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Posted April 28, 2023

Matt Insley

By Matt Insley

Big Ag Rings the Register

A temporary GPS satellite outage has underscored the vulnerability of modern agriculture. 

“The British satellite Inmarsat I-4 F1, which provides services for East Asia and the Pacific regions, is back in operation after an outage on Sunday,” says an article at Australia’s ABC Rural.

“In Australia, one of the consequences of the outage was some farmers using the service lost access to the GPS services used in precision farming for sowing crops, fertilizing and spraying.”



Spokesman Chris Groves of the National Farmers’ Federation reckons about 65% of grain farmers sowing seed this week were stopped short by the outage.

“This is a pretty obvious weakness,” says Katie McRobert of The Australian Farm Institute. “People are completely reliant on the use of data and GPS and other similar technologies in farming to be more efficient, productive and sustainable.”

When I saw this story earlier this week, I was reminded of our reader, Mo E. His comments Monday, about reliance on expensive farming practices, prompted me to reach out to Paradigm’s natural resources expert Byron King…

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Your Rundown for Friday, April 28, 2023...

Big Ag: A Realistic Opinion

“As for your reader’s comment,” Byron says, “he makes good points about the need to rethink agriculture in general, to be better at the water and soil supplement mix. As for using fertilizers versus soil upgrades? Ideally, farming would do both. 

“Here's what I've learned over the years from a geological perspective... 

“Just as medicine has been captured by Big Pharma, such that doctors everywhere reach for the prescription pad as soon as you walk in the door, so too with farming — captured by Big Agriculture.

“Of course, it’s very energy and material intensive,” he says. Meaning? “Herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, other soil conditioners... Digging up rocks, ores, minerals, petroleum in one place... Processing it elsewhere... Applying it to farmland. 

“Then ring the cash register,” says Byron. 

“Example: U.S. northern Great Plains are a feature of the last Ice Age. Glaciers scraped south and southwest over the granites, clays and limestones of mid-Canada and moved (and churned) the material into a nice, fertile mix that turned southern Minnesota, Iowa, eastern South Dakota and northeast Nebraska into the U.S. breadbasket just on soil fertility alone.

“That Great Plains soil was enhanced for 10,000 years post-glaciers by a mix of flora and fauna. Prairie grasses that developed deep root systems, and over time — centuries, millennia — built up soil moisture and fertility. Add in groundhogs that tunneled into the soil, allowing water to penetrate deeply. And Bison that ate the prairie grass and biologically transformed it into fertilizer.

“Yes, fabulous soil that has given the USA 150 years of harvests,” Byron says. “But now it is pretty played out. Indeed, much of the ‘farm belt’ soil is so nutritionally barren that, absent the chemical fertilizers and other mineral supplements, agricultural output would tumble. 

“Compare, say, with rainforests across the Equatorial belt in South America (Brazil, especially) and Central Africa. In rainforests, the soil profile tends to be thin, with underlying rocks washed in from millions of years of water. You get deep weathering, like I saw on a trip once to French Guiana. 

“The ‘biology’ of rainforest soil is locked up in the biomass above, layers of forest canopies. If you cut down the trees, you have thin, poor soil that will yield a few years of harvest and then become mediocre-to-poor pasture land. Lots of chemical fertilizers are needed to keep it productive. You see this all over Brazil, ruined soil, now mostly pasture land.” 

And, here, Byron kicks it really old school: “One trick that Mayans used in Central America was to seed the soil with charcoal (burnt wood) which lasts in the ground for years and even decades. It helps retain moisture and nutrients in the soil.”

Byron’s realistic takeaway? “The system is what it is: energy-intensive (diesel, minerals and chemicals), machinery-intensive (diesel and equipment) and now software-supplemented (GPS, etc.).” 

Market Rundown for Friday, Apr. 28, 2023

S&P 500 futures are down 0.30% to 4,140. 

Oil is up 0.70% to $75.29 for a barrel of West Texas crude. 

Gold’s down 0.40% to $1,990.50 per ounce. 

And Bitcoin is down 1.25% to $29,325.

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