The visionary writer, environmentalist and farmer Wendell Berry joins Bill this week on Moyers & Company. In this article, which first appeared in The Atlantic last November, he looks at American agriculture’s current land “emergency” and how we might solve it. He wrote:
The uplands of my home country in north central Kentucky are sloping and easily eroded, dependent for safekeeping upon year-round cover of perennial plants. Their best agricultural use is for the production of grazing animals, with most of the land in pastures and hayfields, and perhaps 5 to 10 percent plowed and row-cropped in any year. This was the practice of the best farmers of that country 50 or 60 years ago.
The land husbandry there, as elsewhere, has been in decline since the end of World War II, as agriculture has become more and more industrial, and more and more of the farming people have taken urban jobs or moved away.
But recently and almost suddenly, as ethanol production has driven up the price of grain, our fragile uplands have been invaded by corn and soybeans. Whole farms, with sloping fields that have been in grass as long as I can remember, have been herbicided and planted to annual crops that, because of the drastic reduction of the number of farmers, will not be protected in winter by full-sown cover crops.
This is agriculture determined entirely by the market, and limited only by the capacities of machines and chemicals. The entirely predictable ruination of land and people is the result of degenerate science and the collapse of local farming cultures …