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Sodbusters and Skyscrapers
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Dr. Victor L. Martin

On Dec. 1 a group of us gathered to dedicate the Breaking the Prairie Sod Memorial at the intersection of K-96 and 10th. Although a bit breezy, it was an appropriate dedication for a monument designed to honor those who settled here almost 150 years ago and serve as a constant reminder of our past. Several speakers emphasized that it is difficult for us to imagine the hardships these individuals faced over a century ago. Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Rodman thought that 150 years from now people in Great Bend will speak about the challenges and hardships of today. Regarding the memorial itself and its plow, he spoke to the vital importance of technology in agriculture and to the past, present, and future of our state, country, and world. The sodbuster of the 19th Century wouldn’t recognize the agriculture of today. Farmers from fifty years ago would feel similarly and the same would be true of us in fifty years.
Students in our Agriculture In Society Class explore the past history of agriculture, the present state of it and what the future holds. One of the proposed future trends proposed in some quarters is vertical farming. So what is vertical farming and why is it being explored?
· Briefly, vertical farming is farming using skyscrapers.
· Proponents propose production of not just crops but of meat (livestock) also. Some propose this as a kind of communal agriculture where the members of the community (skyscraper) would also produce their own food in this setting. This not commercial agriculture designed to feed many but to provide the needs of the immediate community involved.
· The type most in the future trends news is commercial scale vertical farming designed to supplement and/or replace conventional agriculture. These operations would be hermetically sealed or in English they would have highly controlled environments. The idea is that these controlled environment high-rises could be built to produce food anywhere as long as adequate energy is available.
· Hydroponics and aeroponics (sort of hydroponics without all the water) would be used instead of soil or other growing media for fruits, vegetables and even grains. Meat, poultry, and even fish production are deemed practical. Think of it as stacked agriculture with each floor of the skyscraper used for a different foodstuff.
· Opponents express concern over the costs of building, the energy and natural resources needed for construction and the energy and associated costs of these “giant greenhouses.”
· Proponents say energy would be saved in not having to transport food from long distances. Food could be produced with fewer fertilizers and pesticides. Crops could be produced year round anywhere. Weather related problems and pests could be avoided.
· Some claim that a thirty story building with a five acre base would equal 2,400 acres of conventional farming.
Do I believe this will happen and even replace much of conventional agriculture? Certainly not before I retire and maybe not ever. Do I think it may have a place in food production? Maybe, and especially where land resources are limited. I am pretty sure our sodbuster ancestors would at the least be impressed.