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Is it possible to successfully manage a large farm without using any pesticides?

 
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Is it done by anyone anywhere successfully and consistently?
 
gardener
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Absolutely and was done by every large farm for thousands of years until a hundred years ago.

If you want a great example of a modern farm, check out Mark Shepard the permaculture farmer and author of ‘Restoration Agriculture. His book is fascinating, not only did he turn a profit but he saved his farm from bankruptcy.

There is a book review here on permies

There’s a bit more about him here https://permies.com/wiki/mark-shepard

In fact there’s a whole section on permaculture artisans with lots of great examples in Artisans section
 
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here is a get together where people doing it are teaching others how.

https://homesteadersofamerica.com/2021-conference-tickets/
 
master gardener
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I think Greg Judy is doing it also. I think he picks for sale stuff that's good, then relies on animals to use the stuff that's not so nice for their food.

However, the people I have read doing it, are growing as a polyculture, rather than a monoculture. That can be as simple on a large farm as doing a "combine width" of one crop, followed by a combine width of a different crop and after several widths, a width left as a polyculture of insect supporting plants. Pesticides kill the predators as well as the targeted pest. and the predators are slower to recover, so the problem gets worse in a negative spiral. We've developed an "insects are bad" mentality that is hurting the whole planet.

Here organic farmers also choose the plants based on the time of year. For example, I know I get those yucky grey aphids invading my kale and cabbage around mid-Sept. My chickens don't mind them, so they get extra Kale picked for them at this time of year. Similarly, there's a local who grows turnips but doesn't start them until mid- July to avoid a pest problem.

Edward Norton wrote:

Absolutely and was done by every large farm for thousands of years until a hundred years ago.

I think the definition of "large" has changed over time, and the size of mono-cultures has increased and the genetic diversity within a single crop has reduced. When everyone saved their own seed, there was more diversity. Then someone thought we should "improve" crops on a larger scale than individuals sharing good seeds with their neighbors.
 
Edward Norton
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Jay Angler wrote:

Edward Norton wrote:

Absolutely and was done by every large farm for thousands of years until a hundred years ago.

I think the definition of "large" has changed over time, and the size of mono-cultures has increased and the genetic diversity within a single crop has reduced. When everyone saved their own seed, there was more diversity. Then someone thought we should "improve" crops on a larger scale than individuals sharing good seeds with their neighbors.



Totally agree and the definition of farm has changed as well. Farms in France before the revolution were large but with the redistribution of land afterwards, that all changed. Even today there are 20 times more farms in France than the UK with only twice the area. My opening sentence was a reminder that what we do now isn’t the way we’ve always done things and farming evolves and will have to go through another massive revolution in the next 10 to 20 years when significant areas of soil dirt have eroded.
 
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I'm going to be contrary and say no.

Now to explain, yes of course you can grow vegetables with pests, but you will not get the perfect specimens the consumer, i.e us demands. You will never get perfect plants with just natures balance, that's not how it works. to have enough predators you must also have enough prey, and their food, the vegetables will get holes in.  You will also get years where you have total crop loss as predator and prey go in cycles again that is how nature works. I cannot grow cabbage here without either pesticide or netting. they are eaten down to literal stumps by the cabbage white caterpillars, which are brightly coloured black and yellow telling everything STAY AWAY, they are not eaten by any predator.  Now  in a home garden 70-80% even 100% loss may be acceptable, but they are not on a commercial scale, a single crop loss can mean one loses the entire farm, there is no money in vegetable production and anything that makes it less profitable such as to high wastage makes it untenable.

For those who think balance and mixed planting will work, go out to the wildest piece of land you can find and randomly pick an area, how many plants there do not have holes in the leaves? or fungus or any other sickness? Very few, they will all be suffering from something, but "nature" doesn't care as those plants will still manage to make seeds and so will still do their job.

I have a massive problem with the so called rock star farmers who turn profits on different production methods. How many of them do NOT use free labour or make a large amount of their income on courses and books? A organic farm here with around 20 acres of mixed veg and potatoes (they do use pesticides and tractors) has 10 workers, 5 of those are free or reduced rate, payed for by the taxpayer, yes they make money.. but if they had to actually pay all their labour costs like most farms do, well they would be deep in the red.
 
pollinator
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Pesticides have been around for a lot longer than 100 years. In Mesopotamia sulfur was used, by time of Christopher Columbus that had list had expanded to things like arsenic and mercury, and nicitinoids were being used before the United States was even a country.
 
steward
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Skandi Rogers wrote: You will never get perfect plants with just natures balance, that's not how it works. to have enough predators you must also have enough prey, and their food, the vegetables will get holes in.  You will also get years where you have total crop loss...



I'd like to offer different sentiments. I have grown near perfect plants and harvested blemish free produce from my garden without using pesticides, not even the organic kind. Do I use sprays? Yes I do, biodynamic sprays. They are composted/fermented cow manure for example. I do biodynamics in my garden and while I currently do not make my own biodynamic preparations, I purchase them. Important for me to add here is not every plant in my garden is pest free or yields blemish free produce, and I do have some struggles, but I believe I can get there in a year or three as I'm only into my 2nd full season of gardening on my new farm, and building healthy soil is a slow process. There are large biodynamic farms in existence that produce beautiful produce without chemical or organic label pesticides, or even herbicides for that matter. One example is the barefoot farmer (1) here in Tennessee where I live. While to my knowledge he is not Demeter certified biodynamic, I have seen him on public television years ago explaining how he uses biodynamic preparations on his farm.

I 100% believe in my heart that biodynamics is the way of farming that will come to dominate sustainable agriculture across the Earth by the end of the decade. It works, and it's growing rapidly. I see biodynamics coupled with permaculture as where humanity is heading as I believe they go hand in hand. It's already happening now and it is picking up steam.

More information:

https://www.biodynamics.com
https://www.demeter.net
https://www.demeter-usa.org


(1) http://barefootfarmer.com
 
steward & bricolagier
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I merged your stuff with the following thread. I hope that is okay by you.
 
R. Beaty
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It seems that no matter what, pests are a problem that must be dealt with swiftly and consistently if a farm will be profitable. Can a farm be profitable without using pesticides?
 
Edward Norton
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Of course! What were humans doing for thousands of years before pesticides were a thing?

If you want a great example of a modern farm, check out Mark Shepard the permaculture farmer and author of ‘Restoration Agriculture. His book is fascinating, not only did he turn a profit but he saved his farm from bankruptcy.

There is a book review here on permies

There’s a bit more about him here https://permies.com/wiki/mark-shepard

In fact there’s a whole section on permaculture artisans with lots of great examples in Artisans section
 
master steward
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Edward has offered some great information.

Here are a couple of books about market gardening that you might find interesting:

https://permies.com/wiki/62851/Permaculture-Market-Garden-Zach-Loeks

https://permies.com/wiki/49213/Market-Gardener-Jean-Martin-Fortier
 
bruce Fine
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yes, yes, yes
one small farmer that teaches people how is Joe Salatin
https://homesteadersofamerica.com/joel-salatin/
 
pollinator
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You could turn your ugly produce into value added goods: jam/dried fruit/dried herbs/dried vegetables/pie/juice/health elixir.

You could have your critters process your produce: honey from bee, milk/meat/fiber from cow, eggs/meat from chicken.

If you want to simple sell produce without any processing, then you can sell them before they get attacked as micro-greens, baby-cabbage or something.
You can also select cultivars that does well in your climate/soil, if they are healthy they will be attacked less.
You can also create your own landrace/cultivars that does well in you local soil/climate/etc, by saving the seeds of the plants that did the best to replant and repeating that process every year.

In a similar vein you can plant species that doesn't get attacked by pest in your area. You could take that to another level and mostly grow unusual/traditional produce, you might be able to charge a premium, dandelion greens are really expensive in my area.

Lastly there are integrated pest management techniques available, let me know if you have every heard about them.

But if by produce you mean, soy/wheat/rice. They you will most likely not be able to make a profit even with the use of pesticides/herbicides/artificial fertilizer, due to economies of scale
 
Anne Miller
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These threads might offer some suggestions:

https://permies.com/t/21994/money-permaculture

https://permies.com/t/2764/farm-income-strategy

One of our members had a successful market garden, here are some of her threads that might be helpful:

https://permies.com/t/62783/permaculture-market-garden

https://permies.com/t/160/56720/permaculture-projects/garden-fence-finally-finished-rainbows#525445

 
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I think one thing to keep in mind is the social structures that were in place during the times of "traditional" agriculture before large-scale use of pesticides.  Agriculture is labor intensive and long dependent on unpaid or forced labor.  Maybe this was the farmers kids who spent their days in the fields, not in school. Maybe this was laborers indentured to landowners through serfdom, debt peonage, sharecropping, or outright slavery.

If only consumers were willing to pay the true cost of production and also accept imperfect produce.
 
pollinator
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My best answer here is that it "can" be profitable, but it's a bit of a moving target.  Depending on the demand and pricing of organic versus 'traditional' production of crops, the higher income derived from the method of production can out way both yield losses due to pests plus lost sales due to inferior quality.  But public interest in certain foods can be fickle either spiking or tanking prices with the producer left to the the whims of the market and with insufficient income protection (often in the form of crop insurance).  Additionally, with the what counts as 'organic' in the USA, some pretty large operations can arise taking temporary advantage of that labeling, putting downward pressure on the price of that crop and consequent loss of income.  

As for large farms, I think some in North Dakota (Fred Kirschenmann and others?) succeeded at least for a while, even with a big crop like wheat although it may have caught a high price on account of being organic.   But additionally, 'profitability' gets a bit difficult to measure depending on the real or perceived needs of the farm as a whole.
 
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john kempf head of  AEA, has a consulting firm, which has 5 million acres of farm land in the u.s. (and rising) where food is  grown  without bugs and diseases.  Also the growing costs are significantly less than commercial ag and the yields signficantly improved, so they can earn the money from their farming to pay the consultant.   they  are a front  runner in regenerative agriculture.  the theory behind what they do is that when all the needs of the plants are met  bugs and disease are rare. some one has observed that when you look in nature many of the plants seem to have holes etc.  this could be caused by all the toxins being used in the air.      when we add what we think the plants need is is a) expensive and b) does not meet the plants needs.  the microbes woring with the plants know what "their" plants need.

you can google regenerative ag and find lots of good stuff about this.  some basics are a)no till  b) no bare ground, 3) significant diversity (like 20 different plants together), d) high microbial activity,  including animals in the systems.

very important is that when you add too much off site materials, you actually lose microbial input.  

one thing i really like about regenerative agriculture  is that when these methods are used CO2 is taken out of the air and turned into carbon in the ground.  this of course is the #1 job of plants.   food grown in this way feeds our microbiome which means that most of our diseases chronic and acute will disappear,   (just lke with the plants).  we need for this to happen on a large percentage of our farm land for these benefits to .occur.

i was traveling around various places in the world to demonstrate these methods.  i am getting too old to travel comfortably and would love to work with a group of people helping farmers to convert to these methods.  if any of you know of anything like this please tell me.  many thanks.

i was up visiting a group which trains and supports homeless folks in getting jobs in the system.  i got the idea to have a CCC group again where we repair our watersheds which will stop of the fires, and work to convert farms to regenerative agriculture.
 
pollinator
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John Wolfram wrote:Pesticides have been around for a lot longer than 100 years. In Mesopotamia sulfur was used, by time of Christopher Columbus that had list had expanded to things like arsenic and mercury, and nicitinoids were being used before the United States was even a country.




Nicitinoids? I could not find a definition for it. Did you mean neonicotinoids? But those in use today were developed in the 80-90s by Bayer and Shell. You made me curious however about agriculture from a long time ago and what they used to get rid of pests, indeed, as soon as you grow food, pests will come to try and get it, so it is not surprising that people have always tried to grow a better crop. Here is what I found out. It is pretty interesting.
https://permatreat.com/a-history-of-pest-management-the-ancient-sumerians-to-the-victorian-era-2500-bc-to1901/
 
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we're in the tropics. bought a farm with rubberplantation. in between trees grows a grass called "ya-khar" (thai word). Everyone else kills this grass with chemicals as it grows fast, competes with roots of the trees. Observation about learns that the grass does not grow much once the canopy of these rubber trees close. So we are cutting the grass every time before setting seed (a fight in the rainy season!) with tractor/mower combi or, when the ground becomes too soft with much rain, with a brush-cutter.The cut grass is also food for the trees. It works, although a bit slower than the chemicals, but it is doable...

biggest problem is not the method, it is convincing the locals that another option (without chemicals/pesticides) also works
 
John Wolfram
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:

John Wolfram wrote:Pesticides have been around for a lot longer than 100 years. In Mesopotamia sulfur was used, by time of Christopher Columbus that had list had expanded to things like arsenic and mercury, and nicitinoids were being used before the United States was even a country.


Nicitinoids? I could not find a definition for it. Did you mean neonicotinoids? But those in use today were developed in the 80-90s by Bayer and Shell. You made me curious however about agriculture from a long time ago and what they used to get rid of pests, indeed, as soon as you grow food, pests will come to try and get it, so it is not surprising that people have always tried to grow a better crop. Here is what I found out. It is pretty interesting.https://permatreat.com/a-history-of-pest-management-the-ancient-sumerians-to-the-victorian-era-2500-bc-to1901/


I probably should have just said nicotine which has been in use since at least the early 1700s as a pesticide.
 
pollinator
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Skandi Rogers wrote:I'm going to be contrary and say no.

Now to explain, yes of course you can grow vegetables with pests, but you will not get the perfect specimens the consumer, i.e us demands. You will never get perfect plants with just natures balance, that's not how it works. to have enough predators you must also have enough prey, and their food, the vegetables will get holes in.  You will also get years where you have total crop loss as predator and prey go in cycles again that is how nature works. I cannot grow cabbage here without either pesticide or netting. they are eaten down to literal stumps by the cabbage white caterpillars, which are brightly coloured black and yellow telling everything STAY AWAY, they are not eaten by any predator.  Now  in a home garden 70-80% even 100% loss may be acceptable, but they are not on a commercial scale, a single crop loss can mean one loses the entire farm, there is no money in vegetable production and anything that makes it less profitable such as to high wastage makes it untenable.

For those who think balance and mixed planting will work, go out to the wildest piece of land you can find and randomly pick an area, how many plants there do not have holes in the leaves? or fungus or any other sickness? Very few, they will all be suffering from something, but "nature" doesn't care as those plants will still manage to make seeds and so will still do their job.

I have a massive problem with the so called rock star farmers who turn profits on different production methods. How many of them do NOT use free labour or make a large amount of their income on courses and books? A organic farm here with around 20 acres of mixed veg and potatoes (they do use pesticides and tractors) has 10 workers, 5 of those are free or reduced rate, payed for by the taxpayer, yes they make money.. but if they had to actually pay all their labour costs like most farms do, well they would be deep in the red.



It is fair to bring up subsidized labor, but if doing so it is only fair to consider the immense subsidies for pesticide use. Add in legal protection/immunity for the harm it does to workers, neighbors, the water table, and ecosystems. For industrial chem-ag, a large part of the harms caused are externalized to taxpayers and future residents of depleted ecosystems with polluted air and water. If chem-ag actually paid for the harm caused and it’s remediation, that would put them deeply in the red. That’s why the industry has captured and shaped legal and policy structures.
 
pollinator
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I want to avoid the "can it be done?" theoretical question of possibilities and practical techniques, and stare straight into the heart of R.'s original posted question:

R. Beaty wrote:Is it done by anyone anywhere successfully and consistently?



I want to analyze that question.  But to avoid burying the lede:

1. I think we all *desperately* wish the answer to be a laundry list of global replies of...

"Yes!  It's amazing!  _large farm name here_ has been doing pesticide-free growing in my own region now for _X_ years!"

2.  But it is telling, however, that in a few weeks time, our hive community has only offered a half dozen or so answers including large farm names plus locations.

3. This question seems ripe for a "perennial discussion" wiki table *filled* with dozens of successful pesticide-free farms.  We need to know and cherish our community's success stories.

Either the farms exist, or they don't.  If the farms are successful and consistent in their success, they'll have been around for a while, and will be easy to add to such a laundry list.  And my hope is that one day we can grow and communicate and organize well enough to each confidently rattle off a big ol' list of large permaculture farms (and demonstration sites) in our respective regions.

Aspects of your original question:
1) Is it a pesticide free farm?  
    Q: Does this exclude National Organic Program approved pesticides?
    A: Dunno, but my assumption is yes, organic pesticides applied to edible portions of the growies/fodder/pasture are excluded.

2) Is it a large farm?
    Q: What constitutes large?  +10, +20, +50, +100 acres of production or more?  
    A: My assumption is...+20 acres production.

3) Who is doing it?

4) Where is it being done?

5) Is it "successful"?
    Q: What constitutes successful?  
    A: My assumption: Would be operating in the black based off production alone, even when absent "knowledge" & "experience" from education or tours or books as products, and absent federal subsidies.

6) Has it been going on "consistently"?
   Q: What constitutes consistent?  Currently in use as a farm for +5 years, +10 years, +20 years?  
   A: My assumption: +10 years.

So in my opinion, the perfect answer would be a simple table:

Pesticide free large farms.
Farm name; Farm size; Farm location; Years in existence

But it makes me sad that I can only think of maybe one in my region.
 
S Bengi
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A one or two acre market garden making $120,000 is just as relevant as a 20acre farm. And maybe even more relevant than a 2,000 acre corn farm.
 
George Yacus
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S Bengi wrote:A one or two acre market garden making $120,000 is just as relevant as a 20acre farm. And maybe even more relevant than a 2,000 acre corn farm.



Perhaps.  I think it all depends on what someone chooses as the metrics for success:

-Financial
-Environmental
-Emotional / happiness
-Community employment
-Customers served
-Caloric production
-Nutrient density

...to name a few.  And the forum name  "Large farm" is of course mighty relative.  Large compared to... ?

So a two acre permaculture farm making $120k could be more financially, emotionally, nutritionally, and environmentally successful than a 2000 acre corn farm.  

But if someone instead defines success by calories, or the number of people fed...that 2 acre farm just lost relevance to the monoculture.  

I also wonder, regarding environmental relevance, thinking about a comparison of plusses and minuses, and their magnitudes:

How many acres of permaculture farms are needed to offset the ickiness of one "conventional" farm in all its chemical glory?  Suddenly that 2 acre farm is a drop in the bucket compared to the 2000 acre monstrosity that keeps society chugging away.

This isn't me disrespecting the small farm, but rather emphasizing  the critical need to celebrate and replicate any successful "large" permaculture farms out there.
 
Skandi Rogers
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Large is a very difficult concept, a business is judged (here) on the number of employees it has, my my parents in law are a medium farm. as they have over 10 workers. I as a single player am a small business. but a huge 1000hectare farm might only have 5 employees and use huge tractors and sprays instead of labour. So number of employees doesn't work as a metric.

Land is again problematical, intensive vegetable production uses a lot more labour and resources for 1 acre than 10000 acres of upland sheep grazing. And since I actually run in the black with my 1/2 acre garden I make more income than the majority of farms in the country, so income is also a poor indicator.

Turnover might be the best way to separate sizes, that or the weight or number of "portions" of product sold.


Having thought a bit more about the question then yes it is possible to grow without pesticides, but only certain crops, grains crops don't get sprayed neither do rape, potatoes or maize. So a huge cereal farm would (here) run just fine without pesticide.
 
Jay Angler
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I was at a conference a few years ago, but remember the high points of some research done in California that a speaker reported on. They convinced some strawberry farmers to put back a version of a "hedge row" at the edges of their fields to provide habitat for predator bugs and native pollinators. They were not only able to prove benefit to the farms in better production and fewer chemical inputs, apparently, they were able to demonstrate how far into the field those benefits went, and therefore the best width of berry fields for this approach.

Personally, they'd have done better yet with at least a multi-row system where other crops were interspersed, but big ag doesn't think that way - yet.
 
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