Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 5th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published May 23rd, 2012)

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest.

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc.

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death.

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 23rd, 2012

Technology 101

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest. 

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc. 

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death. 

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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The Division of Labor Produced the First Great Civilization: Sumer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 25th, 2011

History 101

The Sumerians’ Large-Scale Farming Produced the First Reliable Food Surpluses in History

The first civilization was in Mesopotamia.  The Cradle of Civilization.  In the Fertile Crescent.  That land between the Euphrates and Tigris.  Roughly modern day Iraq.  Where things started happening around 5,000 BC.  And lasted a long time.  A few thousand years.  And some.  During this time we see the first city-states.  Like Babylon in the north.  And Ur in the south.  Home of Abraham.  Yes, that Abraham.  The biblical one.  Who was part of the great Sumerian civilization.

Why here?  Because of the fertile soil along the river banks.  And the source of fresh water.  For drinking.  And farming.  For the Sumerians harnessed this water to irrigate their fields.  In Sumer they farmed for the first time on a grand scale.  Marshalling and organizing a great labor force.  Made possible by language.  That they could read and write.  They became specialists in food production.  And with these specialists we see the development of the division of labor.

They domesticated animals.  For food.  And for work.  This advance into large-scale farming produced the first reliable food surpluses in history.  Which allowed a lot of people to live in crowded cities.  Many of who had a lot of spare time.  And they used it.  To create other things.  Becoming specialists themselves.  Civilization became more complex.  And better.  Thanks to the division of labor.  That created all of these new specialists.

Sumer had the Surpluses to make Trade Possible and their Location put them in the Center of a Civilizing World

In Sumer they created the potter’s wheel.  Pottery.  And a kiln to bake it in.  Others did, too.  But they most likely did it first. Some thought about the potter’s wheel led to the wheel and axel.  Heavy transportation.  And the war chariot.  Pulled by their domesticated animals.  With the harnesses they made.

They also had boats.  For the two great rivers (Euphrates and the Tigris), their tributaries and the canals they made.  And, yes, they were builders.  Made easier by their creation of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra.  And they were astronomers.  Among the first to map the stars and planets.  Which formed the basis for much of the work the Greeks did.  Leading the way to open-water seafaring.  Navigation by the stars.  And long-distance trade.

A priest-king probably ruled each Sumerian city-state.  And each city-state worshipped in their own way.  As theocracies.  Everything belonged to the priest-king.  What the people produced went to the temple.  And the priest-king distributed the proceeds of their labors.  So there were no markets.  But there was trade.  For they have found items in Sumerian digs that are not native to Sumer (such as cedar from Lebanon).  But the details of that trade are sketchy.  But what is certain is that they had the surpluses to make trade possible.  And their location put them in the center of a civilizing world.

Fertile Soil, Irrigation, Large-Scale Farming and the Division of Labor Produced the Great Civilizations

Sumer was the first great civilization.  Egypt was right behind them.  With their kingdoms on the Nile.  Civilization soon followed on the banks of the Indus in Indian.  And on the banks of the Hwang-Ho in China.  These were isolated areas that began without outside influence from other advanced civilizations.  They were the first of the firsts.  And they all shared some things in common.  Fertile soil in their river valleys.  Irrigation.  Large-scale farming.  And a division of labor that produced the other great things of their civilizations.

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