Industrial Agriculture

Intensity doesn’t equal sustainable productivity.

In the mid-20th century, technology and chemistry began to replace manpower in agricultural production. More people moved to the cities. Efficiencies gained through chemical fertilizers and pesticides, allowed fewer people to produce more livestock and crops, intensifying and industrializing agriculture. Monocultures are easier to manage than diversity.

Consolidation and economies of scale further intensified production. Independent producers slowly gave way to large-scale corporate farms and confinement livestock operations with attendant environmental issues such as non-point source pollution. Lags in yield were compensated for by the addition of chemicals and intensifying management practices. The pace continues to increase.

While selection and crossbreeding have improved human life since hunting and gathering way gave way to agrarian society, in recent years it has been accelerated by the advent of direct genetic modification. There is nothing inherently bad in precisely modifying genes, but advancing techniques without careful thought opens the door to unintended consequences. It’s the unintended consequences, not the techniques that have the potential for devastation.

Case in point, crop plants with inherent resistance to Roundup ®, a now ubiquitous herbicide developed by Monsanto, a agri-chemical giant which merged with Bayer, another chemical behemoth, in recent years. While developers and testers heralded it as a way to decrease the use of herbicides, there is now evidence that weeds have developed resistance to Roundup® actually requiring more herbicide instead of less.

Critics argue Bayer-Monsanto positioned itself to reap profits at the expense of the environment. Bayer-Monsanto maintains it is addressing the rising need to produce more food for more people on less land.

While the argument continues to rage, it points out the need for holistic approaches that require looking at the big picture and conscientiously trying to identify and avoid unintended consequences. At some point, an unbalanced system can’t be sustained by adding inputs.

And unintended consequences aren’t limited to farming and row crops. Confinement livestock operations take animals off the range where they efficiently convert the sun’s energy in the form of plants into protein and put the grazers in an artificial environment that is maintained with inputs such as grain. When animals of any species are overcrowded in an artificial environment it creates problems with health and behavior as well as logistical concerns like waste management.

Game species, such as elk and deer, succumb to the same pressures when they are subjected to an unnatural environment. Case in point, Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal neurological disorder that is now spreading through elk and deer. While the disease may have been present in isolation in the wild, it appeared and first became a threat in a confined elk herd at a research station in Colorado. With the advent of intense deer management, where whitetail deer are managed like livestock to grow large antlers, it has spread at an alarming pace and is now considered a serious threat to the well-being of free-ranging herds.

In another example at nearby Yellowstone National Park, the park herds of bison and elk serve as the nation’s reservoir for brucellosis, a livestock disease that has been almost eradicated. Instead of being managed holistically, the herds are managed intensively. They congregate because they are fed. They overpopulate because they are protected from predators and hunters. They are not vaccinated because it’s “not natural.” They incubate and transmit infection.

Now is the time to stop, look at the bigger picture and begin to restore the earth’s productivity by working in concert with nature instead of against her.

Latest articles

Read more about invasive species / biology:

Dropping the Fences (Episode 1) – DUST

A South African story.     Two families who have lived on N’Rougas Farm for generations embark on a project of renewal and hope together. In this episode, Veronica, the farm owner, sets out on […]

Lake Powell is Filling Up – With Mud

The basins behind America’s dams are filling up with sediment and the dam structures are aging. As discussed in the article below, this problem is acute at Lake Powell, the enormous reservoir created by the […]

2020 Tony Coote AM Memorial lecture – with Allan Savory

The Mulloon Institute presents a unique opportunity to hear from one of the world’s leading experts in Regenerative Agriculture, Allan Savory, as he presents the 2020 Tony Coote AM Memorial Lecture.     NOTE: this […]

Pesticides in Produce: Shopper’s Guide Lists Most and Least Contaminated Fruits, Vegetables

“A very depressing – and alarming – report on pesticide food contamination.  

Guardians of the Karoo Rangelands

This article discusses the origins of high density, short duration grazing, and continuing work to implement it across Africa and the world.   Quoting the authors, “As Allan Savory, John Acocks and others would prove […]

In Rural America, Right-to-repair Laws Are the Leading Edge of a Pushback Against Growing Corporate Power

“The monopolies that control food production harm ranchers, farmers, consumers and the environment. The authors correctly state that small positive steps such as those described below are “.. not a substitute for right-to-repair legislation or […]

Trouble at Sea

“According to this article, salmon hatcheries contribute to declining salmon numbers and salmon size.”

One of the Most Harmful Ingredients in Processed Foods

“Why processed foods are dangerous to human health.   Especially genetically-modified soybean oil, which is loaded with glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup.  

How an Oregon Sheep Ranch Is Carrying on the Heritage of American Wool—and Shepherding It Into the Future

“As discussed below, planned, moderate rotational grazing and restricted soil disturbance on Western sheep ranches have aided the recovery of bunchgrass and fended off cheatgrass, the interior West’s most troublesome invasive species.  

Book Review: Man, Cattle and Veld by Johann Zietsman

Note: Originally posted January 9, 2017. This remains one of the most informative and entertaining of all books on cattle and grazing for habitat improvement.   Man, Cattle and Veld by Johann Zeitsman records the journey […]

Rotational Cattle Grazing to Restore Degraded Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands and Promote Watershed Health

Describing the Mimms Ranch in Marfa, Texas, the authors write, “The Foundation aims for practical conservation, with the belief that restored grasslands improve overall watershed health, resources for native wildlife, and continued support of ranching.” […]

‘Forever Chemicals’ in Deer, Fish Challenge Hunters, Tourism

“As discussed below, industrial compounds used in numerous products, such as nonstick cookware and clothing are increasingly found in wild game and fish.  This poses a health threat to animals and humans.  

Is Widespread Pesticide Use Connected To Grassland Bird Declines?

“This article discusses the relationship between grassland bird declines and a host of poisons increasingly used by ranchers, farmers and homeowners. The root problem according to the author, is the seeming “capture” of the pesticide […]

Living Soil Film

Our soils support 95 percent of all food production, and by 2060, our soils will be asked to give us as much food as we have consumed in the last 500 years. They filter our […]

Saying No to Glyphosate in Our Foods, Environment

Quoting sources for the article appearing below, ” … glyphosate is the most dangerous environmental chemical we face today due to its unique mechanism of toxicity, careless application, and pervasive presence.”

Church-Affiliated Ranch Balances Agriculture and Conservation in Central Florida

Deseret Cattle and Citrus, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been going strong for 65 years. This commercial farming and ranching operation is situated on about 295,000 acres in parts […]

Securing a Future for Wolves in the West

Another excellent article by the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) the free market conservation think tank based in Bozeman.   This one is about how to address people and livelihoods while achieving the essential ecological […]

Bridger-Teton Considers Phasing Out Two Elk Feedgrounds

These feed grounds are CWD “super-spreaders”, but they remain very popular.  

He Spent Decades Protecting Buffalo. A Microscopic Invader Threatens That Work

According the article below, Mycoplasma bovis, which is common in cattle but rarely lethal for that animal, is a rapidly an emerging killer of buffalo. Outbreaks are spiking in some herds, with mortalities of 40-50%. […]

Shane Mahoney Speech on the Wild Harvest Initiative

     Shane Mahoney discusses the Wild Harvest Initiative, a landmark study to compile and analyze data relating to the significant amount of food that comes from non-commercial fishing and hunting in North America. […]

Drought Busters 101

“Drought Busters” is an inexpensive, quick, physiologically and economically sustainable method of habitat and wildlife restoration. We call it Drought Busters because it increases effective rainfall by rebuilding soil fertility and the soil’s ability to […]

Join us!

Follow along as we manage the resources within our fence lines, but think beyond the box.