Articles, Blog

Why Farming Is Broken (And Always Has Been)


Hi, this is Kate from MinuteEarth. Ten thousand years ago, we humans came up
with a revolutionary new idea for how to feed ourselves: agriculture! Plough land, plant a crop, water, fertilize,
harvest, and repeat each year. And today, we’re pretty much still doing
the same thing as 10,000 years ago. Thanks to the industrial revolution, we ARE
producing much larger quantities of food than we used to. But we are also putting far more resources
into producing food than we used to. As a result, water levels in the world’s largest
aquifers are falling faster than they’re being replenished; our underground supply
of phosphorous – a nutrient critical to plant photosynthesis – will be exhausted
in a few hundred years; and we’re using up the very ground itself, since soil blows
and washes off of our fields 50 times faster than it forms. We can extend the life of these inputs with
resource-saving techniques like precision farming and technologies like gene editing,
but it’s likely that no amount of retrofitting our 10,000-year-old approach to farming will
make it work for billions of people for the next 10,000 years. So, what are future humans going to do about
dinner? One possibility is to switch to a food-making
system where resources get recycled rather than depleted. Radical as it sounds, this kind of system
already exists all around us, in nature, where sunlight is the only major energy input, and
ecosystems comprised of many different coexisting plants and critters cycle nutrients and water
within the system, or use resources at a rate equivalent to how much is coming in. We have started taking some cues from natural
ecosystems, by interspersing crops with trees to encourage a healthy habitat for pollinators
and pest controllers, and by changing the crops themselves. For example, we’ve begun to develop perennial
forms of wheat, rice, and other grains that can live through many harvests, unlike traditional
grains, which we have to plough and replant every year. The idea is to eventually grow the new grains
alongside a variety of other long-lived plants in self-sustaining ecosystems that keep hold
of soil, water, and nutrients. If we could manage to do this for all of our
food, it would be qualitatively different from any other way humans have grown food
on a large scale: not quite hunting & gathering, not plant-harvest-repeat, but… a sort of
futuristic blend between the two. Hey there, I’m Alex! I’m here, visiting the Land Institute, the
sponsor of this video. They’re creating a new form of agriculture. It mimics natural ecosystems in order to help
feed the world’s population with fewer environmental impacts. Here at the Land Institute, plant breeders
and ecologists are developing perennial versions of grains, legumes, and oilseeds, like these,
behind me. The goal is to grow them in ecologically functional
and diverse mixtures, called polycultures. To learn more about how the Land Institute’s
perennial polycultures could help revolutionize agriculture, or to support their work, visit
LandInstitute.org.

100 Comments

  1. Ben Garbaag Author

    So many issues with this video and the ideas it proposes I could write a PhD thesis on it, but I will try to be brief and address the biggest ones.

    our premise at 0:20 that farming is still basically the same as 10,000 years ago is very flawed. A couple of the main differences are crop rotation and no-tillage farming practices.

    Also, one important consideration to make is that less than 2 percent of the United States' population is directly involved in agriculture, and this number is decreasing. Any changes to agriculture will have to make the entire process less labor intensive.

    Reply
  2. Tim Herald Author

    The model shown is the one developed and used by north eastern native North Americans. The present world wide theology of wealth worship destroyed the model for elitist profiteering. Until the greed paradigm is replaced, a better model will not be internationaly adopted.

    Reply
  3. Oskar Sundgren Author

    Excuse me wtf? U dont like my method? Well die then. This method u took up wont work for shit u know. If we have so many trees between the fields the yield will ve much lower and more water will be taken by the trees with those roots

    Reply
  4. Claptrap Claptrap Author

    Hobby gardeners like I used to be have always been planting crops that benefit from each other somehow, and also traditional crop rotation, which addressed some of these problems about balancing resources. No wonder, they were thought up in the days of no other fertilisers than manure (if you got hold of it) and composted material. Problem with large scale harvesting is how to separate two different plants that are grown together.

    Reply
  5. Patrick Taylor Author

    Most of the issue is simply the high reliance on cereal grains (corn, wheat, barley, rice, what have you) worldwide, with such a small portion of farmable land dedicated to their production. That said everything you dump onto the ground soaks up and stays there unless removed by mechanical means (erosion and crop harvesting) at which point the resources are just relocated (sewers in most cases) . In short food production is not in jeopardy, profitability is, and that translates to less money from agriculture to allocate to corporate bloat. But if we catostrophize enough Washington will surely send subsidies for alternative farming methods, regardless of how little sense they make.

    Reply
  6. Adam Peterson Author

    Super cool idea, the only way to really make it work would be to make it clear that Farmers can make more money by doing this way. I seriously doubt that's the case but maybe someday.

    Reply
  7. Beatriz Vergara Author

    You should check the "milpa" agriculture system and make videos about it. It is the central México tradicional planting and has a lot to do with planting together different plants for optimal production.

    Reply
  8. Grammar Police Author

    Why should i care about someone in 2300? Also we have been using the same legs for hundreds of years but you’re not saying we should change that

    Reply
  9. slackr 69 Author

    How about slowing down the overpopulating of the planet with humans? Reduce your footprint, stop making lil feet that will need more resources to live. Then all the other stuff will help clean the planet

    Reply
  10. TheScienceofnature Author

    I think farming should take place in controlled environment. For example building platforms in space which would be facing the sun at all times and the soil would be controlled, so no leakage of minerals and nutrients. The only thing that would escape would be the food which will get replaced by regular deliveries of plant food.

    Reply
  11. asdfghjkl Author

    I was thinking of using greenhouses and hydroponics to get greater control of resources and recycling of waste along with much higher yields per acre.

    Reply
  12. Sean Bearly Author

    Couple other things we've been doing pretty much the same for 10,000 years – breathing, having sex. Do those need fixing too? We have too many people looking for (or making up) 'future' problems to solve instead of solving the real, already identified problems we already know about. Problem is the problems we know about aren't easily solved and aren't as sexy as remaking the entire world. How fun to be part of a group that is going to change everything – make everything better.

    Reply
  13. DarkShadowsX5 Author

    you forgot to mention about 33% of our farms produces food for our food. (livestock)
    and how much of our 67% of crops we waste from spoilage. (not harvested, left in the field, at stores, and at home.)
    or how much is rejected before hitting markets.

    farming isn't broken as much as people are.

    Reply
  14. Eric Author

    As much as I like this channel this has to be one of the worst that I have seen they clearly didn't look at this from any other vantage point. Also they have dont know anything about farming.

    Reply
  15. Evan Harrison Author

    First things first, anyone who says "thanks to the industrial revolution" deserves a slap or a dozen.
    The industrial revolution, or at least the way it was handled, was the greatest disaster in human history.
    Besides that, it's clear that this was written by someone who's never done any agricultural work whatsoever. Just because industrial farming is destructive and erosive, doesn't mean that "farming is broken", just that industrial farming techniques are destructive and erosive.

    If we retrained just a small percentage of that vast excess of useless paperpushers and paid them a living wage to do farming, we could easily do away with any negative downsides. I've yet to meet someone who didn't prefer to buy the eggs and tomatoes from the neighbors, provided the opportunity.

    The only obstacle to that is agricultural monopolies, who'll waste large amounts of money to undercut and bankrupt small community farming, just so they can bathe the earth in poison and grow low quality crops.

    One last thing. Genetic modification isn't, nor will it ever be a viable, feasible or even a beneficial option. It's nothing but an affront to God. It's a common misconception that genetic modification and selective breeding are the same thing. They're not. GM is probably the most destructive, misused technology I ever could imagine. The perfect example of "just because you can, don't mean you should".

    The simple fact is that if only we weren't cramming the population into small cubicles to do absolutely nothing but justify expense reports and government tax refunds, if only we didn't allow a bunch of stuffy millionaires to ruin our ability to sustain ourselves, if only we didn't clear out entire forests to start monocropping soybeans, If only we didn't take it upon ourselves to feed the ever growing population of sub-saharan africans, none of these things would be problems.

    Reply
  16. KzS Poseidon Author

    Solution: just get rid of the bottom 2 billion people that don't add anything to humanity – more or less what bill Gates is planing to do

    Reply
  17. Albert Albert Author

    Indoor farming should replace traditional farming. It is a more humane job, if mist is used it save 95% of water, crops can be saved from bad weather and other animals/insects. Space can be multiply hundreds of times in vertical farming.
    Each family can farm their own food and farming jobs can be brought to the city.
    Will save time and money in transportation and food can be eaten fresh. Roof can be used as land space. It is already happening.
    Traditional farming is horrible in every way. I did it myself and i had a taste of all the disadvantages it can bring. I'm hoping to grow my own food in microgreens cabinets in a near future. For now microgreens growing cabinets prices are a rip off for rich people. Same as microgreen prices. But it should become a staple in every table in the next few years.

    Reply
  18. Reinis Lusis Author

    Well when this new ecological system will produce cheaper food then, of course, it will be adopted by industry. But – when this ecological farming is pushed on farmers it will only increase food prices and cause mass starvation and death.

    Reply
  19. Miguel Mf Author

    I think the point of the video is agroforestal systems but it seems like they oversimplified it so much that it got farmers angry.
    But its still a good video! Is important to plant these topics into the heads of the people to allow new generations to see the problem and work on it

    Reply
  20. Training Grounds Author

    Stop genetically modifying plants. Stop farming plants in the wrong place. Stop polluting the earth with technology and petroleum products. And we will do just fine. OH and stop making dumb videos.

    Reply
  21. Apple Islander Author

    Bullshit. Farming isn't "broken". Netherlands is doing farming just fine.
    We had the same kind of fear-mongering shit at the turn of the last century, when we were worried about running out of nitrogen. Now no one talks about it.
    Besides, it's not like "nature" is stable, eco-friendly, or sustainable. It just takes longer the changes to materialise, and longer for participants to adapt. And by extension, nature has never been able to sustain anywhere near the animal biomass that humans do.

    Reply
  22. long-time listener , first-time caller Author

    Or we could stop paying the third world to reproduce at ridiculous rates while contributing jack squat except more problems. That would also fix the (constant) crisis 🙂

    Reply
  23. Webis Tebis Author

    In Lebanon, we have a terrible depletion problem. Maybe it’s because islamic Terrorists control the Bekaa Valley and do you honestly think those arabs have a clue in farming?

    Reply
  24. Webis Tebis Author

    I dont think we should mix many crops. It should be 1 field for 1 crop, and maybe some vertical droughts tolerant trees interspersed lightly

    Reply
  25. J.D. Matthias Author

    I like that idea of perennials. Main issue with ag work today is the soil is very unhealthy, so more farmers are using pesticides and unnatural chemicals to enhance their crops rather than naturally working the soil to a better future.

    Reply
  26. Orangatangerine Author

    K. Permaculture systems have been around since the start of farming. Not every farmer is a huge scale industrial farmer. Small scale sustainable farms that work with nature instead of against it are not a new thing in the slightest. So it's good I guess that you want to encourage permaculture but the title of the video is false and complete click bait. Gets a thumbs down from me.

    Reply
  27. \Hugh M Janus// Author

    Will farmers get a sweet set of rocket wings like in the picture? If so, sign me up. And maybe it'll grow on trees with that new ecosystem.

    Reply
  28. TheBlackCat viewerAccount Author

    0:45 Literally, we have the technology to fix all three problems…

    Edit: we can do it without messing with DNA. Remember, that's how you end up with resident evil, or a barren dead ball because we accidentally killed off all of our food by playing with something we don't truly understand…

    1:41 no, we put tree lines in to stop wind from creating an environment where nothing can grow. This was known as the dust bowl. Across flat land wind will pick up speed, if unhindered, causing dirt to be picked up by it, pulling the freshly planted seeds with it. Tree lines have nothing to do with ecosystems as to why we put them there. The trees are wind breakers.

    Reply
  29. Jonas Ricken Author

    Natural systems may produce more biomass per acre, but it that doesn't mean that humans can benefit from it.
    Forests for instance produce more biomass than cropland, but wood can't be used for human nutrition.

    If we would replace cropland with natural ecosystems, we would reduce our productive surface.
    And modern day agriculture isn't as "destructive" as it is often depicted.

    Reply
  30. kickinthegob Author

    Just wow. First of all, top soil degradation is a result of artificial fertilizers and pesticides that deplete the bacterial and rhizome populations in the soil. This is a modern problem and was not previously encountered as traditionally farmers used compost and mulch on their fields, and rotated crops to replenish soil. Even with precision agriculture, you need to restore the microbiological ecosystems in the soil if you want sustainability and GMO crops are not going to do that for you.
    This video is obviously made by people with no knowledge on farming or microbiology.

    Reply
  31. Master Robotnik Author

    =NOPE,THAT IS WRONG

    =ACTUALLY IN THE FUTURE ALL FERTILIZERS WILL B TAKEN FROM OCEAN ITSELF,AND DESERTS WILL B TURNED TO FARMLANDS THANKS TO DESALINATION PLANTS POWERED BY SOLAR PANELS,SO THAT'LL SOLVE MANY PROBLEMS AT ONCE

    Reply
  32. dick styve Author

    I love permaculture, I practice it myself. However, unless you want to pay alot more for your food it's not feasible on a large scale. At least for now.

    Reply
  33. SysPowerTools Author

    None of this will matter if the TOKAMAK is effective. We will be able to turn water into hydrogen then hydrogen into helium and produce levels of energy that could legitimately be used to suck up megatons of air and scrub the carbon from it just for fun. While were at that, the air is mostly nitrogen, make some fertilizer, a little trace elements, a sprinkle of intense heat, a dash of earth shattering pressures, and BAM, the world is your B***

    Reply
  34. William Krajewski Author

    That's why we should have followed the sabbatical year when it comes to farming every seven years let the land rest. Judgement is coming

    Reply
  35. Michael Longo Author

    Pump any yearly flood waters into the Aquifer, build pipe lines dedicated to that, is that so hard to do, is that stretch for us to think about and do, spread this solution now

    Reply
  36. falljazz Author

    If we keep finding better and better way to do it, eventually we will end up with unspoiled nature just as it will thousands of years ago.

    Reply
  37. falljazz Author

    If we keep finding better and better way to do it, eventually we will end up with unspoiled nature just as it will thousands of years ago.

    Reply
  38. David Hutson Author

    Leave it to city dwelling social engineering theoreticians to try to pontificate to the most advanced system of agricultural scientists and innovators ever know,  about how to feed a hungry world.  Better worry about the next 10 to 100 years first. Never mind about the next 10,000, for now.

    Reply
  39. Sam Lair Author

    Meanwhile, in thinking about world wise slash-and-burn subsistence farming:
    After reading about using slash-and-char instead of slash-and-burn, it’s obvious that slash-and-char is the desirable field clearing method. 
    “It sequesters considerable quantities of carbon in the safest and most beneficial fashion, as opposite to the negative effects of the slash-and-burn. Switching to slash-and-char can sequester up to 50% of the carbon in a highly stable form. The nascent carbon trading market that sponsors CO2 sequestration projects, could therefore help supplement the farmers' income while supporting a decrease in the pace of deforestation and the development of a more sustainable agriculture.”

    The problem is the labor intensitivity  of doing so.

    Though I haven’t made biochar ‘per se’, I had a lifetime of experience hand clearing and burning brush and trees in the monte of south Texas. While living on my ranch, I also burned our household trash — which I did using a pit. Burn trash, backfill with dirt from the new pit dug next to it, repeat. As I watch videos of biochar being made and thinking of how subsistence farmers around the world are ruining their topsoil using slash-and-burn, it occurs to me that if they’d scoop long very shallow wide trenches, stack their detritus in them instead of into piles on level ground, and then burn — they could easily shovel the dirt back into the depression with the now smoldering wood. I can visualize how I’d do it; but, it’s hard to describe. After a few years of doing it and laying the successive trenches side by side, as the years went by and tilling it over and over, experience would teach one what more was needed to refine the technique.

    Though the Amazonians that made Terra Preta famous were wiped out by diseases that the Spaniards with Orellano spread and, thus, their techniques were lost, I’m guessing that some of the NGOs in the Amazon today could work with the indigenous people to revive the methodology / especially in this new age of finding doable carbon drawdowns which includes ‘regenerative farming’ (which includes the use of biochar).
    ‪https://samslair.blogspot.com/2018/10/el-dorado-biochar-and-conquistador.html?m=1‬

    ‪http://samslair.blogspot.com/2019/09/amazonias-subsistence-farmers-why-and.html?m=1‬

    Reply

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