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Thoughts on transition in the commercial orchard industry

 
Jesse Grimes
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Location: Orange County, CA
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Hi Stefan, thank you so much for your work in spreading the ideas of permaculture to the world at large. I spent much of this spring bicycle touring through the central valley of California, pedaling past miles and miles of identical rows of almond and pecan trees. I had a lot of time to contemplate solutions to this obvious problem and I am curious to hear your thoughts.

The general theme is, of course, ruler straight lines of trees with either bare plowed dirt or a small amount of grass in between. There is plentiful space underneath the trees to grow other crops, and it would seem that the orchardists would be utilizing this space to produce a second income stream, but in my entire journey I only came across one orchard that had hay growing between the young trees. This was the only example of polyculture I witnessed in the valley. As a permaculturalist, I have plenty of ideas about how all this space could be used to produce more food/income, add fertility to the soil, solve the problem of migratory bee-keeping, ect., but I wonder why these concepts are non-existent in the world of commercial food production. What are your thoughts on this?

My thoughts are that the core of the problem is that of cooperation vs. competition. In the farmers' minds, different species in the natural world are locked in a war over resources. To them, a crop growing in the empty spaces between the trees would be stealing water and nutrients from the trees, and neither crop would do as well. In permaculture, we know that the natural world operates on competition, and that the right plants together will result in better yields for both crops, but why is this idea so foreign to an industry that in the business of better yields? How do we convince these farmers who have been operating on the competition model for so long that the better way to go is cooperation? I feel that if they could be convinced to at least grow a legume cover crop in between the trees, the doors would be opened to more complex polyculture.

I am curious to know if you started out as a traditional orchardist using conventional methods and then discovered permaculture, or did you discover permaculture first and then decide to become an orchardist?
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
permaculture orchardist
Posts: 118
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Jesse Grimes wrote:Hi Stefan, thank you so much for your work in spreading the ideas of permaculture to the world at large. I spent much of this spring bicycle touring through the central valley of California, pedaling past miles and miles of identical rows of almond and pecan trees. I had a lot of time to contemplate solutions to this obvious problem and I am curious to hear your thoughts.

The general theme is, of course, ruler straight lines of trees with either bare plowed dirt or a small amount of grass in between. There is plentiful space underneath the trees to grow other crops, and it would seem that the orchardists would be utilizing this space to produce a second income stream, but in my entire journey I only came across one orchard that had hay growing between the young trees. This was the only example of polyculture I witnessed in the valley. As a permaculturalist, I have plenty of ideas about how all this space could be used to produce more food/income, add fertility to the soil, solve the problem of migratory bee-keeping, ect., but I wonder why these concepts are non-existent in the world of commercial food production. What are your thoughts on this?

My thoughts are that the core of the problem is that of cooperation vs. competition. In the farmers' minds, different species in the natural world are locked in a war over resources. To them, a crop growing in the empty spaces between the trees would be stealing water and nutrients from the trees, and neither crop would do as well. In permaculture, we know that the natural world operates on competition, and that the right plants together will result in better yields for both crops, but why is this idea so foreign to an industry that in the business of better yields? How do we convince these farmers who have been operating on the competition model for so long that the better way to go is cooperation? I feel that if they could be convinced to at least grow a legume cover crop in between the trees, the doors would be opened to more complex polyculture.

I am curious to know if you started out as a traditional orchardist using conventional methods and then discovered permaculture, or did you discover permaculture first and then decide to become an orchardist?

Ah Jesse your thinking and musings are correct. Keep those thoughts pure and unadulterated.
California is a balloon waiting to pop. It is so far from regenerative that it needs to pop to find a proper balance again.
Yes their limiting factor is water but more so monocultural notions in their heads. 2 crops producing at 70% capacity of yield gives a TOTAL yield of 140% to the space. 3 at 60% gives 180% and so on and so on. They only focus on 1 giving 100% and then POP. The balloon bursts and they have ZERO.
Your reasonings are right but as some wise person noted "Common sense is not so common anymore".
I bought a conventional orchard, never farmed conventionally. Went into an organic transition right away (3years) then certified organic.
I understood permaculture before I ever heard of it. I have a similar background to bill (wildlife biologist then Landscape Architecture for Design). I just 'discovered' permaculture then one day found the book. That was it. Someone had written the ideas down. Bam I was sold, finally someone had put it all into a easy to read book (Designer Manual - yes it was easy to read since I had a solid background).
After I 'discovered' permaculture I was faced with what to do with this organic orchard that didn't work as an ecosystem. So we started a 6,000 tree nursery and began to rip out trees.
Keep up the great thinking but match it with great DOING. There is no failure only feedback.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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