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I visited an Agricultural Research Station recently

 
steward
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I went on a tour of an agricultural research station recently and was smacked over the head with how far we have to go.  It's a vegetable research station that focuses a lot on green beans, sweet corn and potatoes.  

The first stop on the tour was their demonstration garden.  It consisted of 1/2 acre of perennials, annual flowers, garden veggies and some arbors and pretty bits.  The flowers looked fine and the veggies were surviving but not thriving.  There were thousands of flowers and I saw one cabbage moth and no other pollinators.  The 20,000 acres nearest to this station are generally conventionally farmed.

The second part was a tour of the field plots.  It was quite informative to see the many cultivars and tests they were running.  Some were disease plots where they had been planting potatoes for 20+ years without crop rotation.  They were doing hail tests on beans by defoliating the plants by 1/3, 2/3rds, and 3/3rds (by hand) to see the impact depending on when during the season it happens.  Of the hundreds of acres they had in test plots, 17 were organic.  I asked why so few and they said there wasn't much interest.

He discussed green bean farming (for the canning industry).  Apparently the farmers are told when to plant and the canning company agronomists come to inspect and schedule the harvest.  If the beans are not equally ripe across the field, they don't harvest, pay the farmer a fraction and she tills the crop in.  There's some disease they are trying to overcome that causes the beans to get a little spot and they curve at that spot.  If the beans have that issue (they're still edible), they till in the crop.

The third part was a tour of the potato storage test facility.  They've determined that potatoes can be stored 18' deep.  So the test chambers are 18' high.  A new variety could be the best potato in the world but if it bruises at 17' deep, it doesn't pass.  They've found that if they cool the potatoes to 38 degrees at 0.1 degree every 4 hours, they last the longest.  They measure the sugars in the potatoes to know when they are reaching the end of their storage life.  Every two weeks into the end of their life, the resulting potato chips become darker (bad) so you have to use them or dump em.  They have accelerated aging chambers to measure how bruised the spuds are when they arrive from the farm.  That's to cover their butts if the crop rots in storage.  Dropping a potato from more than a foot causes more bruising so their equipment is pretty fancy to baby the flood of potatoes.  Stored potatoes are tougher than fresh ones so the tater tot factories have to change out their peeling blades when they go from stored to fresh potatoes.  So the inventory of stored potatoes is managed to coincide with the factory's equipment settings.  Storage is mainly needed to meter out the supply of potatoes to the throughput capacity of the potato chip and tater tot factories.  All this complexity (and likely 20x more) to get the perfect potato chip or hash brown patty to your fast food or grocery store.  My farmer uncle told me that when the tater tots come off the cooking line, if they have a whisker of burnt potato sticking off the end of the tater tot, they cull them.  He got a semi load of these tots for free.  His cattle loved them.

The last depressing bit was a stack of books that they had at the main office entitled "Commercial Vegetable Production in Wisconsin".  It's published by the University of WI.  They were happy to give them away so I grabbed one to see if I could learn something about different veggies in my climate.  Each page consisted of three columns of text or a page of charts.  Here's the gist of it:
Beans - 1 column on spacing and density per acre, 1 column on timing and irrigation considerations, 1 column on lime and fertilizer info (that's all one page), followed by 4 pages of charts about diseases and which products to apply, followed by 9 pages of insects and which insecticides to apply, followed by 4 pages of weeds and which herbicides to apply.  So 1 page of cultivation and 17 pages of toxins
Cole crops - 1 page of cultivation and 14 pages of toxins
Horseradish - 1/2 page of cultivation and 4 pages of toxins
Sweet corn was the worst - 1.5 pages of cultivation and 33 pages of toxins.

Seeing the scale of the research and the equipment is sobering.  It takes a lot of food to supply our current system.  Permaculture can do it way better.  How to get from point A to point B when they're so damn far apart.

Sorry for the depressing rant.  
 
master pollinator
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I find solace in the idea that most people aren't farmers, so most people might be open to the concepts of permaculture applied to their own lives.
 
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Mike, I think it's important to do just what you've done occasionally...it helps to understand where conventional farmers are coming from and what they are being sold, both in the consumer sense and philosophically....thanks for sharing what you learned.

Back when I was weaving a lot I would pick up mainstream farm magazines to try to get a grip on what pesticides were on the cotton I was using.  

I couldn't help but read the whole magazine, ads and all, just to be more aware of what was happening outside of my organic world.  

The line I was most struck by was "first kill everything" in reference to planting some particular crop...and then, all of the herbicide/pesticide ads used war terminology.

So glad to be here at permies where there are reasonable folk
 
Mike Jay
steward
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I roll with the punches pretty easily so I won't be despondent over this.  But I figured sharing the depth of the status quo could be helpful to others.  I sure wish they were spending all that money on permaculture research and implementation
 
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