Corn and soy — much of which are genetically engineered — are rapidly overtaking native grasslands in a number of U.S. states. This is a trend that may have a not-so-insignificant impact on our environment and subsequently, our ability to secure our food supply long-term.
As discussed in a recent Mother Jones article, this conversion of grasslands to crop fields is the exact opposite of what might be in our best interest.
“…we should push Midwestern farmers to switch a chunk of their corn land into pasture for cows,” the featured article states.
“The idea came from a paper by University of Tennessee and Bard College researchers, who calculated that such a move could suck up massive amounts of carbon in soil — enough to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 36 percent.
“In addition to the CO2 reductions, you’d also get a bunch of high-quality, grass-fed beef… Turns out the Midwest are doing just the opposite.”
Federal Policy Worsens Environmental Concerns
According to a recently published paper by South Dakota State University researchers, grasslands in the Western corn belt, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, is being lost at a rate “comparable to deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia.”
Between 2006 and 2011, nearly 2 million acres of friendly native grasses have been lost to corn and soy — two of the staples in processed foods that are driving chronic disease rates in an ever steepening upward incline. The same thing is happening in South America, where native forests are leveled in order to plant soy.
The researchers claim the land being converted into corn and soy fields is actually much better suited for grazing than crop agriculture, as it is “characterized by high erosion risk and vulnerability to drought.” So why would farmers opt to use such risky land for their crops?
According to the featured article:
“Simple: Federal policy has made it a high-reward, tiny-risk proposition. Prices for corn and soy doubled in real terms between 2006 and 2011, the authors note, driven up by federal corn-ethanol mandates and relentless Wall Street speculation.
“Then there’s federally subsidized crop insurance, the authors add. When farmers manage to tease a decent crop out of their marginal land, they’re rewarded with high prices for their crop. But if the crop fails, subsidized insurance guarantees a decent return.
“Essentially, federal farm policy, through the ethanol mandate and the insurance program, is underwriting the expansion of corn and soy agriculture at precisely the time it should be shrinking.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a report titled: “Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States.” According to the report, our current agricultural system, which is dominated by corn and soy, is unsustainable in the long term. Should temperatures rise as predicted, the United States could expect to see significant declines in yields.
Unfortunately, the USDA failed to analyze how reliance on monoculture might heighten our vulnerability to devastating crop loss. As a general rule though, the more crop diversity you have, the greater your food security, as different crops are affected differently. Our dependence on two primary crops is a recipe for disaster.
Monoculture — A Tremendous Threat To Global Food Security
The “faster, bigger, cheaper” approach to food is slowly draining dry our planet’s resources and compromising your health. The earth’s soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced, and we’ve already lost 75 percent of the world’s crop varieties over the last century.
In the words of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and a number of other bestsellers: “Mother Nature destroys monocultures.” What is a monoculture? Monoculture (or monocropping) is defined as the high-yield agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and to some degree rice, are the most common crops grown with monocropping techniques. In fact, corn, wheat, and rice now account for 60 percent of human caloric intake, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. According to an article on GreenFudge.org, monoculture is detrimental to the environment for a number of reasons, including the following:
- It damages soil ecology by depleting and reducing the diversity of soil nutrients.
- It creates an unbuffered niche for parasitic species to take over, making crops more vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens that can quickly wipe out an entire crop.
- It increases dependency on chemical pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms.
- It increases reliance on expensive specialized farm equipment and machinery that require heavy use of fossil fuels.
- It destroys biodiversity.
By contrast, polyculture (the traditional rotation of crops and livestock) better serves both land and people. Polyculture evolved to meet the complete nutritional needs of a local community. Polyculture, when done mindfully, automatically replenishes what is taken out, which makes it sustainable with minimal effort. Unfortunately, government subsidies and fervent lobbying to favor patented seeds drive the monoculture train, the goal of which is to maximize profits as quickly and for as long as possible. At stake is our entire food supply, not to mention farmers who don’t want to use patented seed.