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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #123                                                 October 9, 2001
                     A Publication of The Nature Institute
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
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    Sowing Technology (Craig Holdrege and Stephen L. Talbott)
       Do we really want to pit agriculture against nature?
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       Workshop on Perception
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                                SOWING TECHNOLOGY
               Do We Really Want To Pit Agriculture Against Nature?
                       Craig Holdrege and Stephen L. Talbott
    (The following is a somewhat expanded version of an article that appeared
    in Sierra, July/August, 2001.)
    Drive the Nebraskan backroads in July and you will encounter one of the
    great technological wonders of the modern world:  thousands of acres of
    corn extending to the vanishing point in all directions across the table-
    flat landscape.  It appears as lush and perfect a stand of vegetation as
    you will find anywhere on earth — almost every plant, millions of
    them, the same, uniform height, the same deep shade of green, free of
    blemish, emerging straight and strong from clean, weed-free soil, with
    every cell of every plant bearing genetically engineered doom for the
    over- adventurous worm.
    If you reflect on the sophisticated tools and techniques lying behind this
    achievement, you will likely feel some of the same awe that seizes so many
    people when they see a jet airliner taking off.  There can be no doubt
    about the magnitude of the technical accomplishment on those prairie
    expanses.  And yet, the question we face with increasing urgency today is
    whether this remarkable cornucopia presents a picture of health and lawful
    bounty, or instead the hellish image of nature betrayed.
    Actually, it is difficult to find much of nature in those corn fields.
    While nature manifests itself ecologically — contextually —
    today's advanced crop production uproots the plant from anything like a
    natural, ecological setting.  This, in fact, is the whole intention.
    Agricultural technology delivers, along with the seed, an entire
    artificial production environment designed to render the crop independent
    of local conditions.  Commercial fertilizer substitutes for the natural
    fertility of the soil.  Irrigation makes the plants relatively independent
    of the local climate.  Insecticides prevent undesirable contact with local
    insects.  Herbicides discourage social mixing with unsavory elements in
    the local plant population.  And the crop itself is bred to be less
    sensitive to the local light rhythm.
    Where, on the farm shaped by