“In the future, more people will have to grow their own food” has become a truism among pundits and observers who are paying attention to the changing state of western industrial civilization, and of the U.S. in particular. Declining energy resources, ecological degradation, and global financial disolution are a few of the trends that are and will be impacting agriculture-as-we-know-it, and forcing agriculture-as-it-will-be.
That chemical-based farming is a failing experiment has been well-documented elsewhere; numerous books and articles have explored declining soil fertility, chemically-resistant weeds and pests, the tainting and depletion of irrigation water, the shrinking diversity of seeds, the dangers of genetically modified crops, and the plummeting nutritional value of fruit, vegetables, and grains. I will not reiterate these issues here, except through examples that address my points, which concern the future of agriculture.
The “need” for a smaller-scale, non-chemical-based agriculture is clear. So are the attributes that it must have. This agriculture will be regionally-based, because the means for shipping produce around the world will no longer be profitable. This agriculture will be based more on animal power (two-legged and four-legged), because machines will be few, and the fuel for them too expensive or unavailable. This agriculture will focus on soil-building rather than chemicals, because the chemicals are sourced from the same raw materials that make the fuel. This agriculture will break with monocropping over hundreds of acres and instead utilize small parcels intercropped. And, this agriculture will have to involve much more than 2% of the population, even if that population is in decline.
I must mention that, in my opinion, the forces at work in the world today — energy, ecology, economics — are of such a large scale and their inertia so powerful that we are being coy when we say we “need” to switch to a smaller-scale, non-chemical agriculture. I suspect that we “will be” making that switch, like it or not, planned or not. No need to rally for the ball that was tossed in the air to come back down. It’s on its way, like all things that go up. But the transition — the beginning of which we are living to see right now — is a very tricky one, to say the least!