Energy

Sucked Dry, Pt. 2

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 02, 2006

ABC News just carried a report finding that the levels of nutrients in agricultural produce are falling.

Donald Davis, a biochemist at U of Texas, Austin, "concludes that recently grown crops have shown decreases of up to 38 percent in protein, calcium, vitamin C, phosphorus, iron and riboflavin when compared with produce from past decades."

It turns out the relentless, myopic drive to increase yield at all costs has taken its toll on the quality of the food yielded. Growing food bigger and faster means it has less time to absorb nutrients from the soil.

At the same time, farming the same soil over and over using nitrogen fertilizer is depleting the soil itself, so it has less nutrients to impart into the produce.

This is much more alarming than it seems. A common characteristic of collapsing civilizations has always been overuse of farmland resulting in soil depletion. Agricultural production can no longer feed everyone, and society starts to unravel.

We've been cheating ecology by dumping fertilizer and pesticides on our farmland in increasing amounts, but that cheat is starting to run out. Nitrogen fertilizer is synthesized using natural gas, an energy source that is already in decline in North America.

Even so, global food production peaked in the late 1990s and has been declining ever since. It seems the Green Revolution is nearing the end of its course.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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