I concluded my last post by asking if we can overdo our nurturing management (“all things in moderation”), so that it then becomes an overwhelming disturbance which outpaces the current capability of the soil to tolerate the impact? And instead of enhancing the soil biology, it then becomes deadly to it?
That’s the very thing that happens when we build a feedlot with too many animals for too long a time without an adequate rest period between impacts. The same thing can happen simply by applying too much manure, or doing anything at too concentrated a level for too long, without enough “rest period” to allow for adequate recovery. That’s why “intensive rotational grazing” is best done as adaptively managed intensive grazing.” To do so successfully, you have to develop an observational eye to understand and recognize that balance, and to always manage to enhance toward the biological optimum. Different situations, soils, plant species, weather events, they will all require different applications of our management practices. You simply can’t do it right by using a predetermined “prescription.”
And that is why the biological goals that give us all of the “soil health environmental services” are stolen from us in the “follow the prescription agriculture” approach that we’ve broadly adopted. We’ve decided that we’re too impatient and too greedy to be able to wait on the biology to deliver that ever-increasing bounty of the perpetual motion machine. We want tomorrow’s “yields” today! We’ve learned that, in the short term at least, we can force the system to produce, but at what cost?
Few ever consider what the long-term ramifications of this system might be. Too often, “I’ve paid too much for this land” or “It’s too valuable as rent, for me to achieve less than the prescription force-fed yield we’ve become conditioned to understand to be normal,” are the drivers in our decision making. The results are often that within a year or two the soil may be degraded to the point that I can’t grow anything anymore, “But this year, I achieve the top 10% yield in the county, so it’s worth it. I’ve survived one more year, and I even won the yield contest—got lots of pats on the back—I’m the man!”
The prescription approach to farming has been developed and based on one thing: “yield per acre, in this season.” But it ignores all of the potential negative environmental service costs directly generated by that prescription, including…
- Soil erosion—ditches and lakes silted in that must be cleaned out, flooding, nutrient and chemical contamination of our aquifers, streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans (the earth);
- Removal of animals from the landscape, and crowding those that remain into CAFO’s (the beasts);
- Wholesale loss of “canaries in the coal mine species” (fowls of the air—DDT and the American Eagle as an example);
- Loss of fishing resources in “dead zones” (fishes of the sea):
- Loss of soil organic matter demanding more synthetic nutrient and chemical inputs (do you see the perpetual motion machine that’s being developed by industry on the other side of the equation?);
- Negative human and animal health impacts being generated by the use of the prescription (Paraquat and Parkinsons, glyphosate and cancer, etc.);
- Wholesale, broad-spectrum annihilation of every insect species in the field (Go to the ant)in whole areas (all across the agricultural landscape), because of one or two particular species that became overpopulated to the point that we anticipate it might negatively impact the yield of specific, monoculture-crops beyond an “economic threshold,” where the cost of the broad spectrum insecticide can be “justified” based purely on yield response;”
- Centuries worth of carbon that had been stored in the soil enhancing its ability to produce… now thoughtlessly evaporated into the atmosphere; and
- Forcing the use of increasingly more of the prescription to maintain yield.
The list goes on and on. Ask yourself honestly: Was this the “nurturing and keeping” that God intended when he placed us with this responsibility?
This is a balancing act, and our intentional effort as faithful stewards of God should be to optimize (nurture and keep) life on all levels, including in the soil, and in our oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and cities. To have it ALL functioning at its healthiest, biological optimum.
“But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee, and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this, in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind…. Go to the ant, thou sluggard, and consider her ways, and be wise. Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? …Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep…….. So shall thy poverty come, as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.” Job 12:7, Proverbs 6:6-9