Friday, July 14, 2017

Is it Time to Return to Last Midcentury's System of Crop Rotation in the Midwest?

Much as "economic progress" has tried, there doesn't seem to be a smarter system than the one used by my Dad on the farm I was raised on in Nebraska. Today, that system is still around but it is less common. Now, the Union of Concerned Scientist's has produced a document (shown above) which includes research by Iowa State University, advocating crop rotational systems.

This DesMoines Register editorial featuring the Union of Concerned Scientist's paper and promoting its merits was the number one item in my Tuesday news links this week. It told the story of Iowa farmer, Seth Watkins, who uses a rotational grazing system to conserve soil and water quality on his land.

Here is an important quote from the DesMoines Register's article:
Plenty of barriers stand in the way, however, including financial and technical constraints and crop insurance restrictions. Federal farm policy got us into the two-crop system, and it can help get us out.
I can't emphasize those two statements enough as they pertain to the feasibility of switching back to this type of farming.

Also, not to be overlooked is the amount of labor required when advocating a farming system like this compared to row crop farming. Having cattle in crop rotation is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year job. Growing corn and soybeans is seasonal and less labor intensive. It allows for off farm payroll income, too. This helps explain why monoculture row cropping systems appeal to the farmer and are an easy sell to him/her by big agribusiness.

Our policy preference for row cropping on our richest farmland soils, besides the environmental and biodiversity loss issues, lends itself to investor owned farmland and shrinking rural populations, too.

Today's modern two-crop system farmer buys expensive inputs to produce grains. There is always something new to sell to the farmer and entice him and her to borrow money. Then, with the necessary taxpayer guarantees, by growing today's two primary monoculture row crops efficiently, finances can flow. Profits of the corporate agricultural powerhouses are the cake. If there are any additional monies left-over, that's the icing for the Midwestern farmer.

Biofuels mandates lock the system into place more firmly by ensuring demand for corn and soybeans that wouldn't otherwise be there.

Furthermore, under this two-crop system, land set aside for conservation is undesirable policy, as it can't be mined for profits.

Ironically, we must take note of the fact that MSM headlines prominently promote livestock as the root of all agricultural evils in our era of climate change and consequently we must change our diets to plant based. Yet, many studies such as this repeatedly recognize the importance of livestock in restoring prairie farmlands which have been sterilized by monoculture row crops.

Instead of this charade, we need a farm policy that supports the farmer who practices healthy crop rotational systems. To repeat what the editors of the DesMoines Register said, "Federal farm policy got us into the two-crop system, and it can help get us out."

To read the publication by the Union of Concerned Scientist's, go here for the summary and here for the report.