What is the concept we have of agriculture? What is the truth behind the world of agriculture? Children’s story books and old tales tell us about happy farms where all sorts of plants and animals live together. The sheep roam the fields with their guardian dogs, while the farmer gathers fruits among the trees. The next day, the farmer would collect roots from the garden or make tea with homegrown weeds and plants. The kitchen would smell of different pies and jams, that correlated to the seasonal harvest. But, what is the reality of the agricultural industry? The truth is a completely different story.
How does today’s agricultural industry work? The modern agricultural industry relies mostly on monoculture. In monoculture, large acres are purchased and prepared to breed specific plants. For example the biggest apples, the sweetest mangoes, the longer lasting bananas, or the juiciest oranges. Farmers are relying on big machinery to pick up the year’s harvest. They’re dependent on a single plant to make the farm enough money so it can survive the next planting cycle. The terrain is stripped of all its natural properties and pumped with nutrients that will be beneficial for this chosen specific type of crop. The land is essentially made new with the capabilities of upholding this desired, large scale, nature defying, pest resistant strain of plant. But, how does monoculture affect soil? Monoculture has severe negative effects on agricultural land.
After planting the same thing on the same spot every year, monoculture depletes the soil of its nutrients and renders it less productive over time. How does solid become less productive over time? All soil has a finite amount of nitrogen. Nitrogen is essential for plant development. Once the plant is harvested, nitrogen is no longer available in the soil, or at least not in the same quantities. The next year, the soil is re-pumped with nitrogen so the plant can grow again. But the soil composition will never be as optimal as it once was because there is a disruption in the natural makeup of the soil. Therefore, a gradual depletion of the soil quality is seen every time the same crop is planted. After a few cycles of this, the soil reduces its organic matter, and can later render the patch unusable for planting and becomes a significant source of erosion. To avoid this, many farmers are having to plant the soil with other crops that do not exhaust nitrogen every time. This technique is called crop rotation. Crop rotation is not a new technique.
What is crop rotation? Crop rotation is the practice of alternating crops in the same patch of land, allowing the soil to regain nutrients in a natural way. For example, after harvesting a crop that uses nitrogen, the same patch of land is planted with a crop that favors magnesium. After this crop is harvested, another that favors potassium is planted. And so on. This constant rotation leads to the natural creation of soil and nutrients. Crop rotation uses the plant’s ability to produce a certain nutrient so that the cycle can continue. allowing other plants to retake that spot and use what was produced. This practice is the essence of permaculture. Permaculture’s principles of management and design emulate those observed in natural ecosystems. Permaculture creates a framework of having a variety of crops all close together. Once the crop is harvested, the patch of land is then utilized by another plant. This practice also integrates the use of animals in the rotation. Sheep are sent off into the fields with the guard dogs to eat pasture and fertilize the soil with their waste. Farmers gather fruit from a tree and then harvest roots from another area. Pies and jams would be made according to the years and seasonal harvest and not the everlasting resistant fruit. All this, very similar to what we remember in children’s books and old tales. Maybe we need to recapture and emulate this old way of thinking. Maybe we need to revisit our ancient practices of agriculture, known today as permaculture, to create and emulate an ecosystem that works together. An ecosystem that uses the same plants and animals to regenerate the soil properties instead of using alternate chemical sources. Maybe we need to dust off old history books and look for techniques of capturing water, rotating crops, and fertilizing the field with what we have available in out natural environment. Maybe we need to think about our future by thinking about our past.
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Gabriel Rodríguez Rojas supports the company with interdisciplinary experience. Some of his key roles include the geographical analyses and data visualization, aerial documentation using drones, assisting in environmental studies, writing technical documents and articles, and translation support. He has a master’s degree in GIS and Remote Sensing and has been working in the Environmental Sector since 2014.