in Kansas the 1860s] found themselves in "tallgrass prairies" with grasses as high as six feet. According to the 's History Explorer, 'It is said that riders on horseback could pick wildflowers without dismounting.' Imagine covered in six feet of tallgrass!"

The latest episode of "How to Save a Planet" ( reflects on how transitioning to and energy will take dramatic changes to the landscape - something we've done before!

"In essence, running a plow over soil and 'breaking' the soil, the very thing that man has been doing in agriculture since the dawn of human civilization, destroys the matter (which contains life-giving carbon and microorganisms). Put more simply, (aka plowing) makes the canabalize itself."

"The more complex version of the that tilling exposes certain strains of bacteria to the oxygen in the atmosphere. Once these little critters have access to air, they binge-eat the organic matter in the soil. They oxidize... the organic matter off, stripping out the stable, -laden molecules and releasing substantial quantities of into the atomosphere. This is the opposite of ."

I also appreciate how this chapter describes how is not the same thing as . One can employ organic processes, but till the soil (to combat weeds). This will end up harming the soil by compacting it and activating the carbon-eating bacteria.

"As Ray points out, tilage creates a self-perpetuating cycle. As you till, you kill soil life, which then destroys the glues that make soil porous, which means that the soil can't absorb water, which means it needs to be tilled to add "air", which creates erosion, and so on. In other words, the more you till, the more you need to till."

Rad - here's multispecies combo to mimic a natural ecosystem, fix nutrients in the soil, and grow plants.

"'Look at the facts," [Gabe Brown] says. 'The average corn production in Burleigh County, North Dakota, is just under 100 bushels per acre. My proven yield on our farm is 127 so I'm producing twenty-five percent more than the average in this area and I'm not using s., and I'm not using all the fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, et cetera. So why do we need it? Why do they need the drought-tolerant gene in corn? Because they've destroyed the soil and they now have continuous drought.'"

"'Just because a product is does not mean that it's nutrient-dense.'"

Show newer

description of death and compost 

@Argus i was just thinking about the prospect of big vertical farms in the middle of the city, designed to provide food for the people living in that city

this would be a great addition to that dream

description of death and compost 

No judgement, the quotes from this book are simply disconcerting.

Sign in to participate in the conversation
Mastodon for Tech Folks is shutting down by the end of 2022. Please migrate your data immediately. This Mastodon instance is for people interested in technology. Discussions aren't limited to technology, because tech folks shouldn't be limited to technology either!