Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “crop yields”

2012: A Year to Remember – Roger Ingalls

Global warming, who cares. We’re only talking about a few degrees so what’s the big deal? The availability of food is the big deal.

Starch based foods, such as; corn, rice and wheat are members of the grass family and the life blood for most people on Earth. Not only do we eat starch-plants but our livestock is primarily fed corn and similar grassy vegetation. In addition, close to 70% of all items found on grocery stores shelves in developed countries have some type of corn byproduct in them (an unintended consequence of subsidized farming). The world depends on starchy grasses so we must have large land masses in climate zones suitable for growing these plants.

Global warming of a few degrees may not seem like much but when compared to temperature ranges required to grow our food, the small change isn’t so little.

For the purposes of this short article we’ll talk about corn. The ideal temperature range for growing corn is 68F to 73F degrees and having an abundant amount of weather in this range is needed to keep food prices affordable and available. The ideal growing range is only 5F degrees (73 – 68 = 5) so a climate shift of 2 or 3 degrees will consume 50% of corn’s growing range budget and that is significant. The average growing season temperature for America’s bread basket region (Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois…) is about 72F degrees so an upward shift of just a few degrees takes us out of the ideal condition. This is bad news for high yields.

Global warming also has another, more damaging, side effect; prolonged extreme temperature variation. This is what we are now experiencing in the Midwest and it’s having a devastating impact on crops. In past years, it was normal to have a handful of super-hot days but climate change is producing consecutive weeks of scorching heat. More bad news for crop yields. Corn can survive in a range of 50F to 95F degrees for a period of time but will not yield well above 80F or below 60F. Corn can even tolerate extreme temperatures (32F to 110F degrees) but only for a few days. When we have weeks of heat over 100F degrees, as we have seen this year, crops fail.

2012 may become a year to remember. It will be a year of climate records in both high temperatures and protracted heat days. It will be a year of failed crops.

A few degrees does make a difference.

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It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen or read the weather reports coming from America’s heart land? Heat and lack of rain are playing havoc with the crops. The prices for corn, soybean and wheat have jumped over the past two days (5.5%, 3.6% and 3.1% respectively). This may seem like a small increase but when you consider that 70% of everything we consume uses these three commodities in some way, it is a significant jump. Hot, dry weather is expected to stay with the nation’s breadbasket for awhile which may further impact crop yields and prices.

Picture from Standeyo.com

To those who understand our so-called modern food system, it’s obvious that we, the consuming public, have lost control of the basic necessities we need to sustain ourselves. The enticement of farm subsidies has created a corporate rush to drive out traditional local farmers. We now have consolidated and centralized mega-farms all practicing similar techniques. This lack of diversity exacerbates weather related events leaving the public at risk (food shortages and high prices). In addition, food prices are no longer solely established by supply and demand. Since deregulation under the Bush administration #2, it is now legal to speculate on food commodities in ways similar to stocks, hedge funds and oil which further drives the price of food. Yes, Wall Street is now gambling on our food. Lastly, corporatized or industrial farming is fossil fuel intensive so food prices are tied to oil and natural gas.

So how do we take back control of our food? This is really an economic and marketing question. We need to develop a substitute food system with value that will motivate consumers to switch.

It just so happens that an alternate food system does exist and has been successfully implemented in an American country very close to our border. Cuba had a farming system similar to the US, Europe and other industrialized nations but they relied on imports from the Soviet Union for oil-based pesticides, natural gas based fertilizers and diesel for transportation of goods from farm to city. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s supply of fuel and fossil-derived chemicals dwindled to near extinction. Fortunately for the Cuban people, their government saw what was coming and developed a smart strategy to replace industrialized chemical farming. They rolled out a farming system based on biological fertilizers, biological/cultural pest control and implemented it right in the cities. Essentially, they created organic urban farming out of necessity. Here are a few amazing statistics and other information:

1)       With a workforce of approximately 4.8 million, they’ve created 350,000 new jobs.
2)       Local production of fresh vegetables increased a thousand fold, yields per square meter increased from 1.5 kilograms to 25.8 kilograms.
3)       Food production is local so transportation is eliminated, food is fresh and harvested when ripe and not chemically gassed to ripen as with industrialized farming.
4)       Diets and health of the Cuban population improved, food is nutrient rich and free from toxic petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.
5)       Urban farmers earn more than government workers and are as respected as doctors.

By duplicating something similar to the Cuban urban farming method we can take local ownership of our food, create jobs and enjoy healthier, tastier food. Just as important, we reduce the risk of shortages and high prices by decoupling food from the oil industry and speculative gambling by financial institutions. Urban agriculture is formed on multiple locations and managed by many small companies or sole proprietors. This creates additional diversity in produce and farming methods, thereby further improving food security.

Take a few minutes and really think about this organic local food system. It’s not a backward approach; it’s scientifically progressive with a thorough understanding of biology and how a living ecosystem really works. Imagine the positive benefits this would bring to your community: healthy food growing in every available space, people working and food secure, produce businesses or co-ops within walking distance for most everyone, a thriving self-made community.

It’s OK to say no to 1940s industrialized chemical farming practices, it’s OK to say no to market manipulation by financial institutions and IT’S OK TO BE EMPOWERED!

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