Remember that gay ( gay as in light hearted fun, not gay as in pillow biting anal reaming carpet munching bull dyke Chinese orphan adopting ) little ditty way, way back in the day as a new rock and roll style of beach partying California music made its way into our soon to be graying and Alzheimer’s brains where after a fast tempo the ending lyrics were “Wipe Out!”? I hope that fun time Charlie music sustains you through the coming famine in America. Because a few more years of drought and we are back to pre-colonial Europe or pre-Civil War America food production. We can talk all about Roman over population and declining fertility after soil degradation coupled with inflation hampering the military’s role securing African wheat for the capital. We can speculate about one of those five hundred year droughts ( like the one we are in now in the western states ) taking down Mayan civilization. And we can yammer on about the effects of overpopulation on Europe as the population cleared the forests for farming, silted up the harbors and were only saved by importing food from the new colonies. But let’s just stick closer to home and America’s history of farming. News flash, it was almost always destructive just as it is today.
The Southern colonies were established by settlers financed by the rich. And like everyone who puts their hard earned cash down on the barrelhead, those dudes wearing funny ruffled collars and perhaps cod pieces ( think almost two centuries before the Revolution ) or whatever it is that dandies wore in those days, were all of a mind that they should be paid back and with interest to boot. The first few colonies pretty much sucked ass as an investment, but one day a colonial dude cried, “harkith” and shoved a wad of powdered tobacco up his nose and hence was born a very profitable indeed trade. Not only did the rich dudes get richer but now all the rich guys could gather together, suck down coffee and ingest tobacco and the temporary buzz and increased mental activity led to a lot more great ideas on getting rich while meantime their slower witted cousins that stayed in the ale houses out of a fondness of tradition just got slower and slower and soon were no longer getting rich but just mean and surely and watched their livers crap out ( alcoholism is a slow painful suicide whereas tobacco seems harmless until you cough up a lung and coffee is great until your heart explodes. A much faster demise in comparison and, hey, you got rich from killing yourself just like the peasants in the field or the miners in the pits but you stayed far more fashionable and for the time cleaner ).
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The governments of the day were no slower than now in realizing what a perfect cash cow tobacco was and soon a farmer got ten percent of the price and the government 70%. Just as now. And let’s be frank, shall we ( yes, lets, and don’t call me Frank )? The government once hooked was not going to give up its money. Tobacco might wear out the ground very quickly, needing orders of magnitude more nitrogen and such than any other crop, but since there was land aplenty out west the colonial government just kept granting new tracts of land as the old wore out. It was far easier to clear new virgin land than to keep the old fertilized. And this was before slavery became such an institution. Once that got established, tobacco and then cotton were all that could be grown because slaves were expensive and you needed them maximizing production ( just as our petroleum slaves are today ) from day one. Before slavery, labor was scarce and land was four times cheaper than getting more hands over from Europe as indentured servants. It made perfect sense to abuse and use land and move on.
If you husband your land it will remain more productive than either slaves or machines can match, but that is only for the long term. But first you must continually invest time and labor and money. Only a few well off gentleman farmers could do so. The rest mined the soil as that was what was profitable. Not profitable in the sense that Scrooge sits around counting a vast accumulation of gold that grows steadily but profitable in just getting by. Yes, greed was a contributing factor, but by and large depleting the dirt was just how folks got by. It wasn’t rapine for greed’s sake but the only way to “survive and thrive” ( sound familiar, Yuppie Scum? ).
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New England Yankees depleted the poor soil, depleted the forests, depleted the fish and moved on to the African slave trade ( I’m not implying Southerners were innocent, although the huge majority never owned a slave, just that the Northern moralizing over slavery was quite hypocritical ). Not because they were asshats ( well, I’m not overly fond of the breed, but to make my point let’s assume most Yankee’s are marginally adequate humans ) but because it was just the way they could make a living. What other choice was there up in BumHump, Maine with its harsh winters and rocks ( why we didn’t let Canada have Maine and other states is beyond me. Perhaps sour religious types that the inhabitants were, they needed a prequel to Hell )? Nobody makes every decision based on probable outcomes a hundred years from now with perfect hindsight as to unintended consequences. You make your choices amongst the least bad ones and live with it. Farmers weren’t greedy or lazy, they were doing the best they could at the time. And it lead to most Southern farmland becoming marginal and unproductive ( once the tobacco needed new land, the poorest prospective farmers bought that farmland and struggled with crapped out soil to live on- the downward cycle continued ).
Our national grain growing area, Texas and Nebraska and up, mostly above an aquafer that is already played out in the south ( the north looked imposingly robust and full but we should take care of that by poisoning from oil fracking ), is literally putting all our eggs in one basket. Just like the Old South. They relied on slave labor plantations to profit and them import a lot of its other foodstuffs. When northern politicians killed slave state growth, halting expansion to new soil ( by the Civil War, 70% of slaves were west of Georgia. The system had to migrate to new land or die ), the South had no were to go. It sat boiling in the denuded land unable to feed its farmers more than a meager diet of corn, its economy imploding. Of course it had to go to war. Just as the Yankees taxed the tobacco that was the only cash crop, imported slaves at a profit to continue the tobacco and cotton plantations, then profited off the mono crop colony, it then fed recent European immigrants into the meat grinder to grow its industrial base and financial empire by going to war with its failing southern colony. Are you sure you don’t understand why I’m not fond of Yankees? They are no better than English lords profiting off Irish famine.
Anyway, to return to our own modern farming, our Midwest grain growing region is hemmed in by its soil degradation. Unlike in the past, the solution wasn’t to move on to fresh land, because there isn’t any, but to replace all those bothersome soil regeneration schemes such as manure application, crop rotation, nitrogen fixing cover crops, composting and fallowing with a nifty and easy application of natural gas produced artificial fertilizer. Not because farmers don’t care about their land or are ignorant or lazy. They aren’t. They have little other choice. They are constrained by finances ( Yankee controlled finances, by the way ). You must produce to feed the machines and bankers, and feeding people lastly. For the few independent farmers still left out there. Most are unwilling lackeys to the Big Ag monopoly and do as they are told. And those few misguided hippies that think they can just feed themselves, our land tax policies and zoning regulations and our Food Police all conspire to dissuade any planting above the size of a garden growing salad ingredients. The paradigm is mega corporate petroleum crops, and all must conform to the hive mind or die.
So we have unfertile soil growing a monoculture of genetically modified grain, fed by artificial fertilizer and watered by electric powered irrigation. All in one area. To feed three hundred million Americans and goodness knows how many Chinese. Before 2005 ( hint, Peak Oil ) this worked well. We even fed most of the world outside Asia and Europe. We are already in trouble with our petroleum inputs. Now comes a prolonged multi-year global drought. With no other way to grow food. But why worry, right?
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