Mar 24, 2009
Bestselling food author and backyard naturalist Michael Pollan says that for the first time in decades, farms in the U.S. are on the rise. Since the 1940s, the number of farms across the country has been in steady decline, as ag giants gobble up acres, and family farms struggle to compete in a global market. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) most recent census, released last month, more than 75,000 farms popped up between 2002 and 2007—an increase of 4 percent.
The growth comes despite the 39 percent increase in production costs between 2002 and 2007. The biggest hike was in money spent on gasoline and fuel, which surged 93 percent to $6.7 billion a year. Funds spent on fertilizer grew to $9.8 billion, a jump of 86 percent. In his writing and public appearances, Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and a journalism professor at University of California, Berkeley, has extolled the virtues of foods that are raised outside of the industrial-agricultural system.
Feb 17, 2009 | 3
In recent decades, China has pushed the use of nitrogen fertilizer to help wrest as much food out of farms as possible, in part to stave off the famines of the past. Of course, such overuse of nitrogen results in air pollution and ocean dead zones—as well as, paradoxically, less fertile soil.
Now new research shows that by using just one third of typical amounts—presently as much as 600 kilograms per hectare—farmers could get the same or better results growing corn, rice and wheat, the main staple crops. The key is applying the fertilizer to seedlings rather than adding it to soil while planting, write Ju Xiao-Tang of China Agricultural University in Beijing and his colleagues in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
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