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"If We Want to Save the Earth, We Have to Feed the World": Thoughts on Climate Change

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For the fourth blog in my series leading up to The World Congress on Conservation Agriculture in Winnipeg starting June 22, I must address climate change.

Climate change seems to be hitting the news almost daily these days. Every week there seems to be a new study out revealing new devastating details about the future of our planet. I tweeted some time ago about this, saying “why don’t the experts use their models to provide some advice on what could be done?” What if 75% of the world’s agricultural land was in no-till and we had extensive use of cover crops? There is a good research paper that discusses just that. It is from the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation and can be found at: http://www.jswconline.org/content/66/4/276.full.pdf+html .

I find it interesting, and grossly misguided, that the organic industry is trying to claim that they have the solution to climate change. There is an article in the Western Producer from April 17 page 100 making those claims, and many similar claims are online, as part of a concentrated effort at effecting public opinion. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, as the organic industry is well-known for making erroneous claims about anything they want.

Thankfully, I have been able to find some experts who have looked at modern agriculture and its positive effects on climate change. See the following link: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100615/full/465853a.html

The model in this article compares what would happen if we had 1960 yields (pre-green revolution, a movement started by US plant scientist Norman Borlaug, who put forth the theory that increasing yields would preserve forests and other native lands known as the Borlaug hypothesis),and 2005 populations and yields. The paper clearly gives credit to Modern Agriculture. Hmm I wonder why this hasn’t made it to the frontline of modern media??

The article doesn’t go as far as I would like, making it a goal to reach a meaningful target of something like 75% of the world’s agricultural land participating in modern intensive no-till with extensive use of cover crops. I think this is a solution that could make a massive impact on climate change. It may be a lofty goal, but by spreading real scientific data throughout the media, on social media or through recognized media outlets, we can potentially build support for actual action against climate change. This is something that would have a real impact on emissions and carbon levels, much more than any light bulb could provide.

One thing is clear in reviewing this subject: the real experts don’t even mention Organic Farming at all. That is because it is ridiculous to think that using a farming method that reduces yields and relies on mining the soil of its nutrients is not mathematically or scientifically feasible. You can’t spread manure on 1.2 billion hectares of cropland to replenish what has been removed from the soil. Using deep rooted alfalfa to bring nutrients from below the root zone is only a temporary solution, not a sustainable one.

The article concludes with these wise comments that you will sadly never see on national media: “Above all, this study underscores the purpose of agricultural research funding, especially in developing countries,” says Andrew Balmford, a conservation scientist at the University of Cambridge, UK. Unless the world sees a second green revolution, some 1.5 billion to 2 billion additional hectares will need to be put into production by 2050 to feed a growing population, according to an ongoing analysis by David Tilman, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota in St Paul. Fortunately, there is plenty of cleared land that is underperforming and massive potential for boosting yields in developing countries, Tilman says. “If we want to save the Earth, we have to feed the world,” Tilman adds.”And it’s these poorest countries that have the most to contribute.”

Please follow me on Twitter @PatrickBeaujot for more thoughts on agriculture and no-till farming practices

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