Peter Ellis wrote:So, maybe this is worth thinking about - How many farmers are needed to feed the world with industrial agriculture, versus how many farmers are needed to feed the world with permaculture? Measured in terms of individual productivity, industrial agriculture blows permaculture out of the water...Permaculture works against economies of scale, i.e. it is not more efficient to have a one thousand acre food forest than to have a one hundred acre food forest. Permaculture is largely incompatible with mechanization (Mark Shepard has some arguments here, but I think my point is valid). Permaculture uses more human labor and less machinery, so no one farmer running his combine over thousands of acres of wheat or corn.
But, is it a particularly good thing to employ fewer people? We have some pretty large scale unemployment. Maybe smaller farms that are more productive per acre and more profitable per acre and provide more people with gainful employment would be a good thing? Say you took a cureent thirty thousand acre spread and broke it into sixty five hundred acre permaculture operations. Many more people would need to be employed working on these farms, but the collective production would likely surpass the production of the single industrial agriculture operation.
If we had a shortage of manpower, the issue of productivity measured in man hours could be a legitimate concern. We might not have the resources to produce enough food. I think that we do not have that shortage, but that we are coming up on a point where the fossil fuel that has allowed us to leverage our manpower tremendously will become the limiting factor on the industrial agriculture approach. In other words, we are approaching a point where we will no longer have the option of industrial agriculture due to a shortage of petroleum.
John Wolfram wrote:
I'm going to disagree with the notion that there is a surplus of workers willing and able to do the labor needed to harvest broad acre permaculture food forest type systems. While there are many people unemployed, they are often unwilling or unable to do the difficult manual labor needed. In the US, in order to alleviate the worker shortage we have set up an array of guest worker programs. Back in 2010 (when the economy wasn't exactly good), the united farm workers had a "Take Our Jobs" campaign where they tried to get US citizens to take the jobs of migrant farm workers. Out of thousands of people responding to their campaign, only a few dozen actually followed through.
The right question is what does your Dad want for his children and his grand children and his great grand children for generations to come? Just ask him. A Joel Salatin/Gabe Brown business model will eventually produce 5000-8000 dollars profit an acre. On 30,000 acres, that's enough revenue to support MANY MANY families...ie many generations of your Dad's family! Each generation inheriting a better farm than the last as each generation improves the soil. Each year requiring less and less inputs until you hit that magic point when you have no more inputs at all....and instead get more and more yields.
Cassie Langstraat wrote:My dad is currently running 1,500 pregnant heifers on his land right now. They will calve in the spring. That will be around 3,000 cattle. He owns around 30,000 acres of land. He farmed about 500 acres of corn this summer, complete with tons of chemicals and fertilizers... He also used to do much larger acre wheat farming too. He truly believes that millions of people would starve without people like him providing these massive numbers of beef and big crops to the world.
He's not denying that permaculture could be more profitable or produce more on a smaller scale. He is just saying that there is no way we can eliminate Big Ag and feed the billions of people on the earth. I am not saying I believe him, I am just saying I have been listening to him talk about this for the two weeks I've been home and it's frustrating because I don't really know what to say back to him.
So several of you have said that I asked the wrong question, and that this debate is the wrong one.. So what is the right question? What is the right debate in this sense?
John Wolfram wrote:My top pick would probably be the 2,500 acre White Oak Pastures in Georgia (Interview). Somewhere in the interview, the guy gives a great response to the "can't feed the world" argument where he basically states that as long as land is the limiting factor, conventional ag produces more, but once something else becomes limiting factor then a permaculture style system produces more.
Andrew Mateskon wrote: I wonder if conventional ag actually does produce more, though.