APR 27

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26. APR 27

Assigned Work

  • Pinker, "Sustenance" (68-78) (10)
  • Montgomery, Growing a Revolution,"Green Manure" (90-114) (24)


  • Course Conclusion
  • Your food future.
  • Your future as intellectuals.

Pinker, Enlightenment Now, Ch. 7, "Sustanance"

  • nice evocation of the history of famine in human condition
  • examples of famine leading to consumption of human flesh and viscera.
  • Good News
  • Calories up globally as well as US.
  • Stunting down, undernurishment under 5% globally, 13% in dev. world.
  • Famines down
  • Reviews 70's era population bomb literature. Malthus assumed the population curve wouldn't change as family wealth increases. Also, underestimated increases in the food supply. Dates that to Enlightenment knowledge.
  • Food claims
  • The food supply can grow geometrically with knowledge (74) ?
  • Food prices in relation to wages are historically low. T
  • GMOs and transgenic crops are ready to go but opposed by fanatical environmentalists. Hmm. Y & N
  • Account of Haber-Bosch method for syn N, and Green Revolution (notice detail in what makes for a high yield grain)
  • Critical point: Green Revolution is very important; part success of plant breeding (landrace system), part extension of industrial fertilizer and mechanical inputs. Not clear there is another Green Revolution out there. Plant breeding is as old as agriculture, but here it is recruited as part of the Enlightenment narrative.
  • Closing statement, importantly identifies major causes of famines in political organization and war rather than agricultural efficiency. Most 20th century famines in autocratic communist countries.
  • Pinker makes many very persuasive points, especially related to population dynamics (see chart in Chapter 10, also in links). If population stops growing, or declines, then declines in soil productivity might be offset by increases in yields from plant engineering and sustained high levels of chemical fertilizers.]
  • Demographic Transition excerpt:

Montgomery, David. Chapter 6: Green Manure

  • Primary story: Dwayne Beck, Dakota Lakes Research Farms. Beck has chemistry background and Ph.D. in agronomy and is a farmer. Many success stories of farmers using his soil conservation methods:
  • problem of water runoff in plough vs. no till fields.
  • 92: competitive wheat yields vs. high-disturbance input intensive. Big effect on South Dakota. Conservation farms had new everything.
  • 96: Critique of ag extention system for keeping farmers in intensive industrial ag.
  • 99: Conference incident: Beck challenged by chemical company demand for retraction on statement weeds. Set up test.
  • Glyphosate problem digression 99-100 (bring in GMO connection, v2, cancer suit judgements). Using continuous ground cover with no till keeps weeds out.
  • Grow it yourself fertilizer
  • Value of cover crops. multiple crops in a field.
  • 102: on site wind powered small scale fertilizer production. Very cool in light of today’s food news!!
  • Precision ag. Precision Agriculture
  • Using mycorrhizal fungi to release phosphorous instead of applying synthetic phosphorous. 103
  • Pest self-management
  • examples of unintended effects of herbicides that throw off insect ecology 104 106: corn rootworm experiment.
  • High Tech No Till
  • Story of Cronin Farms - economics of no till, biodynamics -- 108
  • 109: looking at carbon in soil as stored fertilizer worth $600/acre.
  • end of chapter
  • Reorg of some themes to make broader point:
  • Pest ecology stories
  • 105: corn rootworm beetle and crop rotation
  • BT corn eliminated one pest (earworm), but earworms eat be cutworms. demonstration project showing resistance to root worm in no till field
  • Some analogies between healthy soil and a healthy microbiome!
  • best weed control is a canopy of well nurished crop. reducing opportunities for weeds. 99: incident Beck asked for retraction.
  • herbicide resistance (like germ resistance from anti-biotic use)
  • 103: broad spectrum pesticides like antibiotics in microbiome
  • Technology of soil conservation
  • 95: on-site processing of residues for fertillizer and animal feed.
  • avoids compaction of heavy machinery. uses low psi equiptment.
  • note: the research farm uses some (a "fraction" of normal) glyphosate.
  • importance of leaving crop residue on the ground.
  • complex rotations - for soil health and to defeat complex pests.
  • mixed cropping 101
  • locally produced Nitrogen fert from wind.
  • phosphorous management easier without tillage that breaks up mycorrhizal fungus.
  • 103: worms, lots of worms
  • Precision agriculture:
  • no-till planters, small dosing of fertilizers,
  • 108: example on Cronin Farm of no-till planter using precision fert. good yields with lower inputs.
  • 110: disc planters
  • GPS based data system for precision ag.