Researchers see good results from lower mowing intensity, and fewer pesticides

My posts about agriculture tend to lean one of two ways. The first is to advocate for a dramatic, rapid increase in indoor food production. That includes the various forms of indoor farming, as well as efforts to cultivate edible bacteria and microalgae. The second is that for the land that’s currently being used for farm, we shift to a form of ecosystem management much closer to what Native Americans did prior to the European invasion. Land Back should be part of that, of course, but the basic idea is to cultivate an ecosystem that’s full of useful and edible organisms, and to treat it as a community resource, owned in common by everyone, for everyone’s benefit. As always, the exact specifics of this approach will vary depending on regional and local conditions.

I get that just swapping over would feel like a big change to most people. We’re very used to what “farming” looks like, and it can be hard to trust that something like bacterial flour or rows of plants under LEDs would be able to feed humanity in our billions. Fortunately, while I’m more interested rapid, radical change, my philosophy for making the world better is one where every step along the way should come with its own improvements. My favorite example is probably the use of plant life to mitigate air pollution. There’s ample evidence that being around greenery improves both our mental and our physical health (not that those are really separate things). We’d get pretty immediate benefits from adding plants to the urban landscape. Those improvements to our health and wellbeing give us more power, through better health and saved money, to fight for the next step up.

That’s why, while the vision in my head may be some sort of solarpunk permaculture utopia, there are actually much smaller steps that we could take, which would have measurable benefits, both in terms of dealing with climate change directly, and in terms of improving ecosystem health. For example, this study lays out what seems to be a sort of intermediary step, designed to capture carbon, improve ecosystem health, and reduce dependence on pesticides and herbicides, with relatively little effort:

The researchers conducted two independent experiments at the University’s research facilities at the Ruissalo Botanical Gardens in Turku. In the greenhouse and common garden studies, the research team showed that the intensity of mowing has a great impact on pastures. By reducing the intensity of the mowing and cutting the plant higher, the overall yield of the pasture increased and the plants developed bigger roots. This indicates a higher atmospheric carbon sequestration into belowground storage.

What was surprising, Fuchs emphasises, is that the researchers found a detrimental effect of herbicide residues in soil on root growth regardless of the intensity of the yield harvest.

“This demonstrates a tremendous limitation to the potential carbon binding and storage belowground when soils are polluted by pesticide. Considering the vast amount of pesticides applied to agricultural fields yearly, we can conclude that the impact on soil quality is a major driver of limited root growth, carbon sequestration, and consequently plant resilience and productivity,” Dr Fuchs says.

The authors propose additional field studies to extrapolate their findings onto a field scale. Both studies conclude that climate change mitigation via optimising carbon sequestration and storage in soil can be achieved by reducing pesticides, which will facilitate root growth and improve plant resilience.

All over the world, cultivated grasslands are used as grazing pasture as well as for growing fodder that is turned into hay and silage. They cover large parts of the world’s agricultural land and have a tremendous potential for climate change mitigation through carbon storage. The plants use carbon dioxide as they grow, and some of this atmospheric carbon becomes bound in the soils.

“Consequently, understanding how pesticide pollution in soil and intensive management limit plant productivity is the key to optimising intensive grassland-based agriculture in a sustainable and climate-friendly way,” Fuchs concludes.

Oh yeah, it means better crops, too. Did I bury the lede? Maybe a little. They don’t really talk about ecosystem health, but I think it’s pretty easy to see how less intensive mowing, and less pesticide use would both have a “side effect” of improving the general health of the area.

I think we should be ending most of our animal agriculture, which would eliminate much of the need for grasslands as fodder, but we’re not going to get there overnight, and anything we can do to improve things now will make our lives just a little bit easier down the line. Of course, that only matters if this research actually leads to a change in practice. It always comes back to that, doesn’t it? There’s something we could try to make the world better, but nobody in the aristocracy seems to feel like investing in it. That’s why I keep coming back to collective power and political change.

As I said at the beginning, the steps we take now can be both immediately beneficial to us, and beneficial to our ability to get bigger changes down the road. We’re not capitalists here at Oceanoxia, so don’t think in terms of “political capital”. The kind of power we on the left want to build isn’t something that’s lost when used. Each victory brings more people and power to the cause, and sets us up for an even bigger victory.

I think many of us are accustomed to witnessing a political and economic “ratchet” effect, in which Republicans use their power to damage things like the social safety net, and Democrats stabilize things, but don’t actually reverse the damage, or guard against further damage. I mean, the Dems do plenty of damage themselves, but we’re talking generalities. While we’ve made great advances in terms of civil rights (hence the current reactionary backlash), 9/11 ushered in a new era of authoritarian government power in the United States, coupled with a dramatic increase in the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the ruling class. It’s discouraging, and often horrifying to watch.

The one bit of hope I’m offering today is that we can, by working together, create our own ratchet effect, whereby we can increase our own power and happiness, and lay the foundations of a much better future than what currently looms on the horizon.

Thank you for reading! If you found this post useful, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name character in that series!


  1. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    “while the vision in my head may be some sort of solarpunk permaculture utopia,”

    Let me put a new image in your head of what “solarpunk” really means.

    The best way to save nature is to keep humans out of it. The best way to do that is reduce our need for land, whether that’s for living, farming, mining, energy production, etc. (while also reducing our indirect effects, e.g. CO2 pollution). This is one of the major selling points of nuclear and one of the worst points of solar and wind. Solar and wind require approximately one order more materials compared to conventional nuclear, and that directly corresponds to the mining needed. And that’s assuming infinite free cheap small energy storage, and therefore back in reality, add another order of magnitude (for two orders total) for the amount of materials that we need to dig up, refine, and through in a trash dump when using solar and wind compared to nuclear.

  2. says

    The best way to save nature is to keep humans out of it.

    For someone so critical of the bigotry and short-sightedness of 20th century environmentalists, you sure do seem to accept their notions about “conservation”.

  3. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Not everyone is wrong all the time.

    Also, I remind you that the Sierra Club, the foremost conservationist group in the world, came out with a pro nuclear statement IIRC circa 1960, which led to David Brower leaving the group to use fossil fuel money to found Friends Of The Earth.

    I’m an environmentalist and conservationist. That’s a big reason why I’m anti solar, anti wind, and pro nuclear.

  4. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Correction: The foremost conservationist group in the world at that time, circa 1960.

  5. says

    You yourself have used similarities with language to accuse me and others of being exactly that sort of person.

    Do you want to forcibly remove people from land? What if the landback movement gets enough sway to allow Native Americans control over their treaty lands – will you oppose them using a more active ecosystem management style?

    For the land we do still use, do you think it matters how we use it?

  6. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    >Do you want to forcibly remove people from land?

    Generally not.

    >What if the landback movement gets enough sway to allow Native Americans control over their treaty lands – will you oppose them using a more active ecosystem management style?

    Generally not, assuming this means what I think it means.

    >For the land we do still use, do you think it matters how we use it?

    Of course. For example, paving it in solar cells, and mass digging for the bits for solar and wind, and the toxic waste from rare earth metals for wind – we should be avoiding that.

    PS: I think it’s extremely wrongheaded and dangerous to say that one ethnic group of people deserves control of a piece of land because their ancestors controlled it. See: Israel and Palestine.

  7. says

    Of course. For example, paving it in solar cells, and mass digging for the bits for solar and wind, and the toxic waste from rare earth metals for wind

    Cool. That’s not what this study was about. It was about mowing practices, and more broadly about land use for agriculture.

  8. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    I don’t know what better options there are for agriculture land. It still seems to me to be the best option to continue the green agriculture revolution and high yield agriculture techniques, and also work on minimizing the negative impacts of those such as runoff, and also work on solving real mineral resource shortage problems such as phosphorus supply. We have some really big problems here feeding everyone.

    So, I think we should continue this great voluntary moral decline in population via raising people out of poverty and emancipation of women to reduce resource needs on the planet. While I don’t think we’re ever going to run out of nuclear fuel, I am worried about running out of other stuff, like high grade phosphorus ore, and probably dozens or hundreds of other things that I’ve never heard of.

    I don’t see a real alternative. The best option to save nature is to remove humanity from it, and that means minimizing land use for agriculture, and that mean more high yield agriculture techniques. Again, sorry to repeat myself, but without high yield agriculture techniques, and especially inorganic fertilizer (including phosphorus), at least half of the world would starve. That’s bad.

  9. says

    We already produce more food than we need to feed everyone, and the current agricultural model is not sustainable.

    I would say that your vision of “do what we’re doing, but spread the wealth around better and make it nuclear powered” is about as pie in the sky as what I tend to propose.

  10. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    We already produce more food than we need to feed everyone, and the current agricultural model is not sustainable.

    We better hope to find fixes for it then.

    I would say that your vision of “do what we’re doing, but spread the wealth around better and make it nuclear powered” is about as pie in the sky as what I tend to propose.

    At least my problems are only political and not forbidden by the laws of physics. Political problems can be overcome. Feeding the planet without current large-scale production inorganic fertilizer is not a possibility.

    Also, unlike you, I try to keep separate environmental arguments and social justice arguments. As an entirely separate issue, yes, I think we should reduce wealth inequalities, but we don’t need to solve the current problems of wealth inequality in order to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and tying them together turns off a lot of people who might otherwise be sympathetic to the isolated conservationist goals. For example, Republican opposition to the Green New Deal for being 90% economic reforms and only 10% supposed environmentalist policy. (I don’t know if those numbers are accurate. I just pulled them out of my butt.)

  11. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Moreover, the political problems in the way of my plans are entirely based on blatantly false premises, and therefore that’s why I hope that education can fix the problem.

  12. says

    That inequality is a big part of why we haven’t already changed things. It’s literally funding the opposition to action. Your insistence on separating issues ignores the realities of how those issues came to be, and how they interact.

  13. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    That’s simply not true. The problem is that your side got co-opted by the rich capitalist fossil fuel people to believe fairy tales about how to fix the problem and to be adamantly against he only fix for the problem, which incidentally is also a potential threat to the acquired wealth and power of the fossil fuel capitalists. And we’ll never fix it as long as the “good guys” remain hoodwinked by the fossil fuel capitalists.

  14. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Which is impossible unless you have something to replace it, and your side is also working hard to ensure that the only real alternative, nuclear, is never done. I can show you countless examples of Green NGOs pushing for coal over nuclear. The fact is that you’re wrong .You are the fossil fuel capitalists best tool. The “useful idiot”.

    And you still don’t realize it.

  15. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Again, there’s a reason why, according to circumstantial evidence, fossil fuel companies are spending so much money to support the Green movement. You are being used by the fossil fuel capitalists to protect the fossil fuel capitalists. They know that your Utopian energy decentralization pipedreams can never work, and they know that you and others are the perfect tools to combat their only real competition. You’ve come a long way to partially accept nuclear power, but you’re still in their pocket by talking about ridiculous decentralization scenarios. That can never work. I say to you again, instead of burning down the (centralized) means of production like your policies would do in effect, we should simply change who controls the means of production. You can’t decentralize the means of production without destroying them and deindustrializing to a large extent.

  16. says

    How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not opposed to nuclear power, Gerrard?

    We’re right back to where we were before – because I have some linguistic similarities to “the greens”, and because I don’t talk about nuclear power to the exclusion of all else, I’m serving The Forces of Darkness.

    I’m tired of it, especially because you seem to consistently ignore or forget any time I write about “something to replace it”. I mention decentralization sometimes, and I’ve said the word “balance”, so I’m brainwashed or evil.

    Should I just start calling you a eugenicist or a racist because you think that the best thing for nature is to keep humans out of it? You said you’re not, but maybe I should start ignoring that? I’ve seen you make comments that contradict that conclusion, but apparently we’re just ignoring what other people say in these interactions.

    Fucking hell, dude, you even AGREE with me on more centralization/concentration of food production by moving it indoors, but apparently that all goes out the window when you get on your self-righteous rant kicks.

    Knock it off.

    Edit: You’re under moderation for now.

  17. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Again, you’re not understanding my critique of you. You keep rephrasing my critique of you to something else. Let me try it again. Not being anti-nuclear is not enough. You still support decentralization of power supply as a noble and feasible goal. You still support the feasibility of significant contributions of solar and wind. These Green myths plus the lies surrounding the dangers of nuclear power (and economics, and fuel supply), are the primary obstacles to fixing greenhouse gas emissions because they make the public think that they have two choices, one choice involving nuclear, and one not, and consequently, because of the other Green lies about nuclear power, they consistently choose the 100% renewables approach. They constantly choose the plan that won’t work.

    A facile explanation would focus on the ‘merchants of doubt’ who have managed to confuse the public about the reality of human-made climate change. The merchants play a role, to be sure, a sordid one, but they are not the main obstacle to solution of human-made climate change.

    The bigger problem is that people who accept the reality of climate change are not proposing actions that would work.


    The insightful cynic will note: “Now I understand all the fossil fuel ads with windmills and solar panels – fossil fuel moguls know that renewables are no threat to the fossil fuel business.” The tragedy is that many environmentalists lineup on the side of the fossil fuel industry, advocating renewables as if they, plus energy efficiency, would solve the global climate change matter.

    Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.

    This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of ‘policy’ thinking of many liberal politicians. Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. – maybe even a tar sands pipeline. Why the inconsistency?

    Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan. They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics. They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels. Reluctance to be honest might seem strange, given that what is needed to solve the problem actually makes sense and is not harmful to most people. I will offer a possible explanation for their actions below.

    We must stop paying homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy. Solar and wind have practically zero place on the grid, and this would be true even if they were free, because of all of the additional costs that come with them, including transmission costs, storage costs, backup costs and capacity payments, grid inertia costs, and blackstart capability costs. Your Utopia of decentralized means of production simply is not compatible with the laws of physics and engineering, and it’s about time that you recognized that, and grew up to adopt adult polices to deal with the problem instead of retreating back into a fantasy.

  18. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Decentralized means of production inherently means a significant backtracking on the specialization of labor, which is the one element of capitalism that is necessary for today’s cheap and plentiful and high quality goods. To go back on specialization of labor in the manner that you speak is tantamount to undoing industrialization.

    If this blog still exists in 10 years, and I’m still here in 10 years, and Germany still hasn’t fixed their problem with their Easter Bunny fantasy, would you change your mind then? What will it take to convince you that you’re wrong?

    For me, it’s easy. Let’s see Germany replace their electricity supply with renewables 100% (without relying on their neighbors for basically providing sufficient storage, backup, grid inertia, and blackstart capability). They’ve already spent more money and time than France did to go to nuclear, and Germany is nowhere close to that level of success, and they’re still in the easy part. The costs that I’m talking about only grow as percentage of solar and wind rise on the grid.

  19. says

    I’m not a full-throated advocate, because I don’t accept your repeated assertion that nuclear is the only possible option, and because regardless of what happens going forward, political change will be necessary.

    I’m more pro-nuclear than I used to be, and that may continue to change, but no, I’m not convinced that wind and solar don’t work, nor am I convinced that they can’t play a role in a society that relies heavily on nuclear power.

    My problem is with your absolutism on that, and your tendency to start insulting people who aren’t convinced by your comments, and making spurious accusations of corruption or racism based on vague associations.

  20. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    When you cite racist ideas from a movement with inherently racist beginnings, ideas which have inherently racist and colonialist impacts, what am I to do? Ignore it because you walk on a road paved with good intentions over the imposed suffering of the global south and poor non-white world? I don’t think so.

    The modern environmental movement is inherently racist and colonialist because the clear consequence of their actions is to keep the global south and poor non-white parts of the world in poverty while they continue to enjoy their exploitation, see rare earth metal mining in China which the BBC semi-seriously called the worst place on Earth from its environmental impacts, solar manufacture in China from Uighur slave labor (which is responsible for about half of the solar cells in the world and probably responsible for much of the solar cell price reductions over the last decade), cobalt mining also with slave labor in Congo, lithium mining, etc. This is a direct and unavoidable result of choosing technologies that have a much smaller power density. It could be largely avoided by going with high power density nuclear power. This is a choice that we can make. You are making the wrong choice.

    And if you’re going to call me absolutist, then you have to call a whole lot of climate scientists absolutist too. “Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn’t go away.” – Philip K. Dick.

    Quoting leading climate scientist Dr. Ken Caldeira:

    There’s really only one technology that I know of that can provide carbon-free power when the sun’s not shining and the wind’s not blowing at the scale that modern civilization requires and that is nuclear power […]

    Quoting Dr. Kerry Emanuel:

    Let me tell you why I’m here. As Kirsty just told you, I work in the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology, and we have a good-fashioned motto in Latin which is “mens et manus” which means “mind and hands”, and we’re very much about solving problems. I’ve worked – all four of us [Dr. Ken Caldeira, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Tom Wigly] have devoted substantial fractions of our professional lives to understanding fundamental physics, chemistry, biology, climate systems, and we [??] do it because we want to understand it. We didn’t have any ulterior baggage there, but that study of the climate system has very strongly led us to the conclusion that we are incurring unacceptable risk for future generations. I think that’s why we’re all here. Solve the problem. Now as Ken properly said, there are a lot of people who see this as an opportunity to advance one agenda or another. Ok. We have to be conscious of that. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, why are four climate scientists who don’t have strong backgrounds in nuclear physics here talking to you today about nuclear energy? It’s because we’re scientists, and we can do the math. Alright? If we want – if we truly are sincere about solving this problem, unless a miracle occurs, we are going to have to ramp up nuclear energy very fast. That’s the reality. That’s not my ideology. I don’t care whether it’s nuclear, like my friend Kenny said. We don’t care if it’s nuclear, or solar, or hydro. Whatever combination works. The numbers don’t add up unless you put nuclear power in the mix.

    The anti-nuclear bias of this latest IPCC release is rather blatant, and reflects the ideology of the environmental movement. History may record that this was more of an impediment to decarbonization than climate denial.

    Quoting Dr James Hansen:

    Well, I can point out one or two points. What you find if you advocate – you know frankly. I’ve spoken to many scientists, and by far the majority agree that nuclear needs to be part of the solution. However, when you stand up and say that, there’s an anti-nuclear community which I would characterize as quasi-religious, which just hammers you, and you have to spend a lot of your time trying to deal with that. I’ve even found that, some of the – you know that I’m no longer a government employee, I have to raise the funds to cover my group of four people, and there are a number of foundations – the foundation that had been my most reliable source while I was a government employee – because I liked to speak out – is not part of my government job, but – so I had to prove that I was not using government funds, so when I traveled I had to get non-government funds to pay for that. Well, the foundation that provided the funds now will not give me a dime because they are anti-nuclear, and so there’s a lot of pressure on scientists just to keep their mouth shut, but you know we’re at a point where we better not keep our mouths shut when can see a story which has become very clear, and that is that it’s a mirage to think that all-renewables can provide all of the energy that we need and at the speed we need. China and India are using tremendous amounts of power – almost all coal for their electric plants – and there’s no way that they can power their steel mills and all the other factories that they’re building products for us on solar panels, and they know that. The governments of China and India know that. They want modern, better, safer nuclear technology, and for the West not to help them is immoral because we burned their share of the carbon budget. Now they’re stuck in a – they want to get wealthy. They want to raise people out of poverty. They need energy to do that. You can’t do it without energy, and so if they don’t have an alternative to do that, they’re going to use coal, and we should be helping them to find a clean alternative.


    and because regardless of what happens going forward, political change will be necessary.

    What kind of political change? Do you mean a radical restructuring of society ala your pet peeves which you needlessly insert into the conversation? It looks to me like your pet hobbies, your personal focuses, on one problem of society are blinding you to the real problems in climate change. The real problem in climate change is that humans are emitting too many greenhouse gases. The fix is to stop that. We don’t need radical political change to do that. We just need to stop burning fossil fuels.

    Would I like to see other kinds of proper political change regarding the other issues facing us? Yes. You should know that there is broad agreement between us about the other kinds of changes that we should make to society for social justice. However, we don’t need those changes to fix climate change, and it’s mostly orthogonal to the issue, and saddling climate change with all of these other ideas turn off people who could be temporary allies in the fight against climate change. We don’t gain anything and we lose everything by joining these two orthogonal issues together. We don’t need to fix the issues of poverty, colonialism, racism, etc., in order to fix climate change. We just need to stop burning fossil fuels.

  21. says

    When you cite racist ideas from a movement with inherently racist beginnings, ideas which have inherently racist and colonialist impacts, what am I to do? Ignore it because you walk on a road paved with good intentions over the imposed suffering of the global south and poor non-white world? I don’t think so.

    You do the same damned thing, jackass, as I pointed out the other day, with your insistence that the best way to protect nature is for humans to stay out of it.

    Same as the fuckers who ethnically cleansed parts of the U.S. to set up national parks, or the colonialists who drove Africans out of their homes to “protect nature”.

    Looks like you want to sacrifice still more people on the altar of not changing anything for yourself.

    See how that works?

    Now, I don’t think you actually want that, but you are literally citing “racist ideas from a movement with inherently racist beginnings”.

    Obviously I’m not done talking about nuclear power, but we’re both done with this conversation. I’m not interested in rehashing it endlessly again.

  22. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Jesus Christ. Strawman much? I didn’t say what policies I would want to pursue to keep humans out of nature. That matters a lot. I endorse policies to keep humans out of nature by voluntary moral action of raising them out of poverty, and not by keeping them poor in ghettos. Fuck you.

  23. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Fine. I’m not welcome. Consider this my last post. You started my enemy and the enemy of humanity, and you continue to be that because of your bloody narrowmindedness and commitment to patently false ideological beliefs.

  24. says

    And I have never advocated for the policies YOU regularly accuse me of supporting. As I have told you many, many times.

    Like I said, I don’t believe that of you, but it’s literally what you do to other people every time they don’t agree with you.

    As to the other comment, chill the fuck out. You’re not perma-banned, I’m just not willing to endlessly go in circles with you about the same shit, while you insult everyone who disagrees, especially on a post that’s got next to nothing to do with the topic.

  25. says

    The best way to save nature is to keep humans out of it.

    Looks like GerrardofTitanicStupidity is now doing his best to make environmentalism look “anti-human,” in accordance with that famous talking-point recently recycled by the “Anti-Greta” and her employers the Heartland Institute.

    And from there he goes right on to hijack a thread about mowing and pesticides to re-fight, yet again, his tired, silly, long obsolete anti-renewables crusade. (As if nothing ever has to be dug out of the ground to build a nuclear reactor?) Mi dispiache, but I must express more ennui. I yawn with it uncontrollably. In fact, I feel I must make up a new word for the ennui Gerrard inflames in me…how about “yawnnui?”

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