Food for thought

The agricultural industry is entering an increasingly rapid pace of change. It was only yesterday (and today) that farmers were encouraged to use no-plow techniques for large crop fields. Basically, the intent is to let indigenous plants provide a cover crop so that (a) good soil will not continue to blow away or wash away (b) the indigenous plants will provide better chemistry and require less commercial plant food in the soil and (c) the indigenous plants would retain CO2 in the soil. Changing farming practices is very difficult for farmers.

There are other practices that are changing. A small number of commercially large farms have decided to pursue zero fossil fuel in their operation. Manure, crop waste solar power and chemical conversions are used to produce electricity, feed and fertilizer.

These and other similar efficiency-based crop practices are an excellent effort but the circumstances surrounding a human population approaching 8 billion by 2030 and little land left to increase agricultural production has taken farming in a different direction.

Everyone has heard of hydroponic gardening (grown in water without soil) but aggressive corporations are taking hydroponics to extreme levels. Soil and vast acreages have a small role to play in large quantity production. Combined with the use of solar and wind energy, these farms have no season – they are year-round.


Add to the plant operation the quandary of what to do about cows. Long a joke, it is a fact that through flatulence and digestion, cows produce 40 percent of atmospheric methane. Cows generate methane in two main ways: through their digestion and through their waste. Cows are part of a group of animals called ruminants. Ruminants have stomachs with four distinct chambers. Sheep, goats, and giraffes also are ruminants. Even on television there are ads suggesting that everyone fight climate change by not eating beef.

The other side of cow economics is provided by Mother Nature. She is causing drought and water shortage in the primary wheat-growing regions of the southwest. Cows et al eat wheat – and a lot of water!

There are critics who say “Why eat the cow? Eat the grass the cow would eat.” As mariner mentioned in an earlier post: Perhaps anchovies, scrapple and spam may become popular again.

Ancient Mariner


It warms the heart

֎ Mariner watched a short video from NEWSY broadcasting which revealed a growing market for farm equipment built with standard parts rather than having to abide by the privatized and copyrighted and BIG dollar cost of companies like John Deere. The reader will enjoy a sensation they probably haven’t felt in a long time. See:

֎ Mariner lives in a semi-rural area of Iowa, several small towns and no large metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, the public libraries in the region all have seen the new light in these changing times. Libraries aren’t quiet, dusty archives anymore. Libraries have become public activity centers with almost continuous programming for all ages from old people playing euchre to preschoolers running around on the lawn. Technically the libraries are up-to-date, even having supported some public school classes during the pandemic.

֎ The reader knows by now that Kansas voted overwhelmingly to keep the right to have an abortion. This may or may not be good news to an individual reader but the really good news is the turnout. Dangerous Donald continues to loom over politics like a possible tornado. His followers, mostly conspirators, racists, misogynists and illicit opportunists drew only half as many voters as those who voted for abortion. These numbers bring hope to those who know that the only way to defeat the Trump movement is to outvote its advocates. And most of us did not have faith that this could happen. Dare we think the Kansas turnout may be good news for November?

Ancient Mariner

Possible tools for HORSE #3

It is interesting to notice how this horse race has an all or nothing air to it. HORSE #1 has democracy at stake. Intensely focused social and political resources must be expended, to borrow an abused phrase, to make America great again.
HORSE #2 has economic survivability at stake. As the 21st century moves forward, civilization will become more extreme in its relationship between have and have-not nations. Already 793 million humans are starving to the point of death, severe malnutrition and stunted bodies. Already out of 43,000 multi-national corporations, 40% of the wealth rests in the hands of only 147 of those corporations.
Human society has hidden much of its economic imbalance by over indulging in the consumption of Earth’s resources – fossil fuel, over-fishing the oceans, destroying forests to plant crops, leveraging limited elements on the Periodic Table, etc. The resources have become scant enough to threaten national stability around the world. HORSE #2 has the difficult task of redistributing wealth in an oligarchic, grow or die world.
Taking a look now at HORSE #3, the planet has no judgment with which to modify or improve its condition. The planet, from an unusual perspective, is just another orphan in the Milky Way not allowed opinion or input into how the orphanage is run.
What tools might humanity use to counter such huge, automatic, astronomic rules?
Probably the most important tool is to realize that humans live in the same orphanage. (Suddenly, a new metaphor emerges; mariner can’t help it!) In other words, planet Earth responds only with cause and effect options. Humans have given HORSE #3 Carbon Dioxide, which amounts to Furosemide (Lasix), also called “doping”, in horses. Now the Earth is running a lot faster than it usually does. So, not being too intellectual, humans should stop doping Planet Earth with Carbon Dioxide. But humans have a flaw: humans can make decisions without facts.
Today, it is the fossil fuel industry, the logging industry, the computer industry (computers are in the same class as automobiles when it comes to releasing CO2), the plastics industry, et al who make decisions about Carbon Dioxide. Asking these industries to stop releasing Carbon Dioxide is like asking the reader to stop urinating.
In this respect, all three horses are using the same equipment to win the race: Politics and money. Planet Earth, however, has an unmeasurably large bankroll with which to raise the stakes (another metaphor: poker).
To win or at least tie in this race, the US stable must expend unknowable amounts of money, must overcome the fleabites of prejudice and greed in society, and must acknowledge from the heart that they do not own or control the biosphere.
Ancient Mariner


֎ The Iowa spring has been slow to start; the ground is still too cold for most vegetables. It rains three days out of five and the daytime temperature refuses to stay as high as the 60s. Iowa has had so much rain that mariner has a foot of standing water at the back of the property; shrubs and decorative trees just can’t survive. This has happened frequently so mariner has decided to take Mother Nature’s advice and plant River Birch (Betula nigra). This tree thrives in swampy ground found in low spots, especially near ponds and rivers. What is fascinating is the tree’s habit of shredding bark every year (see picture). Insects have a hard time burrowing into smooth bark. Also, as bark peels off, it gets rid of moss and lichen that thrive in the same damp environments as birch trees.

The last few days of garden work have been a respite from the state of the world. However, mariner is aware that he lives in a pleasant spot as climate change begins intensive intrusion in many spots of the planet.

֎ Politico reports on the precarious state of India saying we should be grateful we’re not in South Asia, where in India and Pakistan temperatures have soared above 120 degrees, creating hell on earth. It’s difficult to survive in those conditions without air conditioning, which around 85 percent of Indian households lack. There is also the issue of 70 percent of India’s electricity coming from coal, creating especially negative climate feedback loops.

And there’s worse to come via a “devastating impact on crops, including wheat and various fruits and vegetables. In India, the yield from wheat crops has dropped by up to 50 percent,” reports Hannah Ellis-Petersen from Delhi.

֎ And there’s the checkpoint of the demise of Roe v Wade. Chicken Little has been put on CPAP since he learned that the United States democracy is ranked 26th in the world and falling. Mariner will forego lamentations about the dysfunction of the nation’s governments; it’s too nice a day.

֎ Mariner has noticed an increased rate of death among show business greats. He wanders YouTube looking for clips just to commemorate the passing of an entertainment era. He ponders when the same time in history will apply to politicians.

֎ Finally, this summer is a checkpoint within mariner’s family relationships as many members travel hither and yon for reunions, holiday celebrations and visiting lifetime friends. Buy airline stock!

Be well, readers. Find pockets of comfort and security in a transitive, turbulent planet.

Ancient Mariner


From a number of sources, mariner has picked up a theme that the combination of pressure to increase farm production, increased regulations about farming methods, the need to continue the use of fossil fuel versus the pressure to revamp farm equipment, has put farmers in a target zone being fired upon from every direction.

Also making smoke is an antiquated supply chain which puts the cost of farming on the shoulders of farmers while a monopolized processing chain takes an easy profit from controlled pricing to the public. The most blatant example is the chicken industry where a corporation like Perdue avoids farming costs with a minimum payment for each chicken but gathers great profit from a tightly manipulated sales strategy. Through mergers and buyouts, beef processing, more or less, has been consolidated into four large beef processing firms – which caused a stink during the pandemic because it didn’t take much to shut down four processing firms caused by Covid absences.

Add to this pressured environment dysfunctional state and federal legislatures and rising inflation and being a farmer isn’t a quiet, countryside experience. Perhaps like mariner, they may yearn for the old horse and plow days; at least back then meat supply was dealt with directly at the farm.

The reason there is growing urgency in the farming sector has to do with a number of circumstances that are worldwide. One is the fact that in a couple of decades food production around the world may feed only half the world’s population. Another is the impact of climate change on huge regions; The U.S southwest, for example, is a major supplier of hay for beef farmers but already the temperature is growing too hot and droughts are setting new records. Along the Gulf Coast flooding and very heavy storms are wreaking havoc. This is the story around the world.

Keep an eye out for news from the farm sector; it may be the most serious situation for the next generation.

Ancient Mariner

Moving Forward 

Like global warming and other slow but critical phenomena, one of the issues looming steadily larger is providing enough food to feed billions of humans. It has been stated by agronomists, realtors and anthropologists that there is no more open land to purchase for grand scale farming. Conflicting with this is the need to restore much of the biosphere that has been destroyed by human practices. In short, how can humans increase food supply in a world that shrinks for many reasons? In this month’s issue Science Magazine reports a breakthrough that may significantly improve crop value for grains:

“When farmers in ancient times harvested their crops, some saved the seeds produced by the best performing plants and sowed them the following year. Gradually, this selection led to better and better results, such as increasing the size and number of kernels of maize—traits that helped pave the path to modern corn.

Now, a team led by researchers in China has identified a single gene behind this crucial productivity boost in maize and linked it to early improvements in rice harvests as well.

In 2004, maize geneticist and breeder Li Jiangsheng of China Agricultural University (CAU) began to explore the genetics of teosinte, the puny wild ancestor of maize, which early farmers domesticated and bred to create edible corn. One big change: Whereas teosinte has just two rows of kernels, modern maize has more than a dozen. To understand what changed genetically, Li and colleagues spent years creating an experimental intermediate type of maize that has six rows.

By mapping genetic markers, Li and an even larger team identified a single gene that influences the number of rows of kernels in this lab-grown corn. They called the gene KRN2, for kernel row number.”

What is new that just one gene can be manipulated to increase rows of kernels. It is highly likely that all grasses, e.g., wheat, can be made to grow larger amounts of grain. Imagine the global increase in productivity if each ear of corn, each rice and wheat caryopse increased its yield by twenty percent! Good news!


Immigration, Climate Change and Housing

These three subjects eventually will be at the center of political, economic and cultural life not only in the United States but around the world. ‘Eventually’ means in about ten to fifteen years from now.

Immigration. The current increase in immigration along the Gulf Coast and Mexico largely is Central Americans escaping brutal, terrorist-controlled nations. But recently it includes Haitians – a first of its kind wave due to global warming. Each year the number of immigrants easily could grow by a power of ten (10, 100, 1,000, etc.) as coastal areas around the world force inhabitants to relocate due to flooding and sea rise. In Bangladesh already 4 million people have been displaced. The coastline between Houston, Texas and Pensacola, Florida already has suffered extreme and prolonged weather conditions that are permanently displacing thousands of families. Austin, Texas, a city only on a river and away from the coast,  had to buy large acreages from the public to let the land return to a wild state that will protect shorelines.

In a few years American migrants will outnumber foreign immigrants. The current Congress and Administration tinker about trying to retain reelection leverage rather than facing a rapidly growing dilemma for which there is no plan, no allocated resources and no idea of a solution. The issue is so dire that mariner suspects eventually the Government will create an independent, apolitical commission to deal with the issue. Of the three topics in this post, Immigration/migration will be the most disruptive in the shortest amount of time.

Climate Change. It isn’t just flooding by rising seas and turbulent storms. Between 2040 and 2060 extreme temperatures will become commonplace in the South and Southwest, with some counties in Arizona experiencing temperatures above 95 degrees for half the year. The entire southeast sector of the United States will be too warm for current farm crops. This affects a significant part of the agricultural economy and in its own right will force thousands of farm workers and farm owners to migrate north – even into Canada.

Still, it is flooding along the coasts that will drive large migrations. As many as eleven major metropolitan areas in the U.S. will have to deal with total destruction or major Dutch-style dams and walls. The exact number is hard to project given all the variables but several estimates suggest that as many as 13 million Americans will be displaced in the next few decades.

Housing. Mariner remembers inflation during the 1970s. Housing costs rose by 17 percent; many entrepreneurs became millionaires just by buying and reselling their homes every six months. Climate change will induce a similar inflation in the cost of homes. Anyone can guess how bad inflation will be but it will be significant and disruptive. Even today there is inflation in housing cost because there aren’t enough homes due to the impact of Covid and the reorganization of large corporations.

Concern. Recent polls of the younger population indicate that climate change already is the number one concern. Second is lack of confidence in any U.S. government – which they blame as the cause of global warming. Mariner will cite only one of many telling clues that Congress has no idea how overwhelming global warming is: One Senator from a small coal mining state willfully prevents funding for climate change because he won’t be reelected by his coal mining electorate. Multiply this attitude by all the elected officials in this nation. Who to blame – the official’s greediness or the electorate’s ignorance?

Ancient Mariner

Consumers have control

Here’s an interesting quote from ProPublica about the two-decade long drought conditions affecting several western states and the disappearing Colorado River:

“A majority of the water used by farms — and thus much of the river — goes to growing nonessential crops like alfalfa and other grasses that feed cattle for meat production. Much of those grasses are also exported to feed animals in the Middle East and Asia. Short of regulating which types of crops are allowed, which state authorities may not even have the authority to do, it may fall to consumers to drive change. Water usage data suggests that if Americans avoid meat one day each week they could save an amount of water equivalent to the entire flow of the Colorado each year, more than enough water to alleviate the region’s shortages.”

It isn’t just cows. Mariner knows for certain that blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay have a shrinking population; Maine Lobsters are moving to cooler waters in Canada; the wild salmon are threatened by new open faced mining near the Arctic Circle; Australia has drought conditions, too, so there goes ostrich and emu; Has anyone priced bison lately?

What consumers need to do is have cities and towns change their ordinances so consumers can raise rabbits, chickens, geese and invasive species like the Burmese python or the Tegu lizard – both in Florida.

But give up thick, juicy T-Bones or country ribs? It’s a lot to ask but consumers are now in charge of climate change.

Ancient Mariner


We humans have become increasingly aware that we live in an environment not as a dominating owner but simply as just another renter who tends to trash the apartment. Perhaps it’s the global warming issue that helps with human awareness; perhaps it’s the growing scarcity of food resources for the planet; perhaps it’s the cost to farmers when they plow the soil which strips the fields of all nutrients and plants, especially in regions where there are strong winds that carry away the soil farmers just tilled and fertilized and put weed killer down – producing poor yield in the fall.

Evidence of growing awareness is all about. TV broadcasts about gardening, farming, waste management, and collaborative sharing with the environment are frequent. Extension agencies, libraries and garden clubs sponsor programs about collaborative gardening. Mariner has a relative whose hobby is planting colorful plants around the base of trees along New York streets; mariner has a friend who has decided to let violets stay in the lawn. And mariner himself is tinkering with a number of collaborative projects in his own garden.
֎ One example is the cursed Creeping Charlie, a very rapidly spreading weed that defies elimination. It still is a killing pest in the lawns but in some garden beds mariner has decided to experiment with Creeping Charlie as the ground cover to keep other weeds out and at the same time add to the décor of the garden. It turns out that Charlie has taken hold of his new job with relish. Not even the dreaded crabgrass can sprout beneath a robust covering of Creeping Charlie. In fact, mariner is saving money because he doesn’t have to buy mulch for those areas.

֎ Another experiment is mariner’s tolerance of a rambunctious mole. He must protect against the mole’s burrowing in vegetable beds where seedlings are emerging but otherwise he has let the mole venture about. Tolerance by the mariner is an experiment to see how many Japanese beetle grubs can be eaten; mariner has many fruit and ornamental trees on a property surrounded on all sides by large concrete pads and accompanying large garages. All beetles come to mariner’s garden.

An unexpected reward is the mole gradually aerates the lawn. Typically, a lawn keeper occasionally will need to rent an aerating device to pull plugs from the lawn so it can grow and accept water. Mariner keeps his lawn a bit high (another anti-weed collaboration rather than performing the typical buzz cut) so the lumps from the mole burrowing aren’t noticeable.

Mariner has mentioned in past posts that his town has lawn Nazis. It is of a different spirit, certainly not one of collaboration with nature but comparatively speaking takes more time, labor and cash to maintain. This difference between collaboration with and dominance of nature has existed throughout history from the first scraping of the ground to cast wheat seeds to the large open mining pits and deliberate elimination of forests today.

In just a few years many farmers have proven that any way to collaborate with the environment is more productive, less expensive, saves waste and is good for surrounding atmosphere, water and wildlife. One common practice by farmers that has been implemented for many decades is a natural easement by creeks and rivers rather than plowing closer to the water’s edge.[1] It is entertaining to work with nature as a partner – both existentially and philosophically. What projects does the reader have?

Ancient Mariner


[1] An excellent documentary on collaborative farming, ‘Kiss the Ground’, is available on Netflix but the reader must search ‘The Littlest Farm’ – the title is in error. The Littlest Farm also is an excellent film about how a family uses nature to transform virtual wasteland into a productive farm but mariner could find it only as a rental or purchase. 3 minute trailers are available online for both films.

The good old, old, really old days

Mariner officially retired from his professions around the age of sixty-seven. He can’t speak for other retirees but he has drifted away from modern innovations and new technologies. Each year he finds himself respecting minimalism more. Not so much a minimalist as it relates to the arts but more like Jacob Amman, the founder of the Amish movement who lived before the Industrial Revolution; more like homesteaders living only with biodegradable resources. If mariner were still within the normal age span of a Homo sapiens, he might just go out of town somewhere, buy a few acres and adopt a pre-industrial lifestyle.

Mariner speaks to his predispositions as a preface to the movement by the Indian government to eliminate small farm, one family economics in favor of industrializing agriculture. 300,000 farmers marched in protest and continued to harass the government by blocking public roads and other public services. Unions representing 14 million truck drivers support the farmers. Further, the corporations would dictate prices – a move that would starve out small farmers (Just like the US poultry industry today). The sudden lurching from a small farm culture into a corporate-driven culture in less than two years adds to the consternation.

Mariner remembers in the 1960’s – 1970’s when his county in Iowa suffered a similar decline in farm population and a real estate market that forced small-farm land to be sold to larger, industrialized farms. In 1960, the average acre of land in his county cost $223/acre. In 1975 the average acre of land cost $965/acre. The price of land alone eliminated small farm economics.

The cultural side of agricultural industrialization is mariner’s town. In just ten years, the town went from a bustling, positive society to the beginning of a commercially dying town. In 1960 the county population was 44,207; in 2018 the population was 34,055. The largest cities in the county have roughly the same population over this period. In other words, something like 10,000 people from rural areas have disappeared.

Mariner’s home town is close enough to the cities to survive as a bedroom town with many farm family retirees but the vitality, the agricultural smell of its commerce has disappeared. Mariner’s wife and neighbors remember in the 1960’s everyone knew everyone else; that is not the case today.

Mariner visited his auto repair shop in town the other day. He and the owner reminisced about the old days when one could grow their own automobiles – otherwise known as horses and mules.

To all supernumeraries, the world grows more alien by the day.

Ancient Mariner