Too often, agriculturists see only the effects, while the actual causes of the crisis grow worse and more complicated. Yet we must recognize our agricultural problems—their causes—and CORRECT THEM.
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This article is excerpted from the book Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture by Dale L. Schurter, the world’s foremost authority on biblical agriculture and sustainable husbandry. Subsequent installments will appear in The Real Truth over the coming months.
Let’s continue by asking some basic questions—and finding some simple, yet profound, answers. Do insects have a purpose? What causes insects to attack plants and become “pests”? Few seem to know.
Insects constitute 70 percent to 80 percent of all animal species. They are so numerous that no one knows how many species there really are. More than 800,000 have already been classified and about 10,000 more are classified annually. While there are seven billion humans on Earth, there are on average three billion insects on every square mile of the planet!
Insects multiply rapidly. A single pair of flies is potentially capable of producing 191,000,000,000,000,000,000 (191 quintillion) offspring in just six months! If they all survived, the Earth would be covered to a depth of 47 feet!
This cannot happen, though, because natural laws never permit a single species, plant or animal, to completely dominate any environment. Weather factors—such as temperature and rainfall—limit the distribution of an insect species. Toads, lizards, frogs, moles, snakes, birds, bats, shrews and other creatures feed largely on insects. Some birds eat their own weight in insects every day. Predatory insects prey on other insects. Larvae of parasitic insects develop in the eggs, young or adults of other insects. Viruses, fungi and bacterial diseases also help control the insect population.
In fact, if insects were not kept in check by these natural (that is, created) forces, it is doubtful whether any conceivable volume of chemicals could possibly keep their populations down. Yet we are seldom aware of these created controls that protect and serve us.
All these natural checks do their work without threatening man. Insecticides, which contribute only a very small part of the total controlling force over harmful insects, are threatening to all life. Does it not make sense for man to encourage the inherent balance, rather than devastate the natural controls?
It is not generally realized that less than 0.5 percent of insect species are considered pests to man. But crop loss due to these pests accounts for one-fifth of the world’s annual crop production (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). The positive benefits of insects are often overlooked because they are more difficult to estimate.
It is easy to forget that bees, wasps, flies, butterflies and other insects pollinate plants that provide us with fruits and vegetables. Among the top likely factors for Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes sudden and complete destruction of beehives, are pesticides including miticides and fungicides as well as genetically modified crops.
In addition, some insects are vital links in the food chains of fish, birds and land animals—others act as scavengers of animal and vegetable debris, and others as aerators of soil—still others are parasites or predators of damaging insects.
Instead of studying the habits of insects and implementing natural control methods, however, many now simply mow them down with spray guns.
For the most part, the function of “harmful” insects is all too little understood. Now, thankfully, some few scientists are beginning to realize the relationship between soil fertility, crop production, and pests.
In his landmark book, An Agricultural Testament, the famous British agriculturist Sir Albert Howard related how in five years’ time at a research station in India he “had learnt how to grow healthy crops, practically free from disease, without the slightest help from mycologists, entomologists, bacteriologists, agricultural chemists, statisticians, clearing-houses of information, artificial manures, spraying machines, insecticides, fungicides, germicides, and all the other expensive paraphernalia of the modern Experiment Station.”
Sir Albert worked with the principles any small farmer could use economically. From his experience, he observed that: “Insects and fungi are not the real cause of plant diseases but only attack unsuitable varieties or crops imperfectly grown. Their true role is that of censors for pointing out the crops that are improperly nourished and so keeping our agriculture up to the mark. In other words, the pests must be looked upon as Nature’s professors of agriculture: as an integral portion of any rational system of farming.
“The policy of protecting crops from pests by means of sprays, powders, and so forth is unscientific and unsound as, even when successful, such procedure merely preserves the unfit and obscures the real problem—how to grow healthy crops.”
These conclusions are not dreams of a man who failed. Sir Albert was knighted for this very agricultural research—for effectively proving the usefulness of the system.
Many who have worked with the soil have noticed the tendency of insects to prefer plants that are weak, sickly, unhealthy, unbalanced or just a little “under the weather.”
This deficiency or imbalance may be so subtle or slight that it cannot be measured or analyzed by present scientific methods. But it does exist. And the bugs know it!
Now take the cause-effect relationship one step further. What is it that causes plants to be weak and inferior—prone to insect attack?
A number of factors may cause weak and inferior plants—poor seed, moisture levels (too much or too little), temperature, climate, etc. But one of the most important factors is plant malnutrition caused by unbalanced soil.
In 1974, professional soil consultant for Brookside Laboratories of New Knoxville, Ohio, Martin H. Augustin stated in a personal letter: “We are proving today that sick soils produce sick plants and sick plants produce sick animals and humans. There are about one hundred of us who work with about 10,000 farmers at the present time. The overwhelming majority of them have already discovered that in a truly healthy soil our crops are not attacked by insects because God created these pests to destroy sick plants so that they cannot reproduce themselves.”
Insects serve a vital purpose as guardians and supporters of our health and well-being. Many pollinate vast numbers of food crops, flowers, trees, shrubs, provide honey, etc., while others consume and destroy sick, unhealthy plants and trees so that humans, birds and animals do not eat them and themselves get sick. But we go to war with the insects by using pesticides, destroying both the “good” with the perceived “bad.”
In times past, this interrelationship of soil, plants and insects was recognized. In 1870, American journalist Horace Greeley reported: “I hold that [insect] multiplication and their devastations are largely incited by the degeneracy of our plants caused by the badness of our culture.” Later he stated, “I heard little of insect ravages in the wheat-fields of Western New-York throughout the first thirty years of this century; but, when crop after crop of Wheat had been taken from the same fields until they had been well nigh exhausted of their Wheat-forming elements, we began to hear of the desolation wrought by insects…” (What I Know of Farming).
Mr. Greeley had understanding that most seem to lack today. In this day and age, so few see any relationship between our depleted soils, the use of incomplete synthetic fertilizers, and the alarming increase in insect pests. Unsustainable tillage and cropping methods continue to contribute to this growing problem of soil infertility and bug invasions. Our good stewardship, or lack thereof, is witnessed by its fruits—good or bad.
It is to our shame that most agricultural institutions of the “modern” era have been preoccupied with research dealing with effect-driven palliatives such as pesticides—which make the problem appear less severe or painful, but do not effect a cure. Should we not rather be performing judicious research into how to correct the cause of insect pests?
“Various studies have shown that if the soil fertility is good, then the resistance to insects is high,” Dr. Stig Erlander demonstrated in his article published by the German scientific journal Starch/Starke in 1970. “Thus [Dr. William Albrecht] has shown that spinach grown in fertile soil resisted the attack of thrips [winged insects], whereas that grown on poor soil was destroyed by these insects. A deficiency of phosphorus or magnesium produced tomatoes which were susceptible to the greenhouse white fly, whereas those grown on good soil were not. Moreover, corn can be destroyed by chinch bugs when a deficiency of nitrogen occurs. But if the amount of nitrogen is too plentiful, then the grass becomes deficient and is subjected to damage by bugs.
“It can be concluded from the above that a change in the composition of the soil may lead to genetic changes which could alter the structure of the cell wall or other constituents such as the starch granule. Moreover, good soil fertility will produce plants which are resistant to insects, viruses or detrimental worms. Genetic variations produced by radiation only eliminate specific enzymes or protein structures and hence weaken the plant. Unlike natural mutations, they may not allow the plant to return to its original state when soil conditions change. The best method for producing insect-resistant crops is thus soil fertility and not induced mutations which no doubt will eventually be [disastrous].”
In January 2012, scientists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences published a report directly linking land management practices with modern-day locust swarms. Like chinch bugs, locusts also thrive and multiply on plants low in nitrogen, such as those from heavily grazed plots, and can “populate over 20 percent of the Earth’s land surface, negatively affecting more than 60 countries” during an outbreak year (ASU News).
Work done at the University of Florida shows that both the rate and the source of nitrogen have a pronounced effect on the susceptibility of grass to chinch bug damage. Grass receiving high rates of inorganic nitrogen was severely damaged by the bugs, in contrast with the grass receiving nitrogen from an organic source (Florida Turf Grass Association Bulletin).
Haughley Research Farms in England, established in 1939 and now under the world-renowned Soil Association, found in actual practice that crops grown on soil built up by natural manures were much more resistant to pest-inviting weaknesses than crops grown with the aid of chemicals.
In the article “Pesticides Poison Us,” “Dr. William Albrecht, [former] chairman of the Department of Soils at Missouri University College of Agriculture, and other investigators have shown that unhealthy plants are more subject to insect attack than are healthy plants. This is nature’s way of eliminating sick plants which should be returned to the earth instead of being eaten by humans.”
We observed the same result in our Ambassador College Agricultural Research Program. Even under the best conditions, insects destroyed a small percentage of the crop. But is this in itself bad? The loss of the weakest part of the crop ensures the food value of the remaining part and that the best seed is saved for the next crop.
You would think that the prospect of growing quality products that resist insects and render pesticides unnecessary would cause great excitement. But not so! This solution—the only real solution—runs counter to the greed of human nature and the vested interests of our social and economic systems. And it appears that man would rather perish than change that!
Without interference by man, Earth’s soil always produces varied, diverse crops. Yet in some areas of our modern world, it is a rare sight to see mixed crops growing together.
Monoculture reduces soil quality and will attract abnormal amounts of insects. The greater the area under one crop, and the extent to which that crop is grown exclusively year after year, the greater the potential insect problem. This practice of husbandry extracts the same variety of a host of minerals from the soil year after year, without replenishing them. Thus the mineral-deficient plants invite the insects.
The Colorado beetle is an example of what happens when man begins to simplify agriculture and farm one crop exclusively. This beetle used to be harmless and fed principally on smartweed, which it hunted out from among many other plants. When huge fields of potatoes were newly introduced to Colorado, however, this insect suddenly found itself in the midst of mile after mile of green potato fields—a beetle’s “paradise.” As a result, the beetle multiplied so rapidly that within little over a decade it literally ate its way over 1,600 miles to the East Coast!
Many similar examples could be cited, and from all parts of the planet. Regrettably, our entire modern farming method is geared toward extensive monoculture. To many it would be unthinkable to even suggest that this practice be changed! There are those, however, who have successfully changed of their own free will, and with positive results.
Other sound principles of agriculture that farmers often neglect include rotating crops to minimize insect reproduction, and observing the correct time for planting and growing trees and hedges, which encourage insect-eating birds to visit a farm.
According to some estimates, U.S. crop losses from weeds have been equal to the combined losses from insects and diseases, and run second only to those caused by soil erosion.
Alfred H. Krebs recorded in 1964 in his book Agriculture in Our Lives, “Some persons who have studied the matter estimate that weeds cause an annual loss of about five billion dollars to farmers in the United States. The average loss per farm is probably over a thousand dollars, most of which is in the form of crop damage. Some experts have placed the losses from weeds at a minimum of ten dollars per acre. The losses caused by weeds are considerably more than the losses from either crop diseases or insects.” These dollar figures would be multiplied more than seven times by 2012!
As weeds become stronger, heartier and resistant to current herbicides, more toxic compounds are being produced by the giant chemical industry. It is devising ever more powerful methods to kill weeds and beneficial soil life, and never coming to (or perhaps willingly ignoring) the true knowledge of the cause of weeds. So we see here the same vicious cycle as with all forms of pesticides.
As with insect pests, few seem to realize that weeds have a purpose. In the publisher’s preface to Joseph Cocannouer’s book Weeds, Guardians of the Soil, the publisher summarizes some of the purposes of weeds:
“1. They bring minerals, especially those which have been depleted, up from the subsoil to the topsoil and make them available to crops. This is particularly important with regard to trace elements.
“2. When used in crop rotation they break up hardpans and allow subsequent crop roots to feed deeply.
“3. They fiberize and condition the soil and provide a good environment for the minute but important animal and plant life that make any soil productive.
“4. They are good indicators of soil condition, both as to variety of weed present and to condition of the individual plant. Certain weeds appear when certain deficiencies occur.
“5. Weeds are deep divers and feeders and through soil capillarity they enable the less hardy, surface feeding crops to withstand drought better than the crop alone could.
“6. As companion crops they enable our domesticated plants to get their roots to otherwise unavailable food.
“7. Weeds store up minerals and nutrients that would be washed, blown or leached away from bare ground and keep them readily available.”
Obviously, these purposes and benefits are listed only as general guidelines and do not apply to all weeds under all conditions.
F.C. King, in his book The Weed Problem: A New Approach, also revealed that weeds build up and protect the soil and, coexisting with domestic crops, help make soil nutrients more available. The author stated that “we are hopelessly wrong in believing weeds to be useless plants and in devoting our energy to their suppression, instead of studying to employ them.”
In England, it has been reported that when lawns become deficient in lime, daisies appear. The daisies are found to be rich in lime, which they manufacture in their tissues. The lime goes into the soil when the daisies die and decay. When the soil becomes sufficiently enriched with lime, the daisy “problem” disappears.
When weeds become so abundant that they interfere with crop production, it ought to be recognized that the cause of the problem is not the weeds, but the depleted soil that the weeds were created and designed to protect and build up! Instead of destroying such weeds wholesale with herbicides while our soil continues to be degraded, we need to get busy building up the soil so weeds will naturally reduce themselves.
Here, then, is where we stand in regard to the pollution problem caused by pesticides such as herbicides and related chemicals.
Is it possible to survive if we continue to use ever-stronger chemicals in ever-greater quantities? No!
Is it possible to survive if we quit using pesticides? Yes! Many farms—large and small—are successfully doing it!
Will this be easy? For many, no! This is because the solution to the problem is to restore balanced fertility to the soil. And as professor Cocannouer well stated in Farming with Nature, “The trouble is that most people refuse to learn just what farming [within the guidelines of nature] really is. Anything or any operation which enhances the activities in the soil’s workshop is farming with Nature. But merely speeding up those activities is not necessarily enhancing them.”
“Bringing a piece of land back to permanent fertility is probably the most difficult of all farm operations. Too often the farmer fails to make a go of his soil building because he doesn’t acquaint himself thoroughly, before starting, with all the adverse factors he is going to have to fight. He gets discouraged because he does not see the size of the job of remaking land that has been weakened for fifty or a hundred years. He has more than likely been schooled to expect the quick response that land makes to stimulants. He forgets that now he is building for permanency, not merely stimulating” (Weeds, Guardians of the Soil, emphasis added).
But it can be done and is being accomplished on an expanding number of farms, orchards and vineyards. This includes through Ambassador Center’s Agriculture Education and Research Institute (AERI) and its extension programs.
Obviously the biggest hurdle will be changing our attitudes and accepting that the way to success is to work with natural laws rather than defying them.
A crash program in research and education on restoration methods—dealing with cause, not effect—needs to be carried out on a grand scale immediately, and administered by the highest-level governmental agencies, in order to make a significant and successful transition on a national level. (The reader should ask: Is this likely to happen?) Again, however, each of us individually is responsible for the choices we make and actions we take.
Through years of eye-opening education, research and production in the Agriculture Division of Ambassador College, Big Sandy, Texas—without using any toxic chemical herbicides, GMOs, etc.—we proved beyond the shadow of a doubt it can be done, and with rewarding success. And we continue to do so through the AERI. Healthier soil, healthier plants, and healthier animals equal healthier people!
I, my co-workers, and many of the program’s graduates have personally taught and continue to teach these methods. All have their underpinnings in the principles of the Bible and are backed up by the laws of biogenesis, physics and chemistry. These programs focus on carefully following the instructions and guidelines of Scripture, and then practicing them.
In doing so, we have proven the Bible’s way works and is best…every time.
What about the future? What about tomorrow? Will man’s achievements in agricultural science and technology really be able to bail out humanity—to genuinely solve our growing agricultural problems? Let’s see what he has planned for the future of agriculture, despite the negative side effects we are experiencing today—and then see how it compares with future events detailed in the Bible.
Sugarbeet Update Magazine highlighted a dazzling report titled “Agriculture 2000” that was written by the Ford Motor Company in the late 1960s and later reprinted in Holly Agricultural News. The report predicted what some experts thought agricultural conditions would be like at the turn of the millennium.
“‘The efficient farmer of the year 2000 is a super breed of farmer with super skills and super tools,’ [said] the report. ‘The heart of his operation will be a control center equipped with a wide array of electronic wizardry to help him produce crops two to five times as abundant as today.’”
The magazine continued, “The unmanned tractors would be controlled by computer tape, buried wires, or sensing devices, and courses would be plotted on headquarter units similar to radar sets which follow today’s airplane flights.
“Cows, which will have quadrupled their own milk production, will be backed up by the manufacture of identical milk from carrot tops and pea pods. Fertile eggs will be transplanted from superior cows into common incubator cows, allowing a superior cow to mother as many as 1,000 calves in her lifetime, compared with today’s average of only ten.
“To completely control environment and growing conditions, huge plastic or glass domes, covering ten acres or more, will be erected. Plant growth will be automatically recorded so the farmer can provide proper light, water and nutrients simply by turning a dial.
“Today’s tall corn fields will give way to new, squatty plants shaped like pine trees to lap up extra energy from the sun and the ears will be attached to the top for easier harvesting. Corn yields will zoom to 500 or more bushels per acre, compared with today’s national average of about 75 bushels.”
“Staggering production figures will be achieved, states the report. It projects yields of 300 bushels of wheat per acre, compared with today’s 27; 175 bushels of soybeans, compared with today’s 25; 30 tons of forage compared with three; 30,000 pounds of milk per cow, compared with 8,000, and 1,000 pounds of beef at 10 months of age, compared with 750 today.”
And how would these staggering production figures be achieved? By the three magic wonders of modern agriculture: greater mechanization and automation, greater use of chemistry, and man-manipulated genetics!
All of the above “improvements” were predicted in 1967 to be in place by the year 2000. Many have not materialized, but some of what has been employed is far worse!
Part 5 of the series will appear in next month’s The Real Truth. To read the complete book online, visit Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture.