Modern Agriculture-Will It DOOM Humanity?

We have developed all kinds of hybrid food crops, and insecticides to protect them. Our agriculture is so efficient, that crop yields are many times what they were centuries ago…but is this making us more and more vulnerable to disaster?
For example, take apples. Our modern apple varieties are larger and sweeter than the apples of medieval times…yet, are they more vulnerable to disease? A few years ago, my father stopped spraying his apple trees-the results? Almost ALL of his apples were inedible-they wereeither diseased are throughly eaten up by worms and insects! Whereas, in medieval times, no pesticideds were used, and yet a farmer could get at least some of his apples! Are we getting to the point that we have to use more and more pesticides,(and breeding stronger bugs in the process)? How about other food crops=were are down to just a few species of corn now…and should a disease wipe out our corn crops, what would we do? We have lost most of the other varieties, and breeding a pest -resistant new starin of corn could take many years?
Should we be actually engineering new varieties of food crops,or breeding wilder, more resistamnt versions?
Finally, could a “superbug” ever emerge (that would be invulnerable to all common pesticides)?That would be a real disaster.

No

No

According to whom?

We are.

Alright look…crops these days are genetically designed to be hardier and more resistant to insects. We use technology like pesticides to furthur control insect populations. The alternative is to depend on natures whim to ensure a good crop.

While there are legitimate questions regarding GM crops, I do believe you have made a case for how modern agriculture might “doom” humanity.

Modern Agriculture-Will It DOOM Humanity?

Yes. But don’t worry too much…Doom is on its way from all directions.

Possibly.
Would a lack of modern agriculture doom humanity?
Almost certainly.

GM crops, etc. are not a big deal, really. Giant monoculture production systems, and giant corp.s like Con-Agra, are the problem.

It’s no joke to say that crops are not designed to be hardier, more resistant, etc., but to be more profitable. Monsanto has devoted millions to its “Terminator Technology” that insures offspring of proprietary hybrids will be infertile. No positive effect in the field. “Roundup Ready” soy is a huge moneymaker, and not at all a bad idea, but overapplication of glyphosate (roundup) means that field weeds like Horseweed (Conyza canadensis) are now also becoming “Roundup ready.”

Overreliance on too few crop plants, too few strains within those species, too few herbicides, etc. is really the key issue. Although the OP is rather overwrought, there have been famous disasters. In 1970, southern corn blightwiped out almost 1/4 of the corn crop east of the Mississippi because many of the hybrids in America were descended from the same strain. And then there is the now legendary Starlink fiasco, where a supposedly sterile GM strain unapproved for human use contaminated crops throughout the Midwest.

America’s ag system has serious problems that cannot be addressed through the “everything is fine-nothing to see here” technique, or through Chicken Little hysteria (e.g., fear of “superbugs.” It’s very hard to develop resistance to most pesticides if applied correctly).

It sure is nice to see an ag issue brought up in a public forum. Most Americans act like their food falls from the sky.

’possum’s book corner
Can’t resist recommending the works of Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon. Both have written with great beauty and accuracy about American farming.

A happy little book called *Fatal Harvest* answers the OP in the affirmative, and comes in a handsome 25lb. coffeetable format.

Not quite right - Starlink didn’t contaminate crops, but some small amounts of Starlink were mixed with human-approved varieties at the mills.

Yes. mssmith, either you don’t believe in evolution, or you don’t know much about apple farming. Because pests surely are evolving, and apples surely are not (they are essentially all clones of a handful of different apple trees). It’s an arms race that apples have lost a long time ago.

You’re more right than I am, Curt. I am conflating two different incidents.

I asked because my father had 3 apple trees-isolated fromother apple trees by many miles. Yet, the first time he stopped the spraying, the apples were just devastated! Just about every apple on allof the trees were wormy or rotten. Thuis tells me that the pests that attck apples are everywhere-and possibly more aggressive than in medieval times.
As I said, medieval farmers were able to get at least some apples-but we had none (fit to eat, anyway). So, does this experience prove that we are in the era of super bugs? I don’t know.

Then again, it could also be that the folks in medieval times were more accepting of apples in a condition that we, accustomed to the “perfect” fruit of today, reject out of hand. Remember, these were the people who needed the spice trade so badly because it covered the taste of turning meat.

We’re spoiled.

We are indeed. I’d wager that those apples you thought ‘wasted’ would have been on the plate a thousand years ago.

Thank God for technology, that’s all I can say.

There is a point to be made here, though. As 'possum stalker said monolithic agriculture without rotation has the possibility of devastating long-term yields without massive fertilization programs.

And it’s not like the ‘old ways’ were all that sweet. I seem to recall reading in my environmental history class that the cultivation of goat herding by nomads is responsible for a great deal of desertification in some areas.

Damn goats. No wonder the mods tortune them in their secret ceremonies.

What’s making us more vulnerable to disaster IMNSHO is monoculture and unneccessary antibiotic use in livestock.

I have an even dozen closely spaced apple trees that have not been sprayed in at least ten years. The apples aren’t always supermarket-pretty, but they are always delicious and rarely buggy.

They are pruned annually.

Drink less milk and eat more beef. Beef would be very, very cheap for many months.

Best,
Dev

'possum stalker wrote:
<<Overreliance on too few crop plants, too few strains within those species, too few herbicides, etc. is really the key issue. Although the OP is rather overwrought, there have been famous disasters. In 1970, southern corn blight wiped out almost 1/4 of the corn crop east of the Mississippi because many of the hybrids in America were descended from the same strain. >>
It’s called lack of genetic diversity. Corn, in particular, has lost MUCH of its variability, and thus is especially vulnerable. I agree with you 100% on this issue.
<<America’s ag system has serious problems that cannot be addressed through the “everything is fine-nothing to see here” technique, or through Chicken Little hysteria (e.g., fear of “superbugs.” It’s very hard to develop resistance to most pesticides if applied correctly).>>
In fact pesticides are often NOT applied correctly. Overuse of the same pesticides over and over again (like Roundup) DOES result in superbugs. Haven’t you heard of antibiotic-resistant staph germs in hospitals? Do you think those are natural mutations? Hospitals routinely use HUGE quantities of antibacterial scrubbing of surfaces, and patients in hospitals are routinely given HUGE doses of antibiotics. Yet no treatment is 100% effective in eliminating bacteria (or insecticides in eliminating insects, or herbicides in eliminating weeds). Some pests always survive. And which ones? The ones which have some tolerance for the treatment. And they mate with what? OTHER pests which also have some tolerance for the treatment. This is genetically selecting for a specific trait, and the descendents of those matings will tend to exhibit more and more of that trait.

I used to work for a marketing research company serving the agricultural chemicals industry. The chemical companies KNOW that it’s a losing battle in the long run, but they don’t care as long as they can keep developing new chemicals which will TEMPORARILY work. Farmers will buy them, and the chemical companies will keep making money. And after a while the pests will become resistant and the cycle will begin anew.

Errrr. Roundup isn’t a pesticide, so it’s not real likely to result in superbugs. The meanest thistles this side of the Mississippi, perhaps, but not superbugs. :slight_smile:

Roundup is actually a somewhat interesting case in terms of herbicide-resistant weeds. Roundup is a completely non-specific herbicide. It kills absolutely everything that’s green. Hence, until the recent introduction of Roundup Ready[sup]TM[/sup] cultivars, it was never, ever sprayed on crops. It was only used in chem fallow applications, or spot treatment of bad patches of thistle or quackgrass or what have you following harvest. Because of this, the danger of anything developing resistance to it was rather low - anything that survived the Roundup was very likely to get knocked off by some other herbicide applied the following year. However, with the advent of the Roundup-immune GM crops, we can expect to see this change quite rapidly.

I can’t see that there’s much call for doom and gloom over the matter, though. Most farmers are aware of the issue, and do their best to mix up the punches to avoid superweeds/bugs. And in the case of weeds, at least, if eventually Monsanto starts shooting blanks, well, evolution hasn’t come up with a tillage-resistant weed yet.

[QUOTE]
*Originally posted by Gorsnak *
Errrr. Roundup isn’t a pesticide, so it’s not real likely to result in superbugs. The meanest thistles this side of the Mississippi, perhaps, but not superbugs. :slight_smile:

Technically, the term “pesticide” is generic and refers to a chemical for control of ANY type of pest problem; insects, mites, nematodes, weeds. But you’re right that often the term is used as a synonym for “insecticide”. And I understand that Roundup won’t kill insects, it’s actually pretty “safe” stuff.

[QUOTE]
*Originally posted by Gorsnak *
Roundup is actually a somewhat interesting case in terms of herbicide-resistant weeds. Roundup is a completely non-specific herbicide. It kills absolutely everything that’s green. Hence, until the recent introduction of Roundup Ready[sup]TM[/sup] cultivars, it was never, ever sprayed on crops. It was only used in chem fallow applications, or spot treatment of bad patches of thistle or quackgrass or what have you following harvest. Because of this, the danger of anything developing resistance to it was rather low - anything that survived the Roundup was very likely to get knocked off by some other herbicide applied the following year. However, with the advent of the Roundup-immune GM crops, we can expect to see this change quite rapidly.

This speaks to my point exactly. We WILL see more resistance develop, and much more quickly.

[QUOTE]
*Originally posted by Gorsnak *
**I can’t see that there’s much call for doom and gloom over the matter, though. Most farmers are aware of the issue, and do their best to mix up the punches to avoid superweeds/bugs. And in the case of weeds, at least, if eventually Monsanto starts shooting blanks, well, evolution hasn’t come up with a tillage-resistant weed yet. **

The responsible farmers ARE aware and try to do the right thing. However, there are still farmers out there using DDT, chlordane, and 2,4,5-T (which have been banned for years), too. But you’re right, tillage will ALWAYS work.:slight_smile:

What had me confused was that you appeared to be suggesting that overuse of Roundup might lead to superbugs, as opposed to superweeds. Just a little miscommunication, I guess.

You wouldn’t happen to have a cite for continued use of DDT, etc, would you? I am unaware of any way to even procure them, making their application a tad difficult. Or do you mean to say they’re still used in various developing nations where regulations on such things don’t exist or aren’t enforced?

Anyways, old herbicides can be continually effective if a modicum of care is taken. Dad still gets good kills out of 2,4-D and Buctril M (sorry, dunno the chemical name for that one, but it’s been around for ages), and a fraction of the cost of the latest and greatest sprays. It’s using the same herbicide over and over again on the same fields, without making sure that any surviving weeds are killed by some other technique, that’s the problem. (I know you’ve said this, just making sure I’m being clear.) This is probably harder to avoid with insecticides than with herbicides.

It may not DOOM us but it is certainly going to cause problems. The people trying to sell us stuff either hide information about the downside or may not even know it.

Standard marketing procedure.

Dal Timgar

Of course it will cause problems for the future. But it also solves problems now. The question to ask is whether the future problems are more likely to be intractable in the future than the current ones are today absent the use of the particular solution.

Well… where do you live? I suspect that unless you live in an area that had medieval apple farming, your local mix of pests and diseases may be quite different than what medieval farmers faced. Or there may have been migration of New world pests to Europe and vice-versa.

There’s a lot more explanations to what happened than just genetic superiority on the part of the worms or genetic inferiority in the apples.