Concerning crop-rotation & fragile agricultural systems
○ Addendum to November 9th
Inadequate crop rotation is one of the many points of failure baked into contemporary industrial agriculture; an intensive farming practice that favours the monocultural production of a homogenous range of crops. Some of the distinguishing features of this model are a reduction of labour time, an increase of historical plant yields and a maximisation of profit-margins. The latter is particularly important to modern industrial infrastructures, which consider agriculture a primarily economic pursuit.
Commercial agriculture may also be considered the pinnacle of an open-loop system — meaning a system design that cannot be self-sustained — requiring a steady support of external inputs to function. For modern agriculture this means the continual use of agrochemicals and fertilisers to offset depleted soil-health, pesticides and fungicides which destroy vital microorganisms in an effort to control the build-up of diseases, and mechanical tillage to improve the take-up of applied nutrients. Heavy tillage has the side-effect of disturbing and compacting the soil, destroying complex soil-structures and — somewhat ironically — resulting in the need for further damaging tillage to break-up the now compacted land for re-planting. It's a process of ever diminishing returns.
This resource intensive approach to agriculture is currently enacted on a massively unsustainable scale, accelerating the regional degradation of land and soil-fertility. When a point of decay is reached in which the land can no longer support this industrial model, the agricultural industry must expand into new territory to continue production. In many cases this means occupying land inhabited by already marginalised — and often indigenous — communities. This exploitative process of expansion and depletion has caused widespread displacement of peoples, the loss of arable lands previously suitable for farming, and is a major contributor to increased rates of bio-diversity collapse throughout global ecosystems
Reliance on monocropping has also reduced our available range of food sources, with the four staple crops of 'soybeans, wheat, rice and corn' coming to dominate commercial outputs; never in history have so many humans subsisted on such a specialised diet of often relatively nutritionally depleted foods. More pressingly, over-specialisation has driven a sharp decline in genetic diversity among the crops themselves. Alongside climate, bio-diversity and erosion stresses, this weakens our primary crop strength, increasing industrial agriculture's susceptibility to devastation by outbreaks of disease; picture an event akin to a worldwide potato famine and you're part of the way there.
Unfortunately, our ongoing experiment with Global Capitalism oft trends towards negligent systems designs. Thus far there has been little response to the aforementioned fragilities, with world-leaders presenting themselves as unable or unwilling to adapt current systems to a changing 'nature' still broadly considered An Other. Discussions around climate-crises are still largely defined by the deterministic philosophies of the Industrial Revolution, enraptured by its call to unyielding Imperialism. From this position, 'Humans' and 'Nature' are understood to be distinct and separate entities, with 'Humans' evolved into a position of dominance over the latter. This intractable schism that lays at the cultural heart of modernity continues to dictate our relationship to 'Nature', which we have come to think of as either a resource to exploit or a sacred-space to conserve.
Disregarding your affinity for the contested merits of expansive globalism and the march of Industrialisation — and lest we forget, both remain in their infancy, as yet unproven on any meaningful time-scale — the pressures massing upon agricultural and ecological systems carry consequences that will eventually affect all of us; certainly they're already responsible for a rise in refugee crises, exacerbated by food-scarcity and desertification. These fragilities are ongoing concerns, developing on a scale that has scant regard for the arbitrary borders we imagine exist around our Individual and National identities.
Our shared futures demand responsive agricultural models; stronger systems untethered from exploitation and expansion, designed to evolve to meet ever changing environmental conditions. This lofty dream seems a long way off. It's doubtful that a global economic system whose relationship to 'nature' remains so fundamentally at odds with reality, can ever imagine or achieve such a thing.