IT’S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.
This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.
The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.
The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.
In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons.
And though critics of this path can be predictably counted on to say it’s moving backward, the increased yields, markedly decreased input of chemicals, reduced energy costs and stable profits tell another story, one of serious progress.
Negotiations over the controversial trade agreement were taking place at a golf resort in Leesburg, Virginia; Kilcher was filming a protest occurring outside the hotel when she was handcuffed. Before her arrest, Kilcher made the following statement, according to a Rainforest Action Network release:
“The Trans Pacific Partnership would be devastating for people around the world and it is being negotiated in complete secrecy to hide the content, because these agreements would never see the light of day if US citizens and congress were allowed to see what is being proposed in our names. While hundreds of corporate advisors have access to the information contained within these documents, the American public, the media and even members of congress do not. This sort of secrecy is highly undemocratic and is a complete disregard of all the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution to avoid exactly this sort of thing.”
The Trans Pacific Partnership has been criticized on a number of grounds; for one, the negotiations strike opponents are unusually secretive, as Kilcher’s statement indicates. The draft proposals are said to include excessive provisions for international enforcement of copyright and intellectual property law that would overrule established intellectual property practices. It has been suggested that this could have wide-ranging effects, including restricting the distribution of medicine and criminalizing such common pop-cultural practices as parody and cosplay. A group called StopTheTrap warns that fines and punishments could follow from internet use deemed illegal under the terms of the TPP.