Daniel Lemire's blog

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Science and Technology links (May 26th, 2017)

7 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (May 26th, 2017)”

  1. The limits of organic is that it is a government label. But I regard it and the movement around it as an attempt to buy purer products, not necessarily more nutritious. When you are in the store, go read the label on buttermilk. Should be just buttermilk and some live cultures, but in regular stores there can be like a half dozen different things in there.

    Additionally, I think both right and left have sort of accepted this idea that less land in production is good, but this goes against what we see in nature- especially in the traditional grasslands of America, which are suffering from ecological collapse because there aren’t a ton of buffalo around anymore- so, we really need to run ruminants on that land to mimic the buffalo, and restore the ecology.

    A yield of some sort is usually an indicator of ecological health. Over production in one place isn’t good, but nor is abandoning land to desertification.

  2. The environmental impact wrt organic milk did not show much difference between the two types of farming, and it offered mitigation suggestions (reduce off farm concentrates and roughage).

    There is a tendency to “concentrate” and “specialize” in our farming methods which does not suit sustainability. A traditional mixed farm that raises its own fodder and animals will likely fare much better in terms of environment impact. The animals contributing to the plants and vice-versa.

    Additionally, milk production is just one area of farming. I would suspect that organic farming of grains and vegetables is much less destructive to the environment than conventional farming of same.

    This does not even get into permaculture, which by its very design intends to be permanently sustainable.

    1. I would suspect that organic farming of grains and vegetables is much less destructive to the environment than conventional farming of same.

      At least for wheat, the productivity of organic farming is about half, which means that twice as much land is needed.

      1. I would hope wheat production would become a quite small, and somewhat boutique industry. I like the idea of Restorative Agriculture, and switching from annual crops to perennial tree crops, in a savannah like system where animals are pulsed through the landscape. Chestnuts would be the most likely replacement for wheat. Hazelnuts could replace soy.

        Of course, thinking about direct replacements like that is due, in part, to the fact that there are so many industries sort of queued up for highly processed carbs, proteins, and oils. The current crops have also been subsidized- as American food policy is still in World War II mode, and as a consequence demand for this junk is a lot higher than it would be if people had to pay the true price.

  3. The other issue is what does this metric really mean? Modern farming leads to soil depletion. Organic farming shouldn’t. Good farming models build the soil over time.

    So what’s the time horizon here for that particular piece of land?

    1. I think that both organic and conventional farming require care if you want to avoid soil erosion/depletion. I don’t know of any evidence that organic farming is intrinsically more sustainable. Both can suffer from soil erosion, for example.

      The one data point we do have is that conventional farming leaves more land to nature.

      1. The former grasslands that have become desert have been left ‘to nature.’ It is not a good thing.