PT 85 LSAT Writing: Farmer

The Prompt

A farmer is deciding between two five-year contracts. One would require using the farm's fields exclusively to produce corn; the other would require using the fields exclusively to produce soybean. Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for one choice over the other based on the following two criteria:

  • The farmer wants to minimize the effort required to raise and harvest the farm's crops
  • The farmer wants to manage the farm's land in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way

Corn typically yields significantly more usable produce per acre than soybean does. Corn typically requires more water than soybean does. Neither plant can grow without the presence of nitrogen in the soil. Corn does not produce nitrogen, which necessitates the use of fertilizer in the fields. As it grows, corn absorbs from the atmosphere a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. Corn produces large amounts of unusable plant material that releases half of the absorbed CO2 back into the atmosphere when it eventually decays. Corn's roots compact the soil in such a way that it reduces the erosion of topsoil. In order to plant corn on the same land several years in a row, a farmer must replace nutrients in the soil before replanting.

Soybean plants produce their own nitrogen. Soybean roots do not protect the topsoil from erosion. The farmer owns a combine for harvesting, but only owns the attachment for harvesting corn. A different attachment is needed to harvest soybeans. Soybean plants are naturally more resistant to pests and disease than corn plants are. Soybean can be cultivated on the same land for several years in a row without depleting the soil of nutrients. Soybean captures little atmospheric CO2 as it grows, and leaves relatively little unusable plant material behind after harvesting.

My Essay

The farmer should choose the five-year soybean contract.

The first tenet of sustainability is reduction, and the soybean contract would let the farmer reduce the harmful externalities of his cultivation. Soybeans need less water, fewer chemical, and less labor than corn.

Unlike corn, soybeans can fix nitrogen, so their cultivation entails fewer applications of fertilizer. This is an important consideration, because nitrogen runoff can disrupt local water systems and lead to toxic algal blooms. Soybeans also boast a natural hardiness to pests and diseases that means they require fewer pesticides to thrive. Insecticides and herbicides can accumulate in the soil, despoiling the land, reducing biodiversity, and killing so-called "good bugs." Finally, soybeans are more sustainable in that they don't deplete the soil's nutrients; they can be replanted from year to year without costly chemical interventions. Corn, on the other hand, does deplete the soil's nutrients, which necessitates more chemical inputs each year. By planting soybeans instead of corn, the farmer could sidestep this cycle of environmental depredation and ever-increasing reliance on an agro-industrial supply chain.

The corn contract does have some seeming advantages over the soybean contract. Whereas the farmer already has the equipment he needs to harvest corn, he would need to buy or rent an attachment for his combine to harvest soybeans. But the inconvenience of buying or renting a new attachment pales in comparison to the inconvenience of applying more fertilizer, pesticides, and nutrients to the corn crop each year.

Corn also absorbs carbon dioxide, which might lead one to conclude that the corn contract would be less carbon-intensive. But this is far from obvious, and it may be that the soybean contract would add less carbon to the atmosphere in the long term. Corn production, unlike soybean cultivation, results in a large quantity of unusable plant matter. When this plant matter decays, it releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. What's more, corn is far more dependent on a carbon-intensive supply chain than soybeans. As we've noted, the farmer would need to purchase large quantities of fertilizers, pesticides, and other nutrients to plant corn year after year, and he would presumably burn carbon as he applied them to his field.

Ultimately, a five-year soybean contract requires less effort from the farmer and less from the environment.

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