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Alternative to Growing Hay

 
gardener
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Location: Northern Italy
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Hello,
What would you say to a client who has recently rented 10 acres of land, cannot farm (needs to cost/profit share with a nearby farmer) and whose default answer is to put the land into hay production?

In the long term, 3-5 years, the land will be inserted into a larger project where much more interesting things can be done, but for now the renter needs a solution that can
-manage the whole 10 acres with little costs
-grow something that isn't permanent or that can be removed/sold later.
-cover the yearly costs of the rent.
-do something "interesting" with the land that might turn a profit.

Quite a restrictive situation, I agree. Should be fun to come up with a solution.
William

 
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Location: Western North Carolina, Zone 6b
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What about wheat or another grain? Locally grown grains are very popular in my area, and sell well at farmer's markets.
 
William James
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Hi Sam,
Thanks. Actually I would prefer that the client get someone to grow hay on the field rather than any cereals.
Your post is making me focus the question much better!

Hay is actually okay as a crop. At least it's perennial and the person farming it here would be dumping manure on the land. I could think of worse situations. I'm not sure how much or if they spray here for hay. Let's say if something is going to get spared the spray, I imagine it would be hay.

Traditional grains are popular here as well, but there are logistic problems in grinding/storing it on the scale he'd be growing it.

Here's the thing: I have tons of wonderful ideas but I'm trying to find one that a conventional farmer might be comfortable with.
Soybeans, buckwheat if grown organically would at least set the stage for better soil in the long run. In theory a conventional farmer could do it. That's kind of what I mean by "more interesting than hay".

William



 
pollinator
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Why not plant an interesting forage crop and sell seed. Then at least the biomass will not be removed from the property.

I recently bought sainfoin and the price of seed was pretty steep for it. I've bought a lot of cover crop seeds. Many people do in permaculture. Getting into selling them would probably be fairly easy. Lots of small timers doing it where I am.
 
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Is the farmer chosen? What equipment is available? Is it fenced, can there be a livestock option?

Haying it and concentrating on planting edible/timber windbreaks could work. Tell the farmer that windbreaks cut winter feed costs by 15% (that's a USDA number from their silvopasture research) for animals pastured on the land. So long as the farmer doesn't plow/harvest the edges...that gets some trees 3-5 ahead of the big plan.

Nothing wrong with a good mixed hay with loads of nitrogen fixing plants in the field for a couple years.
 
William James
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Hi Ann. thanks. Here are some responses:

-Is the farmer chosen?
The farmer will be chosen, so at least that gives the client a margin of control over what happens to the land. I'm trying to get him to leverage that control into a crop (even hay) that could cover its costs and pay for the rent (10 acres = 1000 euros/year). The rent for my client might be free, but there could be grass-cutting duties on 5 acres next to the land which is a cost.

-What equipment is available?
At least a tractor. I am hoping to get them to rip on contour.

-Is it fenced, can there be a livestock option?
Not fenced, livestock is probably not an option, since I don't think we can find the person to do that.

-Haying it and concentrating on planting edible/timber windbreaks could work.
Yeah. Maybe marking out contour, getting some good and cheap edible/n-fixing windbrakes installed might work well with hay.

-Nothing wrong with a good mixed hay with loads of nitrogen fixing plants in the field for a couple years.
Buckwheat might also be an option. We know of a company who can tranform it into flour and sell it for us. But it has to be organic for that, which would be a good first step.

William
 
pollinator
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Why did the farmer rent the land in the first place?
 
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I like to grow vicia cracca in the hay to boost protine and N.
 
William James
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Cj Verde wrote:Why did the farmer rent the land in the first place?



My client is not a farmer, just an entitiy that is renting the land. Eventually this land will be put into a bigger project with 10 more acres that they do own and all of the land will be parcelled out for small, permie-ish businesses and social projects. Their mandate is to facilitate new initiatives in cooperative agriculture in the area, so all the land jockeying in the end is to fufill this function.
William
 
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I highly recommend a permaculture style tomato baron/pastured poultry approach. Revenue of around $100,000+/year on that 10 acres...conservative.

Make your rows 4 feet wide with 8 feet between the rows left in sod. Make chicken tractors 10 feet long X 8 feet wide to pull between the rows on that sod. Move daily. Rows should be 350 feet long with a landing area wide enough to get a tractor/farm truck in to load either chickens or tomatoes.

To prepare the ground for tomatoes.
Mow to 4 inches. 5 days later mow the 4 feet wide strips flush to the ground.
Unroll a commercial roll of paper that is 4 feet wide. I use recycled bogus paper. You may also use cardboard rolls, they give better weed control but cost more.
Unroll a giant round bale of hay as you unroll the paper, to keep it from blowing away and to provide mulch.
Every 2 feet staggered 2 rows per 4 foot strip use a sod plugger or long handled bulb planter to remove the sod and make holes for the tomato transplants.
Use determinate seedlings from 72 cell standard flats. Drop them in one per hole. Heirlooms get a better price than hybrids, if you can find a local fresh market for them.
Fill around them with a compost soil mix. Water.
After they are settled in go back and interplant companion plants like basil and marigolds every so often. A few sunflowers here and there are also very helpful.
You are done with these until harvest.

To prepare the chicken tractors.
Make arrangements for feeders and waterers. Raise the day old chicks for 1-2 weeks in a brooder.
Use a fast growing meat bird like cornish cross. If you use a somewhat slower growing bird like freedom rangers or French Label Rouge Free Range, adjust row length above to 600 feet.
Approximately 50 birds +/- per chicken tractor.
Move chicken tractor daily 10 feet.
By the time the birds get to the landing area they are ready to butcher.

Maintenance
Mow between rows to keep grass approx 4-8 inches.
Watch for tomato hornworms, use Bt or braconid wasp if necessary.
If you chose cornish cross, then the chickens should be out of the field a couple weeks before the first tomatoes are ripe. Avoiding manure cross contamination.
Each mowing event doubles as weed control and fertilization from the grass roots.
No need to remove all "weeds" and grass from mulched areas. There should be minimal weed pressure anyway. some grass needs to return to reestablish the sod for next season. But occasional tall weeding can be done on plants too large easily with a long handled dandelion tool.

On 10 acres you should be conservatively able to make $12,000 dollars net profit after all expenses on 5000 chickens and also around $100,000 on 40,000 tomato plants. But keep in mind those numbers are extremely conservative. With proper marketing and a good crop year, you could double or triple that at least. For example: I know of people making 4,000 and acre, ie $40,000 dollars on the chickens but that's direct marketing them as organic pastured birds for 20 dollars a piece. Don't expect that demand automatically. You might only get 1/2 that or even less if you haven't found a demand first. Tomatoes are similar. You can pretty easily get 3 dollars a pound for organic heirlooms direct marketed. But as little as 50 cents a pound for typical grocery store tomatoes. 10 acres grows a lot of tomatoes. Make sure you can sell them BEFORE you plant. If you can get a good crop AND direct market them at 3 dollars a pound.........staggering potential income.


After the crop and all the birds are finished for the year, mow everything down. Then use a no till planter to sow a cool season cover crop blend into the 4 foot rows to start you off for the following year. Each year shift your crop rows over 4 feet.

PS: That's all US markets. I don't know what it would be in Italy.
 
Cj Sloane
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William James wrote:

Cj Verde wrote:Why did the farmer rent the land in the first place?



My client is not a farmer, just an entitiy that is renting the land. Eventually this land will be put into a bigger project with 10 more acres that they do own and all of the land will be parcelled out for small, permie-ish businesses and social projects. Their mandate is to facilitate new initiatives in cooperative agriculture in the area, so all the land jockeying in the end is to fufill this function.
William



If the crop isn't regenerative then you're better off mowing/brush hogging once a year it till the land is parceled out. I'm thinking of when Bill Mollison first bought Tagari he mowed the grass for the first few years and drove the cattle people around him nuts who couldn't understand why he he wouldn't let them graze on that land. They said he was "wasting" that grass but by keeping the animals off and mowing it he was priming it for optimal fertility/soil structure when he was ready to plant out.

This would make sense if the "entity" owned the land but it's obviously a hard sell for a renter. There is some permaculture saying about only taking a yield off your land that can walk or fly, otherwise you're exporting fertility.
 
William James
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Cj Verde wrote:There is some permaculture saying about only taking a yield off your land that can walk or fly, otherwise you're exporting fertility.



Is that because the energy transactions in animals amount to them giving more than they take?

Nobody pastures cows or other animals here. and I mean nobody. There are cows, pigs, poultry, just no pastured animals. Maybe there's too many roads or too many thieves or that's just the recent tradition.
William
 
Scott Strough
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Location: Oklahoma
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William James wrote:

Cj Verde wrote:There is some permaculture saying about only taking a yield off your land that can walk or fly, otherwise you're exporting fertility.



Is that because the energy transactions in animals amount to them giving more than they take?

Nobody pastures cows or other animals here. and I mean nobody. There are cows, pigs, poultry, just no pastured animals. Maybe there's too many roads or too many thieves or that's just the recent tradition.
William

It is because animals are an important part of the nutrient, carbon and water cycles. The amount that remains in their bodies when they are slaughtered is a tiny % of what they cycled. Insignificant really. More important is the nutrients they cycled while alive, which then feed the soil food web which cycles them even many times more. The net is positive instead of negative if managed properly. For example: decaying manure produces methane among other things. If that manure is scratched into the soil by chickens, or dug into the soil by worms, dung beetles and other insects, or a little of all the above, the methane produced feeds a type of micro-organism called a Methanotroph. Methanotrophs in aerobic soils are nitrogen fixers similar the the rhizobia bacteria symbiotic to legumes, but they are free living and don't require legumes, they do however explode in population in the presence of manure. Nitrogen is the key component of proteins (added to carbs). So even though taking animals off some land removes nitrogen because they are high protein (nitrogen), the methanotrophs increasing from the manure fix more nitrogen than is lost. You get a net gain, which then makes plants grow even better. A similar thing goes for carbon, except instead of methanotrophs, plants fix carbon through photosynthesis, then feed the micro-organisms in the root zone through exudates. Grazing causes a flush of even more exudates than ungrazed. So again, grazed properly there is a net gain. You can go right down the list and find that animal impact is critical in all the carbon, water, nutrient cycles of every functioning healthy terrestrial ecosystem on the planet. That's why you get a net gain in fertility. Sir Albert Howard, the father of organic farming, was one of the first to notice this counterintuitive emergent property in our agricultural systems.

“As the small trickle of results grows into an avalanche — as is now happening overseas — it will soon be realized that the animal is our farming partner and no practice and no knowledge which ignores this fact will contribute anything to human welfare or indeed will have any chance either of usefulness or of survival.” Sir Albert Howard

If you just pull hay off, then none of those nutrients cycle on premises. That means you will steadily loose fertility unless you add outside fertilizer inputs (usually expensive) every year.

If nobody pastures animals in your region, then there is your chance to find exactly the niche to make a whole lot of money at the same time regenerating the land with permaculture. I mentioned broiler chickens above, but you could substitute a few laying hens as well. Because especially in pastured eggs, the differences in quality are quite stunning! You don't even have to test for vitamins, they are so full of vitamins you can easily see taste and smell the difference instantly. Also if there are a few laying hens left in the landing areas while the main production of tomatoes is still high, then culls (wormy or damaged tomatoes) can be immediately fed to the hens. I would suggest electronet fencing for them. So you can move them and let them roam for bugs, but still prevent them from eating the tomatoes.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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William James wrote:
Nobody pastures cows or other animals here. and I mean nobody. There are cows, pigs, poultry, just no pastured animals. Maybe there's too many roads or too many thieves or that's just the recent tradition.
William



Is the land in Italy? I hadn't looked at your location. This could make a difference in the best crop/or animal.
 
William James
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Cj Verde wrote:

Is the land in Italy? I hadn't looked at your location. This could make a difference in the best crop/or animal.



Yup. Northern Italy, right before the alps, but we get no runoff because a river separates us from the mountains.
W
 
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Grow hay and lease out grazing rights to a nearby livestock farmer? cut the cost lower if they drive the cattle or w/e in, then just rotationally graze and charge for the amount of forage you are producing, give a discount because they saved you on the harvesting.

Thanks, Chimm
 
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