I was astonished to find, in the Business Section of all places, a story about cover cropping in the NY Times today. Just as permaculturists and organic farmers have known for decades, monocrop farmers are now discovering that cover crops increase yield, improve soil health and reduce loss of topsoil. The article recounts how the Anson family, and Doug Anson in partiucular, attended an unspecified “seminar” (was it a permaculture talk?!?!) about cover cropping and returned home with “his hair on fire”. Sound familiar, those of you who have attended a permaculture talk?
He insisted that the family plant at least a small percentage of their acreage with a cover crop that fall. So in part to humor him and in part out of curiousity, his two brothers agreed to let him plant a cover crop on 1,200 acres, a fraction of the 20,000 acres on the “family farm”. Incredibly, as predicted, yields increased by 20-25 bushels per acre! And less quantitatively but more satisfyingly, the soil felt better, less sandy more granular and lumpy, the way good soil should feel.
The article goes on to note that none other Monsanto is now investing in studies to determine if in fact cover cropping actually has the benefits its promoters say it has.
I’ll never forget one of the opening observations made by Geoff Lawton when I took his 72 hour permaculture in 2007 (sponsored by Green Phoenix Permaculture). He stated that America’s number one export was not corn, soy or Boeing airliners, but rather top soil. I’ve often repeated this quote in gatherings and it never fails to draw astonished looks.
Now it seems that commercial agriculture as reported in the Business Section of Americas newspaper of record, is beginning to feel the heat.
Will this new awareness trigger a revolution in agricultural practices? And more interestingly how will Monsanto and other big ag companies figure out how to subvert cover cropping for their own fun and profit? Let’s all pay careful attention over the months and years ahead.