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Permaculture Vs. Monoculture the actual numbers

 
Stephen Maturin
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Howdy,

I've read a bit on the subject of permaculture, and I'm intrigued.

My understanding is that one of the basic claims of permaculture is: Superior yield/cost per acre, when compared to typical monoculture farming techniques over the long term. While I believe this premise to be true, available impirical data on the subject appears sparse.

Can anyone refer me to any permaculture studies that use something resembling scientific method?

Thanks in advance!




 
Marc Troyka
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Since 'permaculture' is a collection of techniques which may vary by the choices of the user, it's not really possible to compare 'permaculture' to traditional monocrop farming. However, you can compare monoculture or low-diversity situations to richer polycultures, for which a decent amount of research exists.

http://www.planta.cn/forum/files_planta/naeem_154.pdf
http://agroeco.org/doc/LApeasantdev.pdf
 
Tyler Ludens
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As M Troyka mentions, because permaculture is a design system and not a specific method of growing food, it is difficult to find research under the title "permaculture." Information can be found under subjects such as "polyculture" "managed rotational grazing" "alley cropping" etc.

 
J D Horn
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Other keyword searches could include "holistic management", "no-till" or "reduced till."

For the latter see:
http://www.vegetables.cornell.edu/reducedtillage/index.html

http://www.extension.org/pages/18526/what-is-organic-no-till-and-is-it-practical

http://vabf.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/reducedtillage_sm.pdf

youtube has a lot of video on dr. ron morse at virginia tech for reduced till application
 
Paul Cereghino
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I'd agree with some of the previous suggestions that Permaculture is a values-based design approach... a set of principles. so you are not studying a "permaculture farm", but making comparisons between agroecological systems that to a greater or lesser degree follow PC principles (or any other ecological design principles). Agroforestry research is where you'll find peer reviewed studies on polyculture vs. monoculture, and the efficiecies of intercropping... a good summary might be http://www.amazon.com/Agroforestry-Soil-Management-Anthony-Young/dp/0851991890 or http://www.amazon.com/Temperate-Agroforestry-Systems-Andrew-Gordon/dp/0851991475/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355544909&sr=1-1&keywords=temperate+agroforestry+systems -- and be ready to pay peer reviewed prices.

A central principle of Permaculture is that a viable system must store more energy than necessary for its construction, and so you start getting into ecological accounting and energetic analysis. On this front the foolishness of industrial agricultural systems is self-evident.. they deplete soil by burning fossil fuels. Don't need to look far for evidence.

If you are looking for human labor efficiency, rather than dollar per calorie, I have not see PC compete, because the dollar economy is so very good at externalizing costs. You just have to pick your units.

Consider The World Bank for example... http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/28/world-bank-pushes-to-include-ecology-in-accounting/

So ecosystem service markets are a tricky thing, but are growing rapidly, for example the EU has begun shifting its agricultural subsidy system from commodity supports to paying farmers for providing public services.

All these are examples of the world very slowly coming in line with what Permaculture was talking about thirty years ago.
 
Stephen Maturin
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Paul Cereghino wrote: If you are looking for human labor efficiency, rather than dollar per calorie, I have not see PC compete, because the dollar economy is so very good at externalizing costs. You just have to pick your units.


My Units would be: market value of yeild per acre. Initially I just want to know how the surpluses from a well managed PC system compares to a well managed corn plot (for example) given equivilant environmental and market conditions. My interests are in mechanization of management and production for complex ecological systems. In terms of labor efficiency I would agree that the current outlook is not encouraging. That is exactly what interests me about it. If the production _is_ actually higher, then I'd like to focus on making the methods cheaper. But I haven't seen anything that convinces me that the initial assumption is broadly true.



 
Tyler Ludens
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Masanobu Fukuoka sold his oranges for a lower cost than typical organic, because his inputs were low, and made a profit. So that may be one avenue to look into. You might want to contact Larry Korn to find out if any scientific studies were done on Fukuoka's farm. http://www.onestrawrevolution.net/One_Straw_Revolution/One-Straw_Revolution.html

Another is Biointensive farming, which is compatible with permaculture ethics. Ecology Action has done a lot of research over the past 30 years. Try contacting them. http://growbiointensive.org/

Another may be Joe Kovach's work on polycultures at Ohio University. http://pro.osumc.edu/profiles/kovach.49/

 
Milo Jones
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Here is one study that might be relevant:

Small Patches of Native Plants Help Boost Pollination Services in Large Farms
 
Paul Cereghino
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This reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote about knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

I'd suggest you at least consider cost of production, because if you are only thinking yield/unit area, you don't have an economic story.

And if you define cost, at least consider the potential for costs born by future generations or downstrem -- you can always increase profit on an annual basis by screwing someone else, or in the case of a Indiana corn grower I heard once, who lets the soil run into the river because if he planted a winter cover crop he would go bankrupt. The cost of his system is measurable in tons/acre of topsoil loss and acres of anaerobic estuary.

Then I'd look into the european agroforesty systems... row crops between fruit orchard, giving way to sheep grazing when the trees mature -- the 'temperate agroforestry' book I mentioned above has case studies and will launch you back to the primary literature, or at least give you the terms that will let you use Google scholar. I would personally describe the Permaculture Design community as generalist and values-driven, not very quantitative.
 
Bobby Eshleman
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Below is a financial and economic analysis of agroforestry case studies. I have only read the first case where shrubs for fodder inter-planted with pasture grass increased cow milk production. This increased financial yield $79-$125 USD per cow per year, after the first year, depending on whether the fodder was replacing purchased dairy supplement or is the first use of supplement. At 1.7 cows per family (the average for this region), the potential income benefit would be a 10% increase in total family income yearly.

The improved fallow case study, however, seemed to under perform. The preview doesn't show any studies beyond those two.

I'm sure the other case studies are interesting too.

http://books.google.com/books?id=Q7rGRgFV2zwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=ISBN:+1402024126&hl=en&sa=X&ei=La7OUOfKDInMigKT4YDoBg&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
 
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