Accepted paper:

Granules of consent: owning and controlling the fertility of the land in Saskatchewan


Birgit Müller (CNRS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the attraction of agrochemicals and synthetic fertilizers, their promotion by State and corporations and the intense relationship of passion and frustration that Saskatchewan farmers experience when they strive for maximum yield.

Paper long abstract:

In spring time Saskatchewan it is common to see a computer geared tractor with GPS pull a series of twenty meter wide farm implements. Many farmers who run these implements have delegated the decision of how much nitrogen they put on the field to a laboratory that does soil tests and provides them with a computer simulation of how much fertilizer maximises their result. In this paper I want to explore the intense relationship of passion and frustration that farmers experience when they attempt to get the maximum yield out of the field while battling with production contracts, the unpredictability of the weather and high financial risks. The chemical revolution since the 19 century reversed the energy balance of agriculture from capturing solar energy through agricultural crops to the production of food through fossil fuels, thereby substituting human labour in the field with capital. How does the relationship to the soil and the sensorial perception of its fertility change? Why do farmers develop an addiction to chemicals that conflicts with a careful balancing of financial benefits? This paper looks at the representations of Prairie farming and the governance mechanisms of corporations and the State that make farmers consent to their gradual replacement by machines and chemicals. It also inquires to what extent different agricultural practices, that insulate farmers from market dependency on the input side, can free them from pure economic calculation allowing them to develop a more caring attitude to the land.

panel P038
Soils, seeds and capitalism: political agronomy and the intimacies of farming