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Agricultural Sustainability in America

Why Israel should be an example of how to farm.

Each year, 130 billion tons of water and four billion tons of soil are lost in American farmlands. This is the result of the unsustainable farming practices created through the corporatization of agriculture. Family-farmed 200-acre plots with rotating seed and natural fertilizer have been replaced by monocropping and dependency upon chemical assistance. The nation’s monocropping culture has exhausted the land and limited the amount of water and nutrients the soil can retain. America’s unsustainable farming practices have a large water deficit and put the nation at risk for a second catastrophic dust bowl. If topsoil degradation continues unabated, then it is likely the United States will experience another Dust Bowl in 60 years. 

The Dust Bowl of 1930-1936 was a period of debilitating dust storms in the southern plains of the United States. This environmental disaster was caused by extreme winds and drought that coincided with the poor soil care of the land, similar to today’s practices. Following the WWI drop of demand for agricultural goods, US farmers turned towards mechanized farming techniques to increase yields. This quickly exhausted the soil and led to the loss of fertile topsoil. As the drought and record wind of 1930 set it, the soil blew off farms, leaving the land uncultivable and killing livestock. If the farming practices of the 21st century ensue, farmers in the United States are at risk for encountering the same fate as their counterparts in the 1930s. 

But this problem is not experienced in Israel. Through embracing their Jewish culture, Israeli farmers have sustainably upheld the quality of their farmland and ensured that their soil remains healthy. The shmita, or sabbatical year, is observed by farmers once every seven years as an opportunity to let the land rest. As mandated in Exodus 23:10-11, they let the land lie fallow and refrain from farming. This practice has created a regenerating agricultural system in Israel that maintains the nutrients and water levels of the soil and allows the farms to efficiently produce in the next six years. 

Every five years, Congress votes on a new Farm Bill that outlines a discretionary program for soil conservation and introduces new guidelines to farmers. The latest of these bills was passed in 2018, and the next will come to vote in 2023. By that time, the congressional elections of 2020 and 2022 would have taken place. The next few years are critical to the fertility of the soil, so we must vote with agricultural sustainability programs in mind.

With Earth Day having happened on April 22, we must include sustainable agriculture in our calls to the government. The current quarantine restricts our ability to physically protest policymakers to enact climate change policy, however, there is still much action we can take. As the way in which we make demands is adjusted, so must the demands we make. The nation needs better legislation to ensure that the soil that produces agricultural commodities is able to provide for future generations and is sustainably farmed. One cannot sit idly by as the soil degenerates and the threat of another famine looms closer. Our counterparts in Israel have established a system that preserves their soil and ensures constant production. We must do the same—before it is too late. 

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Carly Brail is a sophomore at the High School of American Studies in New York. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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