GROTEK BIOLOGY SERIES – AGRICULTURE
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GROTEK BIOLOGY SERIES – AGRICULTURE


So Greg, we’re going to keep going on the biology videos today and we’re going to dig into agriculture. By digging into agriculture, we have to go right back to the start. We’re thinking about probably ten thousand years ago when people really starting making critical observations about the landscape around them. Yeah, exactly. We always talk about ten thousand years ago as the dawn of agriculture but I see it really as a transition. As people learned and evolved, they realized that if they saved the best seeds from the plants they were harvesting seeds from, or the largest seeds, and then planted them the next year, that it would produce plants with larger seeds. Then over time as they continued to save the best and plant, they learned that they were inadvertently breeding and domesticating crops. If you look at the wild ancestors of wheat, for example, or corn… Yeah, corn had 2 or 3 little nugs on it, that was about it. …to what we have today and we owe a lot to those original farmers or that evolution, that ten thousand years of evolution. That’s the thing, this pretty much stayed as a consistent pattern right up until the 20th century. People were still using that observation, the selective breeding, as the main drivers of how to improve the agricultural system. But then we got to a point where science really started accelerating. It was right around the early 1900s that we started to see this shift, and then by the middle of that century, we had something that was known as the green revolution. The green revolution really transformed agriculture as we know it today, from what it used to be. There was a lot of focus on crop improvement through breeding practices to increase yields that was concurrent with the development of fertilizers and then pesticides as well. And a lot of those are products of the world wars. Yeah this is the interesting part, things that were developed to hurt people actually started feeding people, and on the surface that seems like a really nice shift, but it brought with it some problems too. It’s easy to be negative about the green revolution but it had a lot of benefits. It significantly increased food production around the world. A lot of countries that were food insecure had a lot more security as a result of the green revolution, but it had as we realized, as we often do after the fact, a lot of negative consequences. Some of those are socioeconomic, but a lot of them are environmental as well. I always look at rice paddies, and we often think of rice paddies as a simple monoculture only producing rice. But in traditional systems there was vegetables growing around the periphery of the paddy, there was fish in there, but the green revolution really focused on the rice production. And through the use of all these pesticides, they eradicated all the other foods that were growing in amongst the rice. So, while we significantly increased rice yields, I would say that the nutrition of subsistence farmers actually declined as a result of the green revolution. Yeah and the degradation of the landscape as well. This is the interesting thing, science provides so much opportunity but at the same time, by taking that reductionist view, you can actually simplify it to “All I care about is the rice”. You forget about the beneficial insects, different habitats, and these coevolved plants and animals around the rice. So that’s a really good point to consider. But moving away from that idea now, the interesting part to me is that conventional agriculture… You know, it’s interesting because a lot of people at home are starting to think about living soils and biology, and “how can I improve the quality of my soil?” A lot of that has come from, and is still being pursued in, conventional agriculture as well. Yeah I think we’re at an exciting time in agriculture. We went through this very reductionist, looking at crop growth in isolation and not within the context of it within an ecological system, that very reductionist approach. And now we’re doing this shift, which everybody called fringe, and the conventional farmers and the big agro-industrial companies scoffed at for years as being hippie, and now they are all jumping on board! It’s interesting, we have all this high technology and then now we are learning and re-integrating more of an ecological approach to agriculture, and everybody seems to be getting on board. There is some really interesting biology and different bi-products of other industries that can be enhanced to be good fertilizers, or coming up with more natural pest control options. That’s the interesting thing, that biology can actually help you in terms of soil fertility and plant health as well. It sort of does both aspects for people. It’s very interesting to see this shift come back around on commercial agriculture. I know for me, the first time I remember seeing something this interesting was in the early 90s in a university course around forestry, learning about mycorrhizae for the first time. And them understanding that with clearcut logging, forests didn’t grow back even when they planted trees, but it was because they had disrupted the system. It has been a 30, 40 year progression but where we are now is so exciting. There are so many opportunities for home gardeners now, that have come from really, a commercial agriculture background, but can now be used at home. I have to be honest, I am really interested in digging into a lot of these new types of products with you in the next couple videos. Yeah, I think we have some exciting products to look at and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. We know so little about all the organisms in the soil that as we learn more we’re going to find some amazing things that can be used to make agriculture more sustainable and resilient.

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