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how and why large scale farmers can and should begin to make a shift

 
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I think it's because it's about large scale farmers. The only large scale farmer I know of that is planting trees is Mark Shepard, with his broad acre chestnut and hazelnut farm in progress in southwestern Wisconsin.
 
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Do these managed grazing systems produce anything besides beef? I know it's typical for large scale farmers to produce only one thing, so it's not unusual if they decide the one thing they can produce on the large tracts of land is beef. Certainly preferable to GM corn!

I'm probably being really annoying in this thread, but I am trying to think these concepts through, and look at both sides.

 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Do these managed grazing systems produce anything besides beef?

Yes, fruit trees olives small grains pecans chestnuts hazelnuts etc just to name a few.
 
Julia Winter
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I heard Greg Judy speak at PV1 about multi-species grazing, so I know he's doing some grazing of animals other than cattle, but I don't think he grows any grain at all. His farm isn't thousands of acres, though, and for a long time he owned no land at all. He almost went bankrupt, but learned how to improve land by managed grazing and then was able to graze cattle he didn't own on land he didn't own for a while, until he was back on his feet.

He now owns 250 acres, according to this article (which really focuses on him working with soil biology via compost tea application) and grazes his cattle on the land of multiple adjacent land owners, for a total of 1000 acres, 600 of which are pasture.

It seems like a lot of the land he uses/improves belongs to wealthy people who live elsewhere. They used to just have the fields hayed to make a little money, but Mr. Judy really makes the land beautiful and at least one landowner won't accept any "rent." Now he (the landowner) has a place to go riding with his family, to go fishing (in the new ponds) or camping.

Anyway, not annoying at all, Tyler. I do think that large scale animal farming is one way to make a change with just a change of practice, no particularly special equipment or crops required. I think what Mark Shepard is doing is even more revolutionary - he is talking about chestnuts replacing corn (they are similar in terms of macronutrients). The more we figure out how to use trees, the better!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Julia Winter wrote: The more we figure out how to use trees, the better!



I agree with this!

 
Tyler Ludens
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Scott Strough wrote:

Tyler Ludens wrote:Do these managed grazing systems produce anything besides beef?

Yes, fruit trees olives small grains pecans chestnuts hazelnuts etc just to name a few.



I'm confused. How do those plants survive amidst the tall prairie grasses and the trampling?

 
Julia Winter
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When I've seen combination silvopasture systems, the trees are protected from the large animals until they are big enough not to need it. Usually solar powered electric fencing is employed.
 
Tyler Ludens
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That seems really different from a prairie to me. Here in my region, which used to be prairie, many of the tree species are resistant to fire, because fire was part of the prairie. I wonder how these olive trees, etc, do with fires?

 
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Yes, Tyler.

I talked to a gentleman here in Michigan who is attempting to help landowners restore oak savannahs. These are very productive biomes. He recommended that the first step was to do a prescribed burn, which would clear out scrubby stuff and non-desirable tree species and the oaks, which are pretty much fire-proof, would survive and respond to the fire with stronger growth. He said that many native species seeds would germinate. I think the burning would be done every ten years or so after the oak savannah was established. Mark Shepard's system is designed in mimicry to the oak savannah, though I think he allows the use of animals to disrupt life cycles on his farm instead of strictly fire. Take a look at the Savannah Institute for a supportive group of people doing this work, or the Woody Perennial Polyculture research site for a formalized approach to his ideas.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks, Andrew!

 
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That is what we had here in New England.

The settlers (yes my family) showed up, cut what they considered an unending forest down and were shocked to find grass growing shoulder high in its place. Compared to Europe where they came from with its depleted soil...that was amazing. Yes there was lots of rocks, but the ground was fertile even if it was thin. In 1900 we hit our peak with about 90% of the land base being Agriculture and 10% being forest. But then people had moved out west, tractors took over instead of horses, and since these steel wheeled tractors with no posi-traction, or four wheel drive could not slog through the mud, only the best fields were taken. Add to that paper mills abounding everywhere and you had forest being more valuable then fields. Now the reverse is happening yet again. It is not because we have the best soil or the longest frost-free soils, but because we do not have to irrigate and now forest is one again being cleared back into fields. I have done so on my own farm, only 20 acres so far, but I have plans for that and more. Still I am not alone. With the paper mills closing, I have neighbors doing likewise.

That is just a time-line.

Is it good, is it bad? I really do not know. I still have 3 acres of forest to 1 acre I have in fields, and there are places my ancestors never cleared and those same places I will never clear because it just does not make sense to. But with a hungry world, honestly I am glad that Maine is starting to be the bread basket of New England again just as we were in the 1850's. But, and this is a huge BUT; we are comprised mostly of family farms.

I think what a lot of people miss however is the economy of scale. As much as we would all love to beat up on the big farmer, we cannot. A small farm may produce more food, but at what overall cost? My little 25 hp Kubota tractor might burn 7 gallons of diesel fuel on full throttle all day. Now a few year ago I plowed up a 2 acre field and it took me all day (7 gallons of fuel). On the big dairy farm of the families, fuel consumption for the 400 HP tractor is only 3/4 of a gallon per acre. That is economics of scale because its based on drawbar pull and tractive effort, something my little Kubota could never duplicate. Neither can my little Kubota compete with costs. Yes that Kubota can be bought for $10,000 while that 400 HP can be bought for $100,000, however it only cost $250 per hp to buy that big tractor, and $400 per horsepower to buy the Kubota.

What a lot of people do not realize is that we need all 3 types of farms; big, little and micro-farms.

 
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@Travis J."...with a hungry world, honestly I am glad that Maine is starting to be the bread basket of New England again just as we were in the 1850's."

My concern here would be that, based on my reading of the Wiki entry, some metric called the "combined statistical area" of the Boston metro area would constitute ~4 million mouths to feed.....that's Boston alone. Unless a good portion of that population has adopted permies ideologies and methods, I'm not sure how glad I would be of that trending need for Maine's ag products. And yes, I can appreciate economies of scale: Without diesel, it used human labor to build the pyramids; with diesel, we *have* big ag, but do we *want* big ag? Is all of the ***fine(?)*** food, art, medicine, Ivy league education, sports, architecture, and entertainment in Boston worth Maine's big ag?
...............................................................................................................................................................

"Who are the people of “our culture”?
It’s easy to pick out the people who belong to “our” culture. If you go somewhere—anywhere in the
world—where the food is under lock and key, you’ll know you’re among people of our culture. They
may differ wildly in relatively superficial matters—in the way they dress, in their marriage customs, in the
holidays they observe, and so on. But when it comes to the most fundamental thing of all, getting the food
they need to stay alive, they’re all alike. In these places, the food is all owned by someone, and if you
want some, you’ll have to buy it. This is expected in these places; the people of our culture know no
other way.

Making food a commodity to be owned was one of the great innovations of our culture. No other
culture in history has ever put food under lock and key—and putting it there is the cornerstone of our
economy, for if the food wasn’t under lock and key, who would work?" --Daniel Quinn, 'Beyond Civilization'.
 
Joseph Carlson
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A small farm may produce more food, but at what overall cost? My little 25 hp Kubota tractor might burn 7 gallons of diesel fuel on full throttle all day. Now a few year ago I plowed up a 2 acre field and it took me all day (7 gallons of fuel). On the big dairy farm of the families, fuel consumption for the 400 HP tractor is only 3/4 of a gallon per acre. That is economics of scale because its based on drawbar pull and tractive effort, something my little Kubota could never duplicate. Neither can my little Kubota compete with costs. Yes that Kubota can be bought for $10,000 while that 400 HP can be bought for $100,000, however it only cost $250 per hp to buy that big tractor, and $400 per horsepower to buy the Kubota.



You're right, small farms can not compete when it comes to economies of scale. However, they more than make up for what they lack, when they are designed properly, in efficiency gains elsewhere. For example, Let's pretend that the choice is between growing corn for cattle feed, and rotating cattle on pasture. Corn yields around 8,000 lbs/acre. Cattle converts it at an 8 to 1 ratio. ergo, 1,000 lbs of cow per acre. Incidentally, this is just about the same efficiency that I estimate Joel Salatin gets on his pasture based on his and his wife's acreage and cow/calf pair estimates. But look at what else Joel gets. He gets thousands of chickens, and hundreds of hogs, as well. Also look at what resource inputs have been eliminated - no tilling; no planting; no manufacturing, transportation, or spreading of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides; no spreading manure; no aerial sprays; little to no irrigation; no harvesting, transportation, drying, manufacture, or storage of grain feed; no antibiotic inputs. Look at the lack of negative externalities and increase in positive externalities - little to no erosion, no ranching of antibiotic resistant bacteria, increased carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, increased net primary productivity. The efficiency gained is not from the scale, because these practices are scale-neutral. The efficiency gained is from nature doing much of Joel's work for him. As for competing with costs, Gabe Brown keeps telling us in the above-referenced video "Keys to Building healthy soil" that he started signing the backs of checks instead of the fronts of checks when he switched to more sustainable methods. Joel Salatin comments that his industrial operation was failing before he switched to what he is doing. Perhaps nobody goes as deep into the money aspect as Joel, reference his books for more.

On the other hand, this is just for meat. For commodity grains, the only current economic model is "scale". I worry about future prices of oil whenever I observe the food system balanced upon grain, but for the moment it is inescapable, at least to me. There must be a thread around here somewhere about grain production. I wonder what Masanobu Fukuoka would say? On the other hand, I wonder if he is right, or wrong?

The low productivity of the land drives farmers to large-scale operations. Large
operations require mechanization with machinery of increasing size. This “big iron”
breaks down the structure of the soil, setting up a negative cycle. Agriculture that ignores
the forces of nature and relies solely on the human intellect and human effort is
unprofitable. It was inevitable that these crops, produced as they are with the help of
petroleum, would be transformed into a strategic commodity for securing cheap oil.
To get an idea of just how fragile commercial agriculture is with its large-scale,
subcontractor-type monoculture farming, just consider that U.S. farmers working 500 to
700 acres have smaller net incomes than Japanese farmers on 3 to 5 acres. ~ Masanobu Fukuoka, THE NATURAL WAY OF FARMING
The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy

 
Travis Johnson
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I am well aware of rotational and multi-species grazing, however this is New England and winter grazing does not work here. I rotationally graze, but at some point we do need to feed our dairy cows and sheep fodder for the winter. My sheep nutritionist recommends a two prong approach to nutrition; grass silage (or hay) for protein content, and corn silage for energy. In perfect conditions this is 60/40 percent respectively. (Obviously I have meat sheep otherwise I would not be so interested in protein content that makes the wool brittle for those that use their sheep for wool commodities).

Only a few years ago we were blown away by corn yields of 24 tons to the acre, but now in a good year we are approaching 48 tons to the acre, almost double! Here we do not do bushel calculations because we take the entire stalk since it is for fodder and not just the ear, and is a variety of corn as such. It really is nice because we can carry more animals since we are getting so much more per given acre that are dedicated to winter fodder and then grazing what we can. I say that because there is nothing simple about grazing. It takes a lot of management to pull it off.

Compared to a few years ago we are really doing well. We used to deep plow, harrow, spread manure, harrow again, plant, cultivate for weeds, side dress and then harvest. That is 8 operations all using diesel fuel. Now we spread manure, harrow, plant, side dress and harvest. Three less operations does not sound like much, BUT we eliminated cultivating for weeds and that is huge. It occurred at the worst time which was in July. Soil was bone dry and yet were were busting it wide open, subjecting good top soil to wind erosion, and when the rains came, to water erosion too, not to mention burning serious fuel doing it. The less you have to bust soil, the better, however we have high manganese soil here that is prone to compaction. A lot of farmers have tried no-till farming but with poor results. Its not bad looking corn the first year, but by the fourth year the plant densities are extremely low. But before everyone goes beating me up, you have to realize we are dairy/sheep farmers. We are spreading compost on our soil and not relying on synthetic fertilizers. Soil test reveal we are actually at the upper limits of organic matter...and yes there is such a thing as too much organic matter!

We really are doing well at this time. We are using computers to track everything, pushing grazing well into November and back out again in April. We are watching protein content and energy levels, monitoring the fermentation process in the bunkers and reducing fuel consumption wherever we can. We are not against no-tilling, we just cannot get the yields we can with tillage, but with anything, as technology improves, that too might change. Compared to the 1980's and early 1990's when we had to hang our heads in shame; it really is a good time to be a farmer.

 
Travis Johnson
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John Weiland wrote:Making food a commodity to be owned was one of the great innovations of our culture. No other
culture in history has ever put food under lock and key—and putting it there is the cornerstone of our
economy, for if the food wasn’t under lock and key, who would work?" --Daniel Quinn, 'Beyond Civilization'.



Well for starters the Mayans did back in 2000 BC or thereabouts. They were the ones that started cultivating corn, not to mention beans as well as squash and started the agricultural society that we know today, including cities of thousands of people. Without question they were a Agrarian Society, but they were hardly the first.

The very first society to literally put food under lock and key for the peoples own good was Egypt, but it was under the authority of a Hebrew, Joseph. In Genesis 41: 56 you can read about how the Pharoah made him 2nd in command and Joseph took 1/5ht of the bountiful harvest for 7 years and literally put them under lock and key knowing 7 years of famine was about to come. Little by little he let the food out so as to prevent starvation and this food was indeed paid for with money. Genesis 41: verses 56-57 "The famine was over all the face of the earth, and Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians. And the famine became severe in the land of Egypt. So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands."

Another example is Job widely regarded as one of the earliest books of the bible. The man is listed as having 7000 sheep, 3000 camel, 500 yoke of oxen and 500 donkeys. Obviously with so many animals he was not about to merely use them for his own use. He was a wealthy man because he sold them, even using the oxen for plowing when their demise came. Job 1: 9 "So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land." Let me ask you this, how could Job with so many animals increases his possessions without selling them? If you keep reading you see where "by the sword" his possessions were taken and his servants killed. That constitutes lock and key to me...

King Solomon was another man that kept food under lock and key and doled it out as his leisure to purchase the things he wanted, which at that time was in building the temple for God. Food was one of the things King Hiram asked for in exchange for lumber from his logging operations, an account so detailed it goes on to tell exactly how it was done, and how much he was to be paid for it all...in food, and not just once but for every year he logged for King Solomon. 1st Kings 5: 6-10 "Now therefore, command that they cut down cedars for me from Lebanon; and my servants will be with your servants, and I will pay you wages for your servants according to whatever you say. For you know there is none among us who has skill to cut timber like the Sidonians. So it was, when Hiram heard the words of Solomon, that he rejoiced greatly and said,Blessed be the Lord this day, for He has given David a wise son over this great people! Then Hiram sent to Solomon, saying:I have considered the message which you sent me, and I will do all you desire concerning the cedar and cypress logs. My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon to the sea; I will float them in rafts by sea to the place you indicate to me, and will have them broken apart there; then you can take them away. And you shall fulfill my desire by giving food for my household. Then Hiram gave Solomon cedar and cypress logs according to all his desire. And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand kors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty kors of pressed oil. Thus Solomon gave to Hiram year by year." The wonderful thing about this is that it not only presents a case for an agrarian society, it shows how stone cutters, loggers and cloth makers plied their trades internationally.

But if you wish to move out of the BC period and to more modern times we can look at the Aztecs. Like their Mayan counterparts 1300 years or so before them, they to had an agrarian society, yes raising corn, but also having vast marketplaces that Cortez wrote down as being visited by 60,000 visitors per day. They traded beans apparently with rabbit going for 30 beans and a turkey egg going for 3 beans. They also traded firewood, cloth and food to their neighbors expecting payments 4 times a year for it.

Finally there is the Great Potato Famine in Ireland where the Agrarian Society there failed because of oppression. With a tragic turn of events, the peasants of that day were forced into a mono culture where very few commodities were grown which produced not only a vast potato crop, but the Irish Lumper Potatoes which did not survive the potato blight so well. Thank God we live in a free society today where permiculturists can live however they feel, growing the crops they want any way they wish on land that they own. Myself I would LOVE to see a portion (at the very least) of public reserved land be dedicated to non traditional farming as a low cost way for various methods to be tried without the burden of overcoming mortgage payments. But we are free, we just forget that sometimes.
 
John Weiland
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@Travis J.: "Without question (the Mayans) were a Agrarian Society, but they were hardly the first. "

Good addition to the discussion and one which Quinn picks up in commentary on the civilizations of the Americas in the book. Too much to cut and paste from there, but fortunately the book is freely available as a PDF. I've not really warmed to Quinn's conclusion of an "occupational tribe", his example being how a circus is run, but his musings are interesting. I'm most taken by his question of "are civilizations as we currently envision them sustainable?" ..... or are they doomed to always be either expansionist or imploding?
The PDF copy does not have page numbers on the copy, but within the Acrobat Reader application, discussion on the Americas begins on page 18 with the title "New World Adopters of the Meme".

https://newsfromthefront.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/daniel-quinn-beyond-civilization.pdf
 
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Hi, Travis

at some point we do need to feed our dairy cows and sheep fodder for the winter.



One thing some southern farmers do is stockpile right on the land for winter grazing. I know Gabe Brown has done this as far north and cold as Bismarck, North Dakota. The idea is to grow stuff specifically for winter, and unleash the cows on that pasture when the time is right. It is possible. I can't comment on the viability of the practice in your region, or on the species recommended. The benefit is the ability to grow these things in polyculture, and that the cows harvest and manure the field for you, and trample stuff into mulch, but you still need to drill seed into it in the spring. This does cut down even more on inputs and passes using a tractor, and makes 'no-till' much easier, as the animals lay down mulch for you to keep seeds for germinating and soil temperatures stable, and polycultures outcompete undesirables.

48 tons of corn silage per acre is pretty amazing! That converts to a grain yield of what, 300 bushels/acre!? This is right up there with the highest records in North America (shattered this year with 503 Bu/Ac, but the next closest yields were hovering above 300) How do you manage nutrients with so much output? As a corollary, how much organic matter is too much on your farm?

Compared to a few years ago we are really doing well.



This is awesome! A reduction of three passes with a tractor actually does sound like a lot to me. Good work.

Perhaps my information above was outdated, from the 1980s and 1990s. It sounds like you are doing much more to keep from hanging your head in shame.
 
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Let me ask you this, how could Job with so many animals increases his possessions without selling them? If you keep reading you see where "by the sword" his possessions were taken and his servants killed. That constitutes lock and key to me...



I took the quote from Quinn much more broadly, to mean human culture post-agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago. This is an agrarian culture that replaced a hunter-gatherer culture. The Mayans, Egyptians, and Hebrews all were part of this new agrarian culture. You are correct, there. However, the point I think the author was trying to make is encapsulated most persuasively by Jared Diamond (Pulitzer Prize winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel);

From the progressivist perspective on which I was brought up, to ask "Why did almost all our hunter-gatherer ancestors adopt agriculture?" is silly. Of course they adopted it because agriculture is an efficient way to get more food for less work. Planted crops yield far more tons per acre than roots and berries. Just imagine a band of savages, exhausted from searching for nuts or chasing wild animals, suddenly grazing for the first time at a fruit-laden orchard or a pasture full of sheep. How many milliseconds do you think it would take them to appreciate the advantages of agriculture?

....

While the case for the progressivist view seems overwhelming, it's hard to prove. How do you show that the lives of people 10,000 years ago got better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results (surprisingly) failed to support the progressivist view. Here's one example of an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, "Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"

...

Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a theefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor. "Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was bout twenty-six years," says Armelagos, "but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability to survive."

...

Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing elite set itself above the disease-ridden masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean mummies from c. A. D. 1000, the elite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease.



http://discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race

The entire article is worth a read.

I had already read this article years ago when I read the quotation referenced above, so I naturally thought that the author was referencing Diamond's work, albeit obliquely.
 
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I'll just add a few more links which, along with Jared Diamond and Daniel Quinn, provide much fodder for the musings on these issues.

First, and more practical, is the example of Fred Kirschenmann, who I did not find mentioned in a search of this forum, but who similarly farms organically and biodynamically in North Dakota. Profiled here: https://afsic.nal.usda.gov/videos/histories/fred-kirschenmann
In a region much dominated by 'standard' mega-scale ag, he and Gabe Brown and others are bucking that trend.
(Good 15 min. TED talk with plug for permaculture around 11 min. in):
http://www.grassfednetwork.com/dr-fred-kirschenmann-on-sustainability-in-agriculture-july-2013/


Posted elsewhere was a reference to Paul Shepard's "Nature and Madness", where he examines the rise of domestication in a book dedicated to the question "Why do men persist in destroying their habitat?" If accessible, some pages of that book can be perused here:

https://books.google.com/books/about/Nature_and_Madness.html?id=PbKaweX7FhcC

One of the more intriguing treatments by Quinn in "Beyond Civilization" is around the question of why, in the wake of the decline of Native American civilizations, did that indigenous population tend (on and off) to reject civilization as a model, whereas for much of European, and Middle and Far Easter populations, the "meme" of civilization seemed unshakable? I see these questions as still adhering to the thread theme of "how and why large scale farmers can and should begin to make a shift", since it gets to the heart of why a population might need, or not need, large scale farmers in the first place.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Can't remember if I posted this link to a long talk by Toby Hemenway about the problems of agriculture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nLKHYHmPbo

And here is a series of essays discussing these ideas from the perspective of diminishing resources upon which our present culture depends: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/jason-godesky-thirty-theses
 
Travis Johnson
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Thank you Andrew we do try...like Gabe we do likewise, planting winter rye after the corn is planted. It really is a three fold reason:

1) It stabilizes the soil. This is our primary goal because we are talking ALL the stalk, not just the ear so there is no dispersed stalks upon the ground to stop erosion
2) It gives us some nitrogen fixation back into the soil (though not much because of its short life cycle)
3) It gives my sheep something to graze upon. However how well this works is specific to the weather. IF the boys chop the corn early enough, and the ground does not freeze until later causing the winter rye to go dormant, I can graze in the fall and thus extend my fall grazing season deeply. Since winter rye is already emerged and starts growing as soon as the ground thaws, we can get a jump on spring grazing too. If however the boys are late chopping corn and the ground freezes quickly, my sheep would rip the tender rooted winter rye out of the ground. I can still graze in the spring, but there are some costs here. Tillage and seed. In ideal conditions grazing winter rye (extending the grazing season) pays off, but its a razor thin fiscal line.

One of the reasons Gabe can winter graze however and we cannot is not the amount of snow, but the amount of land base that is in fields, and wind. I am sure we get about the same amounts of snow, but here a big field might be 30 acres. Gabe does not have that issue where he lives, so as the wind comes in it blows the snow off the fields and the cows can graze the frozen grass. Here the sheep would be hoofing through several feet of snow due to drifting, and while they could get to some snowless places, not much. The amount of calories (energy in animal terms) they would burn moving them constantly between fields with enough exposed ground would really be problematic when they are in their 3rd trimester. Honestly...and this is not excuses, it it just easier and less expensive to put up winter feed and ensure healthy lambs.

One of the innovative ways I try to farm is via computer record keeping. I TRACK EVERYTHING, but from that I can get some really good data. There is nothing simple about averages, but with them you can make predictions of what the future may bring. Our biggest fear is not having enough feed naturally, but I know 7 out of the last 8 winters ended on the second week of April. I make winter feed charts based on what my sheep nutritionist suggests they needs, and then feed to that calculating what I started with for winter feed, what I have consumed and what I am predicted to have in excess of. Lets say I get lots of grazing from winter rye, as the winter season progresses and I have extra hay on hand, I can sell that winter feed off only keeping what I need. This keeps me from having extra feed in the spring when EVERYONE is trying to sell their extra feed and at a time when no one needs it. (BTW: I do this with firewood too...track it and sell it off as it is not needed). In big business they call it "Lean Manufacturing" or "Just in Time Delivery", but it is the same concept; just applied to farming.

I have no idea what the conversion rate would be to bushels because there are so many variables. Dry down (percentage of water per ton), how low you drop the chopping head, travel speed, etc. The biggest issue is quality, and the last few years we have really done good when the dairy cow nutritionist said we would never get better feed then three years ago, then the following year had him eat crow when we produced even better silage than that. That being said however, all is not roses every year. We get bonuses for protein levels in milk and that comes from good grass silage, so we will stop planting corn and harvest the grass at its prime instead if we have to. We can then go back and plant shorter growing day corn to get the maturity, but it will be significantly less in tonnage per acre too.

Nutrient management is spelled out in the CNMP or Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan...EVERY farm has one, even my little ole sheep farm. Since this is New England and the ground does freeze which would cause run-off into brooks, streams and the like, the big dairy farm is contained in massive lagoons. My sheep farm has a manure pad since it is solid manure. In the Spring we bring in tanker trucks, pump the manure into trucks and spread the liquid on the grass ground. The solid manure that we have stockpiled on concrete pads, is spread upon the corn ground. You get better organic matter that way. It is really no different than what Gabe is doing except that we are trucking the manure and spreading it around instead of having the animals do so for themselves.

Why? Isn't this more expensive?

Vastly, but you have to remember this is New England where the land mass is only 10% fields and 90% forest. Gabe has all his livestock in one spot (or nearly so), we have 46 leased farms, the farthest 33 miles away. Plus you need to get all those dairy cows back to the milking parlor 3 times a day. So for dairy cows in New England we must truck manure, however how much is spread per acre is based on soil types, the crop being grown, topography, and manure content. All this is spelled out in a CNMP. We do exactly what Gabe does...move manure around at specified rates to ensure his soil is being nourished, we just do it mechanically.



 
Doody calls. I would really rather that it didn't. Comfort me wise and sterile tiny ad:
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