[Market-farming] Soil and production costs

TradingPostPaul tradingpost at riseup.net
Mon Feb 5 13:15:07 EST 2007

It's common knowledge that most soil has to be cultivated one way or
another to grow field crops. I say most soil because most soil has been
degraded too much to produce without tillage and chemicals. But that's
precisely the problem. It's common knowledge that most farms have lost a
lot of topsoil depth and organic matter, and industrial farming has seen
yields decline over several decades in spite of increasing use of fossil
fuel-based pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. On the plus side recent
research has resulted in more widespread reduced tillage methods, though
it's well established that any tillage degrades soil organic matter to some
extent. Cover crops have become standard practice since the Dust Bowl days.
But we're still losing topsoil, irrigating more, and using ever increasing
amounts of chemicals that get more expensive as oil and gas prices keep
rising. Large and small farmers are getting squeezed more between input
costs and market prices. These are all challenges that call for
hard-headed, realistic, innovative approaches. Building soil that doesn't
need regular tilling can cut labor and machinery costs in the long run.
There are other methods of weed suppression that cut costs below chemical
or mechanical methods. Better methods of pest  and disease control are
being explored. The one thing we can't afford is "well, we've always done
it this way". If we farm the next fifty years the way we have the last
fifty, we won't have any topsoil left to till anyway. 

paul tradingpost at lobo.net

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