Fertile for problems

South America’s industrial-ag powerhouse eyes rainforest potash deposits

I’ve been writing for a while about industrial agriculture’s fertilizer problem — about how mass-scale food (and biofuel) production relies on finite, geopolitically problematic, and environmentally destructive resources to maintain soil fertility. (See posts here, here, and here.) Well, that story is heating up down in Brazil, an increasingly important hub in the global industrial food system. Brazil ranks as the world’s second-largest soy producer (soon to overtake the U.S. for the top spot), third-largest corn producer, and leader in coffee, orange juice, and sugar. According to a must-read Reuters story, Brazil policymakers and farming magnates are getting nervous about …

No farmers? No food

Much depends on finding a new generation to put dinner on the table

Every time I come in from my farm fields and tune into the news these days, the headline is about food: food prices, food scares, food shortages, food riots. Food has America's attention these days, but folks are overlooking a critical piece of the brewing crisis: a national shortage of farmers. We farmers make up a mere 1.6 percent of the U.S. population right now. Picture an inverted pyramid balanced precariously on its nose: that's our national food supply, with about 3 million of us feeding three hundred million of you. In food terms, our nation resembles an elephant perched on a pair of stiletto heels.

Not-so-organic salmon

USDA considers first-ever organic standards for farmed fish

You may have seen "organic salmon" on the menu in your favorite seafood restaurant or counter. Guess what? It's not organic, according to the USDA. It turns out that some fishmongers have been promoting their fish as organic with definitions of their own. This week, a USDA advisory panel will consider a key element of the country's first-ever standards for "organic" farmed fish, including salmon. The surprising news is that this standard -- if adopted -- could be a boon for both seafood consumers and conservation.

Food sovereignty

An alternative to global industrial agriculture

At the conclusion to an article on the global food crisis, Walden Bello discusses an idea put forward by an international farmer's group, Via Campesina:

Nitrogen bomb

‘Science': nitrogen as important as carbon in climate change

Speaking of the troubles associated with industrial agriculture and its fertilizer regime, check this out: The public does not yet know much about nitrogen, but in many ways it is as big an issue as carbon, and due to the interactions of nitrogen and carbon, makes the challenge of providing food and energy to the world’s peoples without harming the global environment a tremendous challenge. The speaker is University of Virginia environmental sciences professor James Galloway (quoted in an AP piece), talking about his paper published (abstract here) in the latest Science. According to Galloway, "We are accumulating reactive nitrogen …

The farm bill, Archer Daniels Midland's man at USDA, and me

I loathe the farm bill but can’t bring myself to accept the Bush administration’s party line

People keep asking me what I think about the new farm bill — the one that will soon likely become law, since both houses of Congress passed it with majorities that would withstand Bush’s threatened veto. I hate it; it fails utterly to make the investments we need to rebuild local and regional food systems around cities and in rural areas. But I think I hate the Bush administration’s vision for agriculture even more. The debate between Congress and the Bushies has changed little over the past few months. Back in February, I wrote: None of the versions of the …

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