One of the most serious environmental problems facing us today is the erosion and degradation of our soil, and modern industrialised farming has precipitated this, turning one solution into two problems.
Farms used to combine livestock and crops, rotating their fields so that manure from the animals would replenish what is taken from the soil by arable produce. Sometimes parts of the farm were left fallow to recover and grow grass which fed the animals. There was no soil erosion, a perfectly sustainable ecosystem and plenty of jobs for farm workers.
The current state of affairs is vastly different. Our farms are now generally specialised, concentrating totally on crop production, or meat and milk. This has divorced the natural manure fertiliser from the arable land, replacing it with chemicals that ultimatley end up washed into rivers, while at the same time turning a valuable resource into a dangerous bi-product, slurry, which is highly toxic and also causes severe pollution to rivers, streams and water supplies.
For the animals it is far worse than that. They are kept in shocking conditions in the race to produce as much meat, eggs and milk in the quickest time on the smallest amount of resources.
A major factor in the fall of the Roman empire was over-farming of the land (see A Green History Of The World). The problem is this is no longer only happening in one country, but across the globe. It can take hundreds or a thousand years for nature to form even an inch of topsoil, but since farming began in America, they have lost at least a third of theirs. The climate is on our side in Britain so we really shouldn’t have any soil erosion at all except what nature can replace, but intensive farming has caused it.
Supporters of intensive farming claim that non-chemical farming cannot feed the world, but this is nonsense, especially if all the money and resources that are currently spent on researching new chemicals was channelled into making of natural food production more effective. More pertinently though, chemical farming definitely cannot feed the world as long term it simply isn’t sustainable!
Soil isn’t just dead matter! It’s made up of billions of tiny organisms and bacteria, which form the new soil and keep it healthy. If the pesticides in intensive farming don’t kill these creatures, the herbicides will kill the vegetation that they feed on having a knock-on effect. If we continue this soon, we won’t be able to grow anything at all!
Pesticides have been shown to cause all sorts of horrible things like birth defects, cancers and gene mutations. They kill off the microbiome, hampering digestion and may lead to some of the food intolerances and allergies which seem o be becoming more and more prevalent these days. They just keep spraying the land with glyphosate (round-up) no matter how much evidence of its harm seems to surface.
Permaculture describes a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem. Combining plants, animals, water, buildings and the local landscape, more energy would be produced than expended, all nutrients, materials and resources would be recycled, and nature would be interfered with as little as possible. Sounds great, doesn’t it?