Evans-Pritchard: Another Horseman Appears

Something sobering for a feast-day, as AE-P notes the possibility of long-term soil exhaustion and resulting famine via this paywalled Science paper.

Got hugelkultur?

14 responses to “Evans-Pritchard: Another Horseman Appears

  1. “Topsoil and Civilization” (Dale and Carter) was published in 1955. Also, I find it interesting that AE-P’s map shows no projected water scarcity for most of North America by 2025. Try googling Ogallala Aquifer. It’s under that prairie soil.

    Now turn your attention to what China has done to their topsoil and groundwater before factoring in how the loss of fresh water from the rapidly diminishing Himalayan glaciers will affect their future water supply (not to mention another billion plus people just in India) and you will get a preview on what is ahead.

    North America looks like quite a prize on the global chessboard, doesn’t it?

  2. Okay, look, enough of these pseudo-crises. It’s time to attend to the real thing.

    You have two parents, right? And each of them had two parents–your four grandparents? And each of them had two parents–your eight great-grandparents? And so on back into the mists of time?

    You do realize what that means, don’t you? The population of the human race is being halved with each successive generation!

    Think, man! How long has this been going on? How many quadrillions of ancestors have willingly sacrificed everything to produce you? And how much longer will it be before there’s only one of us, huddling in some long-abandoned office building, shivering in the unmitigated cold, unable to do anything but wait for his personal Grim Reaper to complete the extinction of Mankind?

    What if that Lone Survivor is you, bucko?

    Clearly, it’s time for the government to act. We must immediately forbid any further reproduction, lest the process, as enjoyable as it sometimes seems, put an end to us all!

    (And after that, we’ll deal with the other real hazard of our time: The inevitability that, at some unknowable future time, everyone everywhere will take a step simultaneously, thus triggering the global earthquake that will end all life on Earth. Film at Eleven.)

  3. Matthew,

    I assume the author of this post is Matthew Bracken. I’m a big fan of your books, by the way, and recommnend them on my blog.

    Anyway, I went to the University of Connecticut as a soil science major, so this is a subject near and dear to my heart.

    Entitled “Dust to Dust”, the paper argues that the erosion of soil fertility has been masked by a “soup of nutrients” poured over crop lands, giving us a false sense of security. It said 1pc of global land is being degraded each year, defined as a 70pc loss of the top soil.

    They say in agronomy, “Industrial Agriculture is using land to turn oil into food.” It takes 10 calories of oil to produce 1 calorie of food, and that’s BEFORE you truck it to the processing centers, process it, distribute it to supermarkets, and people drive to the supermarket and take it home.

    They have reduce the soil erosion problem with no-till agriculture, but apparently they have permanently changed the soil microbiota. That’s something I didn’t learn about in soil science class! Wow!

    Another “horseman” is the depletion of the Oglalla aquifer to grow corn, of all things. We have too much corn, but we’re depleting an aquifer of fossil water that will only recharge in GEOLOGICAL TIME. Want to irrigate crops in Kansas in 500 years? Fuggedaboudit. You’ll have to wait a few million years for that sucker to refill. Also, the corn growing operation uses excess nitrogen that leaches into the Mississiippi and causes a hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New England.

    The really stupid thing is we could be at least partly replacing the food supply from the Midwest and California. Oh, I forgot to mention California’s Central Valley. THey irrigate to grow massive amounts of fruit and veg there. The irrigation they use to grow all that fruit and veg causes soil salinization and salinization of the water table below!

    Salinity from irrigation can occur over time wherever irrigation occurs, since almost all water (even natural rainfall) contains some dissolved salts.[3] When the plants use the water, the salts are left behind in the soil and eventually begin to accumulate. Since soil salinity makes it more difficult for plants to absorb soil moisture, these salts must be leached out of the plant root zone by applying additional water. This water in excess of plant needs is called the leaching fraction. Salination from irrigation water is also greatly increased by poor drainage and use of saline water for irrigating agricultural crops.

    I live in New England. In New England, our soil is acidic and our soil base is not as good as the Midwest because of higher rainfall over geological time leached out the calcium carbonates. Less rainfall in the Midwest means better soil, but you need to add water. In New England, we don’t need to add water nearly as much, though we can do so to increase yields and we have plenty of water so no problem. Our big problem is soil acidity. We have to add lime or wood ashes annually I build soil with leaves and horse manure, a great combination.

    So I grow food as a hobby . I tried making a buck at it, but I had to pay 600 for insurance, and 10 each time to rent a table at the farmer’s market, and I’d sell maybe 20 or 30 dollars of food. I brought about 100 dollars worth of food each time, I was hoping to make 200 a week. Fat chance! People in my town only go to the farmer’s market for sweet corn, or berries for their drinkie-poo.

    One guy I know has a better model — the Outlaw CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Official CSA’s are regulated by the Department of Agriculture, have to buy insurance, get inspected, all that bullshit. And they aren’t supposed to buy from local hobby gardeners unless those hobby gardeners are “inspected” too.

    The outlaw CSA is a farm, but he also buys from hobby gardeners. We have to swear on our honor that we don’t use pesticides. I can’t sell him my peaches or plums because I have to use fungicide on them. Ironically, his own wife doesn’t mind, and she buys peaches and plums with a side of captan for her own consumption. But for his customers, no pesticides whatsoever. For non-stone fruits such as apples and pears, I spray on a clay solution, which doesn’t stop fungus but keeps off insects quite nicely. I have 3 pear trees and earn anywhere from 150 to 300 a year selling to the outlaw CSA for resale, and we eat plenty of pears ourselves. Next year I’m doing extra cabbage to sell to him. I’ll keep off cabbage moths with summerweight fabric, and keep weeds down (and fertilize) with organic certified corn gluten.

    I love sweet potatoes but haven’t been able to grow them very well. He grows really good ones, and so does another friend, so between them, I got these recommendations. You actually trellis the sweet potatoes nad train the vines up into the air (I recommend cattle panel). And water and fertilize the heck out of them. They need a lot of TLC, but they are worth it.

    So the real point of all this is that if a town has a food processing center or reselling center, the hobby gardeners can show up with their fresh fruit adn veg, get cash (even at low prices) and go home, we could leverage the free market to feed ourselves. The Mad River Food Hub is something along those lines, see madriverfoodhub.com although I don’t know if they can accept produce from any old hobby gardener who shows up. Tghat’s what you need.

    If you can say, “I need money. Hey, Outlaw CSA or Food Processing Hub, what fruit and/or veg do you want? Winter squash and sweet potatoes and cabbage? OK.” Grow as much as you can, knowing you’ll get paid for it, sell it cheap to the processing center or outlaw CSA. They would have huge huge surpluses.

    Government regulation is the big problem. They don’t want hobby gardeners making some side money growing food. People might realize how easy it is. Kids can’t get a summer job because Mexicans took the jobs? They can grow winter squash and sweet potatoes and cabbage, if there’s an outlaw CSA or a food hub to sell to.

    Food would be truly cheap. abundant and healthy if we leveraged the free market to accept fruit and veg from tens of millions of hobby gardeners. Real food, good food, not subsidized cheap junk food. According to the Heritage Foundation, the gov’t pays 20 billion a year in subsidies to keep food cheap. Or “food.” that corn/wheat/soybeans flavored concoctions that make people fat and costs the country 150 billlion a year in costs of obesity in medical and loss of productivity.

  4. Josh A. Kruschke

    Got a Secret Garden of Survival?


    The e-book is well worth the read.

  5. RobRoySimmons

    Boogey man journalism with the usual hints of fact. That said I own a place out in tank country (anyone have a spare TOW?) and it being a combination of pasture and crop land I can attest to the difference in how cropping has on soil conditions. Both have what are considered “best practices” and the pasture soil is soft to walk on, but the crop land even though it is no tilled has when it dries out the consistency of a hard baker’s chocolate. This most certainly affects what is called the “water cycle” and so on with the other cycles, but the farmer still gets decent yields, but it certainly is a chem soup and its year around. All that considered I would conclude that yes it is a disaster in the making, when I do not know.

    • Eat more beef, preferably grass finished (which means fat beeves not skinny beeves) and eat less grains, we are fed like we live in human CAFOs.

      Thanks CA for your time

  6. Well, global warming didn’t pan out.Who can we try and fuck next?

  7. Wow! Where to start! The Ogualla Aquifer has,approximately, a 70 year cycle of high and low. Remember, that the dust bowl really effected a small portion of Texas, Kansas and Colorado, with some effects as far north as the Dakotas. FDR’s propaganda machine created the image we have of the devastation. As bad as it was for those directly effected, FDR used it to gain control of agriculture in the US. Which brings up the method that is used today and is so very destructive. Another point to ponder is that the majority of the “wilderness” found by Europeans in the Americas was not in fact “wilderness” but a created agricultural eco-system going to seed as the population of dying societies dwindled and knowledge drained away. The prairie grasslands were burned on a regular basis it keep it good hunting grounds. We spend millions preventing those fires and in-consequence help to alter the make up of the soil. Ending the industrial-agricultural and returning to “old fashioned” farming where true manures (not just animal crap) are added and crops are rotated will help to replace the missing micro eco-systems destroyed by the chemical fertilizers. This is far from a complete litany, but food for thought on how we got here, and, maybe, application. Getting government out of it all would be a step in the right direction. I also question the modern university involvement as they parrot the government line.


  8. Watch David Brandt on youtube and his no-till farming in Ohio. I have descended deep into the permaculture world. It sucks hanging out with the hippies but it gets you off the man’s supply chain. And there is something to this demineralization thing in our food when all we replace is N-P-K. Jack Spirko of the Survival Podcast is deep into this stuff if you want to learn more without hanging out with a bunch of lefties.

  9. Almost never do these horsemen appear.

    If they do, well, we all gotta die sometime.