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  • A review of 'God's Last Offer' by Ed Ayres

    In 1998, S. Sailam, a farmer living with his pregnant wife and two children in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, found that the pesticide he was spraying on his cotton crop had ceased to do its job. In desperation, he killed himself by squirting the pesticide down his throat. More than 100 of his fellow farmers in the region took their lives with this same tragic gesture in January and February of last year. They had been pressed by the Indian government to abandon their tradition of diversified agriculture in favor of high-tech operations growing monoculture cotton for export, and they needed big yields to pay back the loans that financed their switch. When the farmers' crops were decimated by caterpillars, their lives were destroyed as well.

  • Don't let a chance to save the butterfly flutter by

    A couple of weeks ago, while the federal government was removing peregrine falcons from the list of endangered species, I was out watching the first monarch butterflies migrate through the desert on their way to Mexico. I saw both the migratory monarchs and their homebody cousins, the butterflies known as Queens, hovering around the lovely […]

  • Grazing saddles the West with a heck of a problem

    The drunk who said it was right. Denial is not a river in Egypt. But it may be a river in New Mexico. Or Arizona. Or Nevada or Utah. Maybe Montana. The river is 20 feet wider than it was, say, in 1840. The only cottonwood on its banks is just about that old, magnificent […]

  • Whom Do We Blame, as We Watch Nature Dry Up?

    Early this summer, long before the word “drought” was mentioned in the media, our household of farmers was ready to strangle the weather forecasters. “A gorgeous sunny day coming up,” they warble. “Another beeyootiful weekend!” To us that means a day of blistering sun, a beeyootiful weekend of irrigating. “City folk!” we mutter, as the […]

  • A new preserve keeps chilis from going up in smoke

    A tongue-smoking red chili may stay out of hot water thanks to a new botanical area in Arizona, the first in the U.S. set aside to protect wild relatives of domesticated crops. The botanical area — a four-square-mile parcel in the Coronado National Forest, 50 miles south of Tucson — was officially dedicated to the […]

  • New Mexican gives new definition to ranch home

    Ask any rancher — these days, desperation is a lot more plentiful than grass on the western range. Beset by a lousy beef market and increasing costs, it is virtually impossible to make a cattle ranch pay. Jim Winder in ranch dressing. Jim Winder knows this very well. So this fourth-generation New Mexico rancher has […]

  • Ethnic Cleansing in the Chicken Coop

    I didn’t plan it this way, but I have birds of three different sizes in my chicken coop, which is a bad idea. The coop has a floor-to-ceiling chicken-wire divider down the middle. On one side are 40 full-grown layers plus a handsome Buff Orpington rooster. All is peaceful there, except for a constant low […]

  • There's Farming and Then There's Farming

    A while ago, Beth Sawin and Phil Rice, researchers at the Sustainability Institute, put together a graph that I can’t get out of my mind. It shows Midwest corn yields doubling from about 60 bushels per acre in 1950 to 120 bushels on average today. Despite the doubled yield, gross earnings per acre have stayed […]