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Proposals for Large American farms  RSS feed

 
Landon Sunrich
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Location: Western Washington
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I was just thinking about large scale farming. Any glaring reasons something like this wouldn't work for a large farm?

1) Ripping in bands of activated wood char on contour. As I understand it biochar acts to add electrical charge to soil as well as doing a fairly good job of spunging up nutrients. I would imaging one could even alternate bands or sections of your favorite fertilizer and some new fangled perm-blend char activators in side by side comparisons. Do so at regular intervals say every 80 feet (or whatever makes since for scale). Trust that the water will carry the needed nutrients down hill. Occasionally say every 800 feet or so (again adjusting for scale) one could rip in a band of char and mushroom inoculated woodchips to add as a soil builder and mycillial filter. One could test the water quality both above and below it to insure it was getting results. In watersheds it may make sense to make these filter bands closer together on contour - like line coming close on a topography map.

2) Planting/ Leaving perennial bands every so often - say 100 foot wide perennial wild flowers or grasses again om contoured bands every 2000 feet or so. On these perennial bands one could try putting out bee hives or planting orchard trees to see if they may benefit your farm in the future. If not back to growing the wheat or corn.

3) Considering other ways to increase biological and overall efficiency

4) Ending CAFOs as an acceptable meat production method and greatly reducing the land used by the accompanying soy production

Okay, so this last one is more of a demand on my part than a proposal to any particular farm or farmer
 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Landon Sunrich wrote:I was just thinking about large scale farming. Any glaring reasons something like this wouldn't work for a large farm?


The way to find out is to do it and report back.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Sure, anyone out there want to give me 1000 acres of prime farm land, a tractor or two, and the funding to find out?

Otherwise I guess I'll leave it up to the professionals and hope someone out there thinks this is an idea worth jumping on
 
Walter Jeffries
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Landon Sunrich wrote:Sure, anyone out there want to give me 1000 acres of prime farm land, a tractor or two, and the funding to find out? Otherwise I guess I'll leave it up to the professionals and hope someone out there thinks this is an idea worth jumping on


That's the key. You have to make a proposal you believe in, raise the capital, take the risk and do it. That is what I did and am doing and it just happens to be on 1,000 acres and with two tractors - what a coincidence! Ours is not prime farm land but rather steep, sandy, stony, stumpy mountain land where I'm doing sustainable permaculture. I farm. Some of what you're proposing is what I've been doing for over 25 years. There are, of course, a lot of little details to making it work. You have to find what you're good at raising and what your markets will support as well as what works with your land and climate. It's an adventure.

I say go for it. I did. Just don't expect anyone to hand you a thousand acres of land and tractor or two.

Don't leave it up to the professionals. Become one. Prove your ideas.

Cheers,

-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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The Titanic was built by professionals. The Ark was built by an amateur with vision.

Don't leave it to the pros.

 
Eric Thompson
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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Good points Walter. And don't let ownership be a barrier to progress! I'm sure you could find plenty of places in your area where you could try this out if you don't have enough space. You could probably barter some land renovation for a few years of growing space too if you want to start some crops or nurse some trees..

Yup, yup - be the change you want to see...
 
Amy Woodhouse
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Location: NC, Zone 7
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Landon, we would enter into an agreement with someone to profit share on a couple acres of our 100 acres and I know there are others out there that would do the same near you. There are a tremendous amount of old farmers or people that inherit land that would jump at the chance to partner with someone that had a plan. There are people out there doing it no smarter or wealthy than you so go for it!
 
Paul Essenmacher
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Location: Midwest
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Amy Woodhouse wrote:Landon, we would enter into an agreement with someone to profit share on a couple acres of our 100 acres and I know there are others out there that would do the same near you. There are a tremendous amount of old farmers or people that inherit land that would jump at the chance to partner with someone that had a plan. There are people out there doing it no smarter or wealthy than you so go for it!


I have heard this several different times from various sources. The problem we have is finding these people. We have experience, we have a plan. The only thing we do not have is the funds to be able to purchase a large amount of land and we are committed to not going into debt to a banker.......I don't think they would give us a loan for what we want to do anyway. How do people like us go about finding people like this who will partner with us?
 
Eric Thompson
Posts: 376
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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Paul Essenmacher wrote:
Amy Woodhouse wrote:Landon, we would enter into an agreement with someone to profit share on a couple acres of our 100 acres and I know there are others out there that would do the same near you. There are a tremendous amount of old farmers or people that inherit land that would jump at the chance to partner with someone that had a plan. There are people out there doing it no smarter or wealthy than you so go for it!


I have heard this several different times from various sources. The problem we have is finding these people. We have experience, we have a plan. The only thing we do not have is the funds to be able to purchase a large amount of land and we are committed to not going into debt to a banker.......I don't think they would give us a loan for what we want to do anyway. How do people like us go about finding people like this who will partner with us?


Most people are pretty locked into a geographic area and type of land, so start with that and look for local opportunities. A lot of older farmers will not be advertising online, so you will need to visit them and start up a relationship. Also realize that these are big transactions that don't usually develop overnight -- it's often better to build a relationship up so expectations match. Leasing some land for a year is often a great way to do this (like engagement before marriage). Likewise something leading up to that may break the ice: repair someone's drainage culvert in exchange for using their dumptruck for a few weeks (like dating before engagement).
Start cultivating relationships with your immediate needs and be creative in trying to open up opportunities.
 
Joe DiMeglio
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Location: Tucson, AZ Zone 9A/9B
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Hey Landon,

Those are all great ideas and similar to ones I've thought about for broad scale applications. As I was thinking about these kinds of approaches, I started to get the thought in my mind "this just seems like way too much effort to do what mother nature does without so much effort." I started thinking about and researching easier ways to get the same results. Having taken geoff lawton's online PDC (my 2nd PDC) last year, I was also haunted by this thought of how to make it easier. Geoff creates amazing systems for sure but there is a lot of what I call "Heroic Effort" (and cost) involved - swales, dams, keyline plowing, raised beds, etc, etc. Well, dammit, I'm lazier than that! I want something easier. Doesn't everyone? I think humans, especially modern ones over think things a lot and thereby miss the simpler and easier answers.

What I found first in my research was Holistic Management, and then the big bombshell - Elaine Ingham's Soil Foodweb ideas. Pow! Bang! Ka-Boom! She blew me brain right out me bleedin' ears! I would suggest that you look at everything she has online and on youtube, starting with this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2H60ritjag called "the roots of your profits." She also has a free mini course on her site soilfoodweb.com as well as a full course that sounds like a seriously good deal. With what she's developed, it seems there is little need for bio-char, rip lines, swales, etc. Once the soil is restructured, water isn't a problem because the roots go down so far that water is always available and the soil life is so abundant that bio char becomes kind of obsolete. Check out this one on applying her techniques to broad areas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mErbalPxRxU

Holistic Management folks are now using her techniques along with HM and having stellar results. Greg Judy is one of them, so check out his videos on YT too, especially this one -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzqDX5k4Ixc In this video he talks about his system for leasing land and doing custom grazing for people. With his low inputs and high yields, he's making some serious dough. He sells a book on his site laying out the whole system he uses. Here;s the site: http://www.greenpasturesfarm.net/ You could also check out Mark Shepard's stuff. He calls his "system" STUN - Sheer, Total, Utter Neglect and gets great results. Tons of his lectures, etc on YT.

I'd be interested to know what you think after viewing this stuff. Even though you aren't doing grazing, the soil foodweb techniques and the leased land ideas both seem like they might be useful to you. You could just do custom growing instead of grazing. Land ownership isn't what it's cracked up to be, with property taxes and all the other crap you have to deal with. Seems like leasing is a great way to both start and continue to farm effectively.

Cheers!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Landon Sunrich wrote:I was just thinking about large scale farming. Any glaring reasons something like this wouldn't work for a large farm?

1) Ripping in bands of activated wood char on contour.


It's the externalities that challenge these types of projects... Which forest do we cut down in order to do this project on a large scale? Small scale growers can do anything they like without thinking about the sources of their inputs. Small growers don't have to consider how their inputs are mined, or transported. Both real and external costs are ignored.

When I start calculating the true costs of covering my farm with mulch, it would take something like half of the mulch produced by my county... Can you imagine the disruption? If one buyer took half of the compost in the county? Prices of compost would skyrocket.... I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't even be able to even source that much mulch due to my unwillingness to use sewer sludge or CAFO manure. The cost of the mulch is more than the price of irrigated farmland in my valley. So if I had $50,000 sitting around would I rather double my land-holdings or apply mulch to my current place. I'd go for more land of lower fertility every time, especially if it eliminated recurring yearly charges for buying mulch. That's not calculating the labor to install the mulch, which is about equal to the cost of the mulch itself. So I could triple my land-holdings, or I could apply mulch one year for the same cost...
 
Eric Thompson
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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Planting bands of trees produces bands of mulch. It all takes time - there is no instant pudding...
 
Dillon Nichols
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I agree with Joseph about the scaling issues for the more labor intensive options; for another example, I've seen a lot of permaculture people using cardboard as mulch/weed barrier. I do it too, works great. I get waste cardboard from furniture/appliance store occasionally, and hit up pretty much every feed store I pass, when I'm out for something else. But... even with small market/household sized gardens, cardboard runs out pretty quick. Trying to do this on a multi-acre scale wouldn't work at all the same way.

When you can add more land as cheaply as Joseph is describing... well, quantity has a quality all its own. And even with more expensive land, the costs are a major sticking point for idea 1.


Landon Sunrich wrote:2) Planting/ Leaving perennial bands every so often - say 100 foot wide perennial wild flowers or grasses again om contoured bands every 2000 feet or so. On these perennial bands one could try putting out bee hives or planting orchard trees to see if they may benefit your farm in the future. If not back to growing the wheat or corn.


This one though; this is basically hedgerows! I love hedgerows! Except in this case they aren't necessarily at the border of a field. Used to be normal in all sorts of places, before newer machines and competition brought in corner to corner cropping... Nothing lower-effort than just ignoring something. An interesting experiment would be some sort of 'hedgerow mix' to sow these areas with a diverse mix of desirable plants, from annuals to trees, and see what emerges... compare to a unseeded patch and determine if worthwhile...

If labour is available, there's nothing to stop these perennial bands being developed as linear food forests. Perhaps the large-scale landholder could rent out these strips to someone interested in developing a business involving such food forests?
 
Joe DiMeglio
Posts: 47
Location: Tucson, AZ Zone 9A/9B
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
When I start calculating the true costs of covering my farm with mulch, it would take something like half of the mulch produced by my county... "

Wow, that's quite a statement! It prompts two questions (hypothetical) for me: A- how big is your farm? and B- how small is your county? LOL

Kidding aside, why not grow your mulch in place? Chop it n drop it. Better yet, find a grazier who practices Holistic Management to lease parts of your land, and get paid to have them graze their herd which will greatly increase the fertility due to the hoof action, the manure, urine and animal detritus and allow the pasture plants to develop deep roots (fast nutrient pathways) in the soil while the microbes structure the soil. When they're done, you'll have very fertile fields that can be planted into with your choice of crops or trees which will use the root paths to reach down for water and nutrient as well as the organic matter and soil biology provided by the pasture plants' roots. Sow in leguminous cover crops and you'll keep the nutrient chuck wagon rolling. With holistic grazing, you only allow the animals to graze the top 1/3 of the plants before you move them. This does two things for the land: A- it allows the pasture to recover quickly and B - the animals trample and manure the other 2/3 of the plants which builds up as living mulch on the field. Typically you will mix grasses, forbs and legumes to accumulate nitrogen as your pasture mix. That is a dynamite mix for soil health when combined with the inputs from the animals. If you're interested, check out the videos I posted in my last comment on this thread. I sure like the idea of someone paying me to improve my land for me. Talk about stacking functions and obtaining a yield!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2611
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Tiny farm. Huge County. Barren desert.

Slash and drop, or slash and burn is the way that agriculture has been practiced for 10,000 years... It's how my family has farmed for as long as records exist. I find the modern practice of mulching to be incomprehensible... Because people pay to have someone take their wealth -- their feces, urine, food scraps, lawn clippings, pruning debris -- And then they pay to have someone bring it back to them. I don't allow organic matter to leave my farm unless I am paid retail prices for it.

This photo was taken at the end of the rainy season... It doesn't get any greener than this.


 
Joe DiMeglio
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
Tiny farm. Huge County. Barren desert.

Slash and drop, or slash and burn is the way that agriculture has been practiced for 10,000 years... It's how my family has farmed for as long as records exist. I find the modern practice of mulching to be incomprehensible... Because people pay to have someone take their wealth -- their feces, urine, food scraps, lawn clippings, pruning debris -- And then they pay to have someone bring it back to them. I don't allow organic matter to leave my farm unless I am paid retail prices for it.




Wow, that looks a whole lot like my hometown of Tucson, AZ. Is that creosote (greasewood) I see? The terrain around here looks a lot the same, but a tiny bit closer plant spacing and diversity. We have lots of creosote, burro brush, sheep daisies, short grasses, and scattered acacias, mesquites, palo verdes and cacti here. 12 inches of rain a year at about 2500 ft elevation, but being surrounded by mountains really helps the rainfall , water table and biodiversity compared to other parts of the state.

I totally get what you're saying about mulch. I've worked for landscaping companies here and it boggles my mind how people want to pay you to remove all the litter (to make it "pretty") and then pay you more to bring back the fertility in the form of mulch, manure and fertilizers. Poor sods don't even realize what's happening to them. I applaud you for not letting your fertility go off the land, I wish more folks had your good sense. Do you seed any extra plants such as cover crops to increase your biomass on the land? When I say chop n drop, I mean growing additional plants on the land and chopping them for mulch. In the past, people have just chopped down the native ecosystem and burned or dropped it and obviously, that's not been a boon to fertility. Also, if you haven't yet looked into it, I'd encourage you to check out some info on Holistic Management. The practice works extremely well at enriching barren land. They do it here in AZ and in New Mexico and Texas quite a lot now and the results have been amazing. They've even used it on mine tailings and completely revegetated them. Just search for it on Youtube and you'll get lots of hits.

Geoff Lawton tells a story about how in China, before and for quite a while after Westerners arrived, they had a booming, nationwide nightsoil (humanure) industry that provided all the nutrients they needed and then some. Communities would set up beautifully decorated outhouses on their main roads so people would deposit their nutrients and add to the local economy. America more than once bought whole ship loads (ahem) of nightsoil from China for our farms and they were happy to sell it to us at a good profit. We need to get our shit together and start doing this too. If only the know-nothing bureaucrats would get the hell out of the way... I've also heard that in the Middle East, to this day, if you take a meal with the Bedouin, it's considered extremely rude if you don't make a deposit while still on their land. It's considered as exporting fertility from the land that just fed you, in effect taking without giving back. Makes perfect sense to me.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2611
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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The ankle high shrubs in the photo are sagebrush. The trees, are mostly juniper with an occasional pinion pine in damper areas. The yellow flowers are 4 nerved daisies. Other plants are pediocactus, opuntia, biscuitroot, ephedra, balsamroot, ephemeral grasses and wildflowers. The ground is covered with lichens... Elevation 6000 feet.

I grow tremendous amounts of weeds on my farm.... legumes, and things with deep tap roots, and things that make lots of biomass, and bug feeders. I don't buy seeds for cover crops. My farm grows it's own cover crops, and has for 150 years. It would grow better if I seeded it with a crop of winter rye in the fall. That pretty much grows under the snow. I've been toying with the idea of inter-planting winter rye with my crops so that it will become weedy and self-seeding.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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