Today, essentially all of the food we eat is grown in vast corporate monoculture farms. In the US in particular, agriculture has shifted to a strange new model. The goal of corporate-scale agriculture is not to feed the people but rather to earn the subsidies.
Growing corn is not profitable, and not useful as food. For decades, the United States has subsidized the growing of corn. Under President Nixon, Agriculture Secretary Earl L Butz instituted enormous subsidies for growing corn. He has since explained that this was an arbitrary decision, and called it a disaster in retrospect.
In 2019, over 90 million acres of the united states’ arable land was used to grow corn. This accounts for 96.4% of all the food that was grown that year in the country. Almost none of that corn is used to feed people. Much of it is exported with some going to feed cattle or produce high fructose syrup. This act of subsidizing the mass production of monocrops of corn has led to many undesirable side effects.
Growing a single crop across nearly a hundred-million acres means any time any one of the plants gets sick, the contagion spreads. It also strips the ground of nutrients, requiring a constantly increasing amount of fertilizers. Mitigating disease and pests requires genetic engineering and enormous amounts of pesticides.
Widespread monoculture with extreme doses of fertilizer kills the soil, the rhizosphere, and contributes to desertification. This process rapidly accelerates to form dust bowls. Even these monoculture crops can not survive in the farm soil anymore without enormous amounts of chemicals being added to sustain them. If this sounds familiar it’s because it all already happened once in these same farmlands. Once the dust starts, it coats all the remaining plants and prevents them from getting sunlight, killing them and spreading the disaster.
Because monoculture attracts specialized pests, it requires pesticides in order to continue working in the short-term. However, in the long-term, pesticides also kill pollinators, and have contributed to the systemic collapse of almost all bee hives in recent years. In 2019, nearly half of the remaining bee colonies died. Agriculture and civilization can not hope to survive without bees and other pollinators.
What’s A Better Alternative?
The American agriculture industry exists to earn subsidies, not to feed the people. This system will end one way or the other because they have long since reached the point of diminishing marginal returns with fertilizer use, and their pesticide use is directly causing the mass extinction of the very pollinators their crops depend on.
Instead of relying on this corrupt and self-destructive industry, we should grow our own crops. This is fun and easy to do.
I propose that the correct scale at which to conduct agriculture is the family-scale.