SciFi in Ag: What do North Dakota, Peru, and Mars Have in Common? Farming, of Course
In early 2016, I was lucky enough to hike the Salkantay Mountain range in Peru. It’s about a 50 mile hike at elevations up to 15,000 feet. Our hike brought us to the base of Machu Picchu, and then from there we climbed 1,400 stairs (that are also a thousand years old) into the Inca-like resort.
The Incan Empire carved flat spots on the mountainside, which we now call terraces. The Incan culture invented the concept of terrace farming. (They were also the first people to grow potatoes!) Each terrace is probably no more than 20 feet wide with a 10 foot drop off the edge down to the next one. Terrace farming is likely the only way they could get enough soil space to reasonably grow their crops in the mountains. A brilliant design by a thousand year old culture, no doubt.
The agricultural landscape in Peru felt so foreign to my Red River Valley childhood, where the largest hills were the interstate highway’s on and off ramps. I was utterly impressed by the ingenuity of the human species to grow and farm in all kinds of environments.
Which brings me to Mars. If humanity is going to take a run at colonizing another planet, we will need a lot of help. Hollywood has cinematized astronauts being backed into a figurative corner where they are given a “farm or die” proposition. Humans have an amazing ability to solve problems when it’s life or death. Especially in the movies.
But I think it would be better to figure things out before we get there.
I know of no other group of people than those in the United States’ agriculture system to take part in that challenge. Certainly people, like Elon Musk, who want to get to Mars in the next 15 years are working on creating a sustained ecosystem for survival.
The U.S. agriculture system is well-positioned to take a run at colonizing another planet. We’ve been prepping for this journey for generations. We have hundreds of years of knowledge about opening up and farming new land, we’re collecting mountains of agricultural data every day, we have scientists and universities working on crop genetics, and we’re constantly improving robotics engineering.
If more people around the country step-up and throw their hat in the ring to figure this out, it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility. We were the first country to land on the moon. There’s no reason to think we won’t be the first country to put a person on Mars.