Dust storms. Herbicide-resistant weeds. A dwindling aquifer. Low grain prices. Fickle markets.
If you’ve ever paused for a moment in the tractor, in a field or in your shop and wondered where agriculture is heading in the future, Allan Savory has done that too — and he doesn’t like what he’s seeing.
The Zimbabwean ecologist and co-founder of the Savory Institute says as much as two- thirds of the world’s land is undergoing “desertification” as it’s pressured by increasing world population, increasing fossil fuel use and poor land management.
Simply put, there are too few livestock in grasslands and pastures and there’s too much uncovered soil, Savory said recently in his keynote address at the No-till on the Plains Winter Conference. He commended no-tillers for showing leadership and making a change in their farm management instead of folding under pressure from nay-sayers.
But at the current rate of adoption, Savory worries it will take another 100 years for ecologically sound practices like no-till to reach critical mass because the ag economy is promoting different practices, “in a chaotic situation of short attention spans, Tweets and conflicting views.
“No-till vs. plowing. Herbicides and monocultures vs. polycultures. Humane, grass-fed vs. inhuman, factory-fed animals. Real meat made from plants, naturally by animals vs. artificial meat made from plants in chemical manufacturing factories. Compost vs. fertilizers.
“I’ve watched this battle going on and on like a ping-pong game, as poor, ecologically literate David battle ecologically illiterate Goliath backed by billionaires, corporations and celebrities. It’s going to take another century.”
But Mother Nature won’t give us that much time, he says. Savory is advocating no-tillers continue the evolution of their operation and adopt holistic management practices on their farms and ranches.
We’ll explain more that means in our feature article in this edition, but suffice it to say it involves building carbon in soils and keeping them covered, taking a new approach to livestock management and using more enlightened parameters for making onfarm operational decisions.
Savory believes 2% of society in the U.S. favors science-based agriculture and 98% of Americans support agriculture based on marketing oil and technology.
But the concepts the “2 percenters” support — sustainable, organic, grass-fed, permaculture, regenerative agriculture — need to be dissected and understood for the U.S. and other countries to avoid repeating the fate of civilizations throughout history, he says.
There has been some controversy and criticism of Savory’s views about livestock management and farming, but he’s pressing on, growing a hub of network farms around the world and building a passionate following.
He’s been critical of universities, corporations, livestock organizations and federal policies that discourage systems change in ag that he’s been advocating for five decades.
As Congress begins to wrestle with another Farm Bill, this irony certainly isn’t lost on me. Sometimes I feel agriculture in the U.S. will come to a reckoning point some day because of the problems I mentioned at the beginning of this column.
More and more consumers are concerned about the safety of their food sources and their fate rests in the hands of farmers, Savory says. Some big retailers are responding and demanding sustainable practices from growers.
No-tillers are finding new ways to fertilize their crops and reduce chemical inputs. Cover crop use is growing, and non-GMO crops and organic methods are making inroads.
Taking a step back to evaluate your management practices isn’t easy, but I think it’s worth exploring Savory’s vision for farming and ranching so you can make up your own mind. If you’re no-tilling and taking care of your soils, you’ve already taken a first step.