Hello my neighbor,
Which permacultural or agro-ecological crop farming methods scale well into 100+ acre farms?
Which of the industrial organic farming methods are least harmful ecologically or even beneficial?
[Asking for a friend...
That parts a joke. I'm interested reducing my position in my hilly, organic farm which burnt down and moving toward broad acre farming with as much permaculture as possible, anywhere. I intend to continue growing black oaks, a nettle-like plant, and whatever else is right.]
The problem with industrial organic farming methods is the industrial part. That part basically requires a monocrop, lots of the same stuff planted in the same way, in the same space, coming to maturity at the same time, all to be easily harvestable by machine and sold as a bulk food good.
What this does is put thousands of the same thing in the same place, taking the same specific minerals and nutrients out of the same place, which causes nutrient and mineral deficiencies, which require amendment.
Nature tries to fix this by putting other plants in the same place, to maybe grab minerals and nutrients from other parts of the soil strata, to be shared out by fungal and bacterial interactions. We see this as a problem for harvest, and so spray the hell out of everything. So instead of having healthy, living soil that works to distribute needed minerals and nutrients to the different plants that need them, we get a sterile outdoor potting mixture that we have to amend ourselves.
Now because there is so much of the same thing in one place, it's scent profile is very prominent, drawing all the kinds of pest that like to eat that thing. So instead of doing the smart thing and interplanting with plants that disrupt that scent profile, we spray the hell out of everything. So instead of having healthy pollinators and predatory insects eating the errant pest insect, there's a sterile petri dish that anything can come along and infect, requiring constant monitoring and more interventions.
We permaculturalists like polycultures, both on the small scale, as seen with square-foot gardening techniques and companion planting, or in intermixed market-garden-style block-plantings strategically placed so that they benefit one another, or in food forests, where every trophic level is filled. We also like multi-speciation, for flexibility and resilience in the face of uncertain climate and weather conditions.
One tool in the permacultural toolbox with much history in western Europe is the idea of livestock-tight living fencing, or hedgerows. These provide a barrier to dessicating winds, food and shelter for pollinators and predatory insect and bird species, and in some cases even a crop themselves.
If I were set on using existing equipment, I would see if it were possible to make crop alleys the width of that equipment, with food forest-type hedgerows on-contour in between these crop lanes. That way, not only could I still have crops, the texture of the land would increase water infiltration, reduce wind dessication, and would let me plant different crops in adjacent rows, to add to the scent profile distraction work of the hedgerows.
As to specific species, for a truly permacultural crop, I would look to something that is perennial, and if it can be harvested more than once a season, more the better. Perennial grain crops are the holy grail in that sphere, because one of the biggest problems with broad-acre conventional agriculture, including conventional organic broad-acre agriculture, is the fact that much of it requires fields to be tilled and disked into airborne powder like seven times a season. Not only does that tend to kill off the whole soil microbiome and anything worm-sized or bigger living in it, too, but it makes it really hard to retain precious topsoil if you lose a bunch of it every time you sneeze, let alone if the wind picks up.
It depends largely on what you want to do. But you can't go wrong if you're choosing minimal till except for establishment, and no-till for maintenance, perennials and self-seeding annuals over crops that need to be seeded annually, if you utilise land-shaping methods to increase rain water infiltration, reduce dessication, and if you mulch to keep the soil living.
But spitball for us. Give us some idea of what kind of thing you're looking to do with your land. There's almost always a permacultural approach that can be looked into. It's easier for us to offer helpful advice if we're tweaking ideas you're already trying to implement.
Great question, though. One of the best for the advancement of permaculture. Keep us posted, and good luck!
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
Your going to want a multi faceted operation. Im not sure of your terrain, soils or climate, since this all maters for best application. But as the previous person mentioned, earthworks for water retention will be great for that purpose if you have the budget to implement that first; however, a multifaceted operation can be done without that aspect if you have enough precipitation, water and conventional irrigation to meet the needs of that operation, untill earthworks can be afforded.
You'll want orchards, perennial bushes, like berries, perennial gardens, like herbs, and market beds if possible. You'll also want to incorporate animals like chickens, cows, and maybe sheep if possible. So that means pastures for rotational grazing, and making hay if possible.
If there are particular fruit bearing trees, known to perform well in that area, without additional imputs or diseases/pest problems, those are a good option, and the same with every other bush or plant used in your plan, right down to choice of feild grazing plantings.
This of course requires more planning then just the basic idea layed out hear, but if you have more information on your situation/location, like terrain, climatet, soils and region. I could try to help come up with a plan, and plan of action in implementation that fits your circumstances.
Criss Kott and R. Steel requested more info on my farm and plans -
My intention is to move away from my CA land as soon as possible* and grow a very large permaculture crop/ecosystem somewhere else. Maine, Wisconsin, Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Kansas, Most (but not all) other states, Canada, Mexico and potentially other continents are all possible.
I want to recharge ground water a lot. I love native flowers and grasses so I sow/mulch as many as I can afford each year. I love acorns and love fatty foods. . I dislike sugar. I love bees and the medical uses of honey. I love eggs and fish while question their ethics as food. I like many traditional native californian land management practices. I love seaweed and everything from the ocean. I love swimming in rivers.
So it could be on contour row systems something like which from the side are roughly: tree, crop, tire track, native flowers, tire track, crop, swale hedge, tree, crop - repeating?
My next farm will almost certainly have a censored, non-psychotropic, medicinal cash crop similar to nettle included. Please don't directly name, debate or analyze that crop here.
*: I want to move because my region burnt in about 10 firestorms at midnight Oct 9th, 2017. I don't like being at my farm anymore.