Agricultural Drosscape Paper

Introduction to Agricultural Drosscape

Earl Butz constantly exhorted farmers to “get big or get out”.  The 1971 appointment of Butz as Secretary of Agriculture became a pivotal point in the development of US agriculture.  A distributed network of small farms was replaced by a centralized group of large industrial farms.  Industrial farming relied on monoculture in order to achieve high output at low cost.  Fields were planted “fence row to fence row” (another Butz favorite) with commodity crops such as corn and soybeans.  The vacant homes and buildings of the disposed small farmer were bulldozed to make room for the expansion and combination of small fields.  Agriculture was reorganized around a two-dimensional spatial concept where size was measured in square footage.

The sprawling  homogenization of industrial farming is analogous to the creation of drosscape.  Alan Berger attributes the creation of urban waste landscape to two factors.  First, rapid horizontal growth spreads outward from the city center.  Second, the land and detritus of past production regimes is left behind.  As the scale and mobility of agricultural equipment increased, the territory occupied by a single farm grew.  Average farm size has increased from 146 acres in 1900 to 441 acres in 2000.  The remnant buildings of small and medium size family farms can be observed scattered throughout the Midwest.  A patchwork of crops and pastures has been replaced by monoculture.

Homogenization is taking place at three distinct scales within agriculture.  Genetic manipulation techniques are being used to create a few highly productive organisms rather that a wide variety of highly adapted organisms.  Once flexible spatial organizations of the constructed environment of the farm have become increasingly stratified.  Global systems have increased the dominance of the few highly productive organisms and the spatial conditions they require.  By eliminating complexity at multiple scales, an agricultural drosscape is in the making.

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