For next week, I signed up to be in a small group setting with Gabe Brown and will have the opportunity to ask at least a couple questions and hopefully many questions. Does anyone have any burning questions that they would ask him if they could? I'll do my best to get as many in as I can as long as they seem appropriate to me and maybe even if they don't. I'd love to act as a permies ambassador if that's okay.
It's next wednesday Feb. 18th 2015 so get them in soon!
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
What is his biggest obstacle when it comes to convincing conventional ag farmers to switch to more 'unconventional' eco-practices as he is doing?
Very short answer from Gabe: "The farm program" he called it "antagonistic" towards what he sees as progress and good practices.
I can try to expand on what I think he meant by this knowing that Gabe doesn't use the federal crop insurance program or other USDA aid. For one, crop insurance places restrictions on the use of cover crops so that inter-seeding is, to the best of my knowledge, prohibited. There are many additional restrictions too, some depending on geographical region. Also any type of subsidy undermines the function of the market and potentially discourages farmers from taking advantage of free natural services to enhance soil health.
When I asked Gabe what he believes is his own personal greatest strength as a farmer he responded that it was that he didn't grow up on a farm and therefore is much more open-minded than the typical farmer. (My own thoughts starting here) Again back to the corn/soybean-centric farm bill, it does nothing to help shift the paradigm and look for a better model.
On a side note, I've found a silver-lining to the farm bill thanks to the hard work of a few individuals who I believe include Mark Shepard. The conservation stewardship program includes funding for activities that read like they were written by a permaculturist and I'll be using this funding to establish an acre of edible woody perennials in 2016, there will be a thread on this!
S Haze wrote:On a side note, I've found a silver-lining to the farm bill thanks to the hard work of a few individuals who I believe include Mark Shepard. The conservation stewardship program includes funding for activities that read like they were written by a permaculturist and I'll be using this funding to establish an acre of edible woody perennials in 2016, there will be a thread on this!
Really a topic for a different day but I can share a bit more right now.
My day job is on a conventional corn and soybean farm "Haase Family Farms" and we've enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program. It basically gives us money to with the requirement of choosing and implementing certain changes on the farm that address resource concerns. I admit most of the "enhancements" as they call them don't provide much ecological bang for the buck in my opinion but some of them as previously mentioned read like they were written by one of us, terms like "alley cropping" "silvopasture" and "diverse planting of edible woody perennials". When I met Mark Shepard at the NAPC last summer and I mentioned this if my memory is correct he replied "you're welcome"
Anyway... I'm willing to use my entire portion of the payment from this program to invest in one of the enhancements we signed up for which is to plant a one acre "buffer" along the north edge of a field about 5 miles from my place to edible perennials and multi-use support species. I'm very excited about this project and will have lots to share in the future. It's going into the ground spring of 2016.
If you're interested in CSP talk to your county NRCS agent, I'm not sure what the requirements are. For the application your farm will be evaluated by their criteria and assigned points. I don't understand everything about it only what is required by me and my farming partners.
One thing that Gabe Brown really tried to emphasize is this: "Carbon drives farm profit."
He repeated this every time he spoke at the conference. Here are a few figures I copied down;
Each 1% of soil organic matter can be equivalent to over $500 per acre if you tried to make up the difference with purchased fertilizer (it was significantly over $500, I didn't catch the exact amount)
Each 1% of soil organic matter (SOM) has the ability to hold 25,000 gallons of water per acre
2/3rds of SOM is derived from plant roots instead of the above ground growth
By following the principles of soil health and using tools including ultra-high stock density grazing it's possible to build over 1% SOM per year
To illustrate the last point it was reported that on Gabe's ranch they brought one area tested from 3% SOM to 11% SOM in I believe he said 6 years!
Stay tuned for more info from my notes including some more specific and practical steps and methods we can all put to use!
Here's a really cool online tool I learned about at the conference. The picture is the older "legacy" version, a little quicker and easier to use. I also tried out the updated version, with much more info taken into account. In the beginning of the process you enter your top three resource concerns or goals for you cover crop mix. Almost every speaker at the conference and countless articles I've read emphasize that you need to state what you're hoping to accomplish in order to put together an effective mix. Most mixes used as examples at the conference contained at least 10-12 species and represented each of the 4 categories of cool and warm season grasses and broad leafs.
If you play around with these calculators pay attention to the carbon : nitrogen ratio. 24:1 is supposedly ideal, Gabe Brown looks for higher since his extremely active soil biology quickly consumes the residue or "armor of the soil". Another key figure is % rate so you know dense your planting will potentially be.
At the conference between speakers and at mealtimes they set up presenters at tables to answer questions and have discussions with the attendees. The executive director of the Sustainable Farming Association John Mesko gives the introduction to this podcast. I found it interesting that he used to work for Dow Agri-Science and then began changing course after a family member developed food allergies.