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The language of farming

Oct 11, 2018

Is the language we use to describe farming stifling innovation and leading us to farm in an environmentally insensitive way?  I have an interesting theory upon which I'd like to hear feedback.

If you were to ask a farming family from 200 years ago or more to describe their farming system on the land that you currently farm, I would guess that they would describe a system that would be organic with a long rotation and a variety of both crops and livestock.  While rooting around my grandmother's book shelves, I found a book from 1800 by J Thomson called 'General View of Agriculture of Fife'.  In this, he describes the current form of agriculture at the time and it is exactly as you'd expect. 

This view of agriculture more or less remained until the Haber Bosch Process and the aftermath of the second world war when fertilizer was cheap and (in Western Europe at least) production needed to be increased rapidly.  It was in the period between 1920 and 1945 that many of the founders of what we now describe as alternative agriculture wrote their major books.  Look up Rudolf Steiner (1924), Sir Albert Howard (1940) Jerome Rodale (1940) Eve Balfour (1943) E. H. Faulkner (1943).

Sometime between 1900 and now, traditional agriculture has become understood to be a model that involves synthetic fertiliser, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, ploughing deep and monocropping.  Anybody that says anything different is viewed as a crackpot and someone who can't possibly feed the world.  Why is traditional agriculture not the model as proposed by organisations such as the Soil Association and the Rodale Institute?  Is the synthetic model not the weird one?

As we describe a synthetic model as traditional, human nature makes us want to belong and we are conditioned to view anything described as alternative as something that should be approached with caution as it's only practised by others.  How can we describe regenerative agriculture, organic agriculture, extensive agriculture as something other than alternative?  Answers on a postcard to the usual address!