This is The ChangeUnderground for the week ending 15th of February 2021.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
The variations in climatic conditions continue. 136 mm in twenty four hours was very welcome, that’s about 5 and a third inches in the old money. The surprising thing was the lack of run off and pooling on the surface of the fields. I knew things were thirsty but this is quite astonishing. That we had rainfall soaking into the soil rather than pooling and running off as it did our first winter here tells me we are getting more life into the soil. More spaces within the soil profile for rain to find its way into. Always nice to have some positive feedback, I just have to keep a weather eye out in case I’m simply bias confirming and missing something that’s actually happening. I think we’re ok but then I would think that wouldn’t I?
Enough of these rabbit holes!
Here’s a snippet from What’s driving erosion worldwide? on the Science Daily website:
….erosion is more severe in poor countries than in rich ones.
Why? I’ve seen huge machines tearing the guts out of soil, sending it in great plumes across the landscape. Hell, I’ve even seen it at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture as we came out for lunch at a Cover Crops symposium. I’m not sure the irony was appreciated but the irony was there. In my naivety I attended in the hope of localised recommendations for cover cropping. It took me a while to work out they were still trying to sell the idea of cover cropping as a thing. And of course the ploughing at lunch was one the best pieces of advertising for cover cropping but I think they missed the chance.
That erosion is greater in poorer countries than richer is not a surprise on one level. If social history has taught us anything, and this might be the only thing Social History has taught us, it is this: The rich have a better life than the poor. Better housing, better food, better life expectancy and so on. Are the rich any happier than the poor? Who knows? But by measurable variables, the rich seem to have an easier time of life.
The point though, as we have learned through the last twelve months is we are all in this together. The world will not be free of the effects of the pandemic until all, rich and poor are vaccinated. Any population left outside the process will be a breeding ground for genetic variation in the virus. Soil erosion, whilst more slowly moving than a virulent novel virus, will have the same effect.
Once the soil is depleted less food is produced, people move to cities, eventually creating immigration pressures which impact richer countries. Toss into this mix a dumping of ag chemicals into the developing world without the correct training and the process of soil erosion accelerates. I’ve heard anecdotal stories, so not data but still concerning, of developing country farmers not being able to read the labels on chemical drums and assuming the contents were fertiliser only to have sprayed insecticides across maize fields. A quick way to kill off both soil health and farmer’s health too.
There are other ways but these need to be farmer led. If someone in a suit or a four wheel drive with a University badge on it turns up, there is a growing hesitancy to accept what they’re selling. This is true across developed and developing nations. Not at all surprising given that Universities and Departments of Primary Industry have for 70 years been a de facto sales force for the agro chemical industry. Done, for the most part with good intentions but clearly now a failed paradigm.
The answer, I suggest, is farmer led solutions. The Sloping Agricultural Land Technology that’s in wide use in the Philippines is a good example. (Link in the show notes.) While I’m not sure where this system was developed, it has been passed on from farmer to farmer in some parts of the Philippines. And no one knows local growing conditions like a fellow farmer. Combine that with a practical demonstration of the benefits of organic/regenerative/biodynamic/permaculture systems on the soil, the health of the farmers, their families and, and this is the big one, profitability, change can occur.
This profitability thing is important. It does depend upon measuring the right variable. I’ve heard several US corn growers state that too much emphasis is put on production numbers. X number of bushels per acre. Whatever a bushel is, as far as I can recall, it’s a thing not to hide one’s light under but I digress. The individuals bring this measurement up are the ones producing less per acre but with minimal input costs. So if you’re not flooding the soil with ammonia and superphosphate followed by drenching the paddocks in Roundup because the only corn seed you can grow is GMO you can reach “impressive” production numbers. I’m assuming this is a variation on the age old “mine is bigger than yours” male bragging rights system of measuring things. And in systems where the government pays you to cover the cost of production, maybe it makes sense.
Yet the low input farmers still receive the subsidy and a much greater financial return each year. They can afford to be smaller and I think that’s a good thing. On a similar note I read years ago, and I can’t find the link, about these dairy farmers who returned to seasonal milking. All their cows dropped about the same time and were dried off at the same time. That wasn’t the biggest change they’d made but it was the one the neighbours saw. What they were also doing was, and this is way back in the 1990s so before it was called regenerative grazing, they were moving their milking herd up to three times a day to keep the feed fresh, the beasts on clean feed and all the other benefits of regen ideas. I should also point out they had transferred over to permanent pastures and so erosion was a thing of the distant past.
AS we began this episode with an income disparity leading to outcomes based on that disparity I think it would be useful to see the soil erosion issue, the pandemic and Global Warming as all problems within a similar domain. They require us to work on planetary solutions. Leaving no one behind. I would come to this position through the thought that it was the right thing to do. Others may have to be persuaded that leaving part of the world out of the changes required will impact everyone.
I’m hoping we can get our shite together. The rollout of the vaccine to the developing world will be a clue as to how well we can overcome the other more slowly moving yet more existential threats facing us as a species, as part of the ecosystem of the world. You might not have great swathes of land to demonstrate a better way of doing things, I certainly don’t but we can all grow our gardens and while we and others are growing our food in our no-dig gardens we will be: Decarbonising the air, recarbonising the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week!
The ChangeUnderground Academy No-Dig Gardening Course:
What’s driving erosion worldwide? https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191203114518.htm
Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT)