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Permaculture is Working!!! Here is some proof.  RSS feed

 
Donald Kenning
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Location: Tri-Cities, Washington
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Permaculture is working. There I said it. But few people can say it and present evidence to show that it is in the U.S.

I was working on analyzing different sectors of the stock market and I came across something interesting. I looked at a sub-sector in the Chemicals sector named "Fertilizers and Agricultural Chemicals". Now, since I will not invest in those companies, I was going to ignore them. But I looked anyway and I found something interesting. It looked like for the last 5 years a lot of money has been leaving this area of the market. I made a table of the top dozen companies (US and foreign) in this sections and analysed.

See Figure 1

This shows that over the last 5 years roughly $230 to $250 billion dollars have been invested into these 12 companies. Today there is only $140 billion
dollars invested into these companies. A loss of investment dollars of around $100 billion (about 44%). And, all of them are upside down. In other words, the companies are "valued" at about $175 billion dollars (added together) but with a market capitalization of $140 billion, there is at least $35 billion lower in investment than people betting on "value". That tells me that most investors realize that these companies are toxic from an environmental point of view as well as an investment point of view. I think people are realizing farmers are putting less and less pesticides and fertilizers onto their farms.

So, what I see is farmers (and big ag) are getting the message and reducing and eliminating their use of inorganic inputs to their farms. Yea!!! So people like Paul Wheaton, geoff lawton, Joel Salitin, Dr. Ingham, Dr. Clapperton, Ray Archeleto, Ron Finley, Diego, justin rhodes, Curtis Stone and a bunch of others are winning over farmers and ranchers across this nation about Permaculture, No-Till farming, biointensive farming, paddock shift livestock and so on.


However, the only company of the "dirty dozen" companies that is actually gaining ground is Scotts Miracle-Gro (SMG).

See Figure 2.

These people focus on residential chemical destruction. They sell Miracle-Gro, the Ortho products, Scotts turf builder, Round Up and other stuff that people use on their lawns and gardens.


Unfortunately, with more people doing the (sub)urban farming, they are not getting the message that should be there for them. That message includes not applying chemicals to your property. If you have seen the ads for Scotts they are making it very easy to buy into programs that that help tell them when to do things including when to apply the chemicals. They even have an app that gives alarms when you need to spray bugs. You program in your location and it looks at local weather and can tell you how to plant, mow, prune and stuff. The app is called GRO and you can go to www.getgro.com to find it. I only bring that up because I think there could be a Permaculture app or something to help tell people things to help them find alternatives to putting chemicals on everything and killing the soil food web. This could quite possibly bring permaculture into the mainstream (along with the playing cards).

See Figure 3 for example graphs of Monsanto, Potash Corp of Saskatcewan, Mosaic Co and FMC.

So, there you have it. Solid evidence that investors are leaving the Ag chemical arena. Maybe they see the writing on the wall (that these companies are not long for this world).

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Figure 1 (Table of Dirty Dozen)
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Figure 2 (5 year Chart of SMG)
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Figure 3. (5 year chart of 4 other companies)
 
Travis Johnson
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Permiculture is working!

When I first came here, being more of a homesteader than a permiculture type farmer, I thought some of the ideas might be rather radical, but then I began to realize much of it was practices we have been doing for centuries. Hugels, crop rotation, rotational grazing, etc...standard practice for this 270 year old farm. But we live in New England and not in the mid-west where farm size is substantially bigger, monolithic crops prevail, and co-ops are marketing tools.

Your charts are both accurate and misleading at the same time.

They are accurate because as the economy tanked globally, investors tend to put their money into farms because it is an attractive investment: we all have to eat. The dividends are typically lower then other sectors, however they are steady. So as the other sectors were reporting lower profit predictions, farming entities look better. This has typically held true over the years. But the opposite holds true as well. As the economy rebounds, investment in farms looks less and less promising and so investors put their money in higher yielding sectors. Again this is historically accurate.

But over the last 50 years or so, just as with other sectors, science has really made strides chemically. This is pretty easy to comprehend; its the easiest tri-relationship to deal with. Just dose the field with herbicide, insecticide or fertilizer and watch for amazing yields. That worked until a convergence occurred at the same time; science began to understand the tri-relationship of the physical, biologic and chemical properties of soil. Today we call it soil health, and it is a HUGE message being broadcast now by the USDA-NRCS. As this occurred, so did insanely high petroleum prices, of which synthetic nitrogen is derived. As big farmers were learning...from permiculturists no less...that soil health included three key areas; they also knew to remain profitable they had to lower expenses, and with input costs being so high, it was a logical place to start. In fact not only was the cost of the products high themselves, so was the costs (diesel fuel) of applying them.

Today we know that massive doses of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides is impeding soil health, just as tillage is. Like everything in life...everything in moderation. As we gain knowledge...again from permiculturists...big farmers are getting a better handle on the balance. Instead of being given discriminant amounts of grain, rations have taken over for livestock operations. When I think of how we conducted tillage years ago, I am astounded at how much less we do. And our dependency upon synthetic fertilizers...again nothing compared to what it was. In years past we won awards for these practices, but now...I hope we can win awards for embracing soil health. A challenge in New England for sure, but we have been challenged for 270 years so the goal is really always the same; one more generation.

As for Scott's and those companies; in the USA today there is more land taken up by lawns then being used by farmers to grow food. Since we must be very careful in what we have for inputs to be profitable, proportionately we use very little (2%) as compared to the average homeowner who does no soil testing and thus over-applies fertilizer and herbicide. Add to that homeowner associations who mistaken label certain undesirable sward such as the dandelion as a "weed", and REQUIRE spraying of it to keep migration from one homeowner to another and the problem is expounded.

So do I see permiculture working? A resounding YES! As aspects of permiculture are proven scientifically, large farms (along with their supporting companies like implement manufacturers, seed companies, fertilizer companies, etc) embrace these practices. What I would like to see is more public land be allotted to permiculturists so that they can try new ideas...ideas that we as large scale farmers just cannot afford to try because of the risk of failure on the scales we farm at, and yet keep the hurdle of high land purchases from impeding these new trials. In that regard; especially in soil health, permiculturists are impacting far more acres then what they currently occupy.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Here in Texas, there are beginning to be limits put on the power of HOAs. For instance they must allow rain harvesting and solar panels, and they can't prevent you from having native plants or xeriscaping your yard.
 
Travis Johnson
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The one rule I found shocking was home owners associations making it illegal to hang laundry out. Now call me a hick that have always lived on a farm, but it never occurred to me that there might be rules some place against this. Considering there is not ONE compliant clothes dryer that meets government efficiency standards, it only makes sense to hang a person's tidy-whities out on the clothes line.

That is just plain silly, and I am putting it mildly.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I guess if people don't want to be able to hang out their clothes, they can buy in to a development that doesn't allow it. I can't quite wrap my mind around why someone would choose to live there. And of course it isn't actually "illegal" to hang out your laundry, it's simply in violation of a contract. Contracts can be renegotiated and in some cases HOAs can be dissolved.

 
Donald Kenning
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Travis. The main thing I wanted to point out is that some people are wondering if what they are doing (in permaculture) is making a difference. Are farmers looking for alternatives to the increasing cost of inputs? Sure. To that end I am posting Figure 1 as evidence. This is an excerpt from data I found on the USDA. And you are right, these inputs (at least to 2013) were going up in price.

My post was not an attempt to deceive, but a message of hope and to help offer focus to some of our efforts.

The message, you refer to from the USDA-NRCS about chemical, physical and biological is taken straight from Dr. Jill Clapperton's playbook on "soil health". The USDA is also extolling the virtues of their 4 principles. This is Gabe Brown's 5 principles minus one. 1)do not disturb the soil, 2)cover the ground, 3) live root 24/7 and 4)plant a diverse cover crop ( the fifth is to use animals). The message generally means that farmers can reduce or eliminate chemical inputs and still produce a high profit on their farm (notice I did not say yield). So, these companies are seeing investors pull out. They are also seeing profits go away (See Figure 2) . In Figure 2 I show the Earnings per share of the "dirty dozen" companies for 2011 to 2015.

The other part of my point was that even though farmers are seeing the light, home owners may not be. They are willing to spend these prices to kill everything and see that dark green. Hell, just last week, my neighbor came onto my lawn and applied stuff to my dandelions. So, I guess my question is ... "How do we educate the masses?". I guess, I was looking for people to help brainstorm (and post) a way for home owners to move away from the chemical and into the biological. Because it looks to me from this data set, the battle for the homeowner still has a ways to go. The message would have to be simple, catchy and something that can work for everyone.

Why is this so important? These issues will go a long way toward helping our soils and our planet recover from the crap we have done to it over the centuries.
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Figure 1 (Costs of Fertilizers, USDA est.)
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Figure 2 (Earning per Share of Dirty Dozen)
 
Tyler Ludens
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Donald Kenning wrote: "How do we educate the masses?".


Use our yards as demonstration sites, but let's not force our neighbors to guess at why we let all those "weeds" grow - put up attractive signs about what you're doing. "Dandelions! I grow these dandelions on purpose because they are delicious healthful food. Don't worry - I won't let them go to seed and infest your lawn!" or something.

Grow tons of food and share it with the neighbors. Tell them how you grow it. Have open garden visit days with tours (either guided or put up more signs). Serve delicious snacks made from stuff you grew. Have loads of literature available for people to look at. Permablitz block parties! http://www.permablitz.net/about-permablitz/what-is-a-permablitz/

I want to add: If your neighbors have any kind of allergy to "greenies" or "hippies" be careful with your language. For instance in our neighborhood we never talk about "sequestering carbon" ("carbon" is a dirty word associated with that scam invented by Al Gore) but we do talk about "improving the water holding capacity of the soil and reducing erosion."
 
Travis Johnson
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Oh no, no, no Donald, I did not take you the wrong way at all, just explaining a few things in scope.

Honestly if I could figure out how to have a crop of dandelion greens that added up to enough yield to make the acreage pay for the taxes upon it, I just might grow a crop of it. The stuff is teeming with so much protein it is amazing! Yet as I said, the yield (tonnage per acre) is low so it just is not feasible, but you will never catch me spraying for it; my sheep LOVE it!.

We are making some strides here. I know a few years ago they did some water studies of a lake here that was pretty meager to say the least. The "environmentalist consultant" left and came back from the Soil and Water Conservation yard in 45 minutes time and it takes 20 minutes to get to the lake! In the end they blamed the area farmers, but how could that be? The land base here is 10% field and 90% forest, with that much buffer area and that little acreage to contaminate, how could so little manure pollute so much? The simple answer was that we knew as a board, it simply could not. What was occurring was, the "camps" along the lake that were made in the 1950's were converted to year around houses in the 1980's and 1990's and their septic systems were nothing more than pipes leading to the lake. That was where the pollution was coming from. Our S@WCD is made up of integrity and they did not care what the truth was as long as the truth was the truth. In the end they stopped payment into the S@WCD system for years because the idea was the area farmers would get paid to clean up their act...that was not actually contributing to the problem. A massive fight ensued, but truth eventually prevailed.

As a large farmer, I feel your plight and that of Tyler's as well. I see this all the time in another arena and that is while I must be governed by a strict set of regulations because of the size of my farm; hobby farmers simply are not. You would not believe the manure control measures I have in place and yet I live way on top of a hill; I can see some 100 miles out if that tells you anything. Yet my neighbor has 30 sheep on 3/4 of an acre just uphill from a stream. In my area's language, a named stream is a significant body of water; water that she is polluting. I say that, not in dislike for her, but when she must import hay 365 days a year because her sheep out-graze her amount of pasture, manure accumulation is saturating her soil and when it rains that is only running a few scant hundred feet to a stream. I recognize her right to own and raise sheep, but how do you convey to a well meaning hobby-farmer that just as I need to take control measures for my manure, so does she? It is a sticky situation, yet we all benefit from it by having non-polluted water.
 
Donald Kenning
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Let's see if I can state this a little clearer.

The data suggests:

Big Farmers[/b ] - gaining ground.

[b]Residential Landscaping
- loosing ground.


Big farmers are seeing input prices go up and ridiculous regulations for sure. And "Environmental consultants" are not always the smartest people in the room. I saw that with a body of water here in Washington State in the Hood Canal (same thing mentioned in the comments above).

Residential landscaping means people at their own houses and apartments. They are buying more of this crap or letting services apply the junk. They literally do not know what they are doing. I feel that in order to gain ground we need something that appeals to the masses. Like --- a video game, an app, a resource or something more modern that everyone is using and millions will see. Scotts make it really easy (on the app) to help a person destroy their landscape. Permaculture (at least to start) should be just as easy.

I appreciate the suggestions. They seem to ring true of the phrase "Think global, Act Local" which is what I try to do all the time. However, this post is more to "Think global, Act global"

 
Tyler Ludens
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Donald Kenning wrote: a resource


Do you mean a website? Or something else?

 
Travis Johnson
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I was just trying to encourage other Permies and Homesteaders into realizing that their inroads into new methods of farming are making inroads into big agriculture.

It is interesting to note that on my farm I have built hugels for years and know how well they work. It is conceivable now that paper mills are on the decline and wood fiber is quickly losing its value to landowners like me with large woodlots, maybe there is another end product for it. Burning it for biomass electrical generation is now being proposed 20 miles from me, but what about hugel construction? I have the equipment to do it, and we all know sheep love grazing upon rolling hills. It would be a simple matter to build miles of hugels with my bulldozer (6 way blade) and wood chips.

I am hesitant to do that because I live in new England where we have the best grazing in the world due to topography, climate, natural sward and rainfall, but it is a short grazing season unfortunately. So for me my limiting factor is not grazing, but winter feed and flat fields holds more importance than low input grazing. However just because something holds true for me, does not mean it is not something someone else could do and make their farm profitable. So I see micro-farms steering bigger farms in great directions.

As a side note: I once designed a living barn for sheep based entirely upon a sheeps preferences, manure management and all natural construction, and even approached Northeast SARE about doing a study on the feasibility of it. I was, and still am pretty proud of the design, but when it penciled out on a return on investment basis, the cost of plantings and excavation put it far above what a traditional barn costs.

The return on investment is what really stymies some of this stuff.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Travis Johnson wrote:
The return on investment is what really stymies some of this stuff.


I think that's what is especially slowing down permaculture - the non-immediate return on investment, especially with land design, which is probably why we see so many people apparently skipping the design part of permaculture, which is a system of design, altogether. I rarely see people discussing permaculture design here on the board - folks are much more interested in discussing individual techniques (such as hugelkultur) which may seem to have a more immediate return. What they don't see in skipping the design are the ongoing costs of poor water systems, poor access, and inconvenience due to poor relationships between the elements of their landscapes/farms. The return on an appropriate permaculture design is in savings more than in monetary return on investment, but it might not become apparent immediately.
 
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