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teach an old farmer new tricks  RSS feed

 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 116
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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food preservation forest garden fungi
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I have a friend of the family who has just taken over his fathers farm.  The father and now him have been farming the conventional way on 100 acres for a long time.  I'm not exactly sure how long.  The son has been commenting that his soil won't grow things anymore.  It's a sandy soil from what I've gathered.  He raises cows on this farm, grows hay for them and also grows corn.  My father told me he is extremely stubborn.  I would like to help but as someone without farming experience I don't think I will be taken seriously.  Any ideas on how you would rehabilitate destroyed soil?  I was thinking of asking him to rent an acre for a year so I could experiment and see how I can improve things.  If he sees results I would think he would change his behavior.
 
Jonathan Byron
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You are dealing with at least 3 sets of issues:

soil fertility
profit/income
culture/tradition/psychology

Restoring soil fertility is the easiest to deal with.  Planting legumes and dynamic accumulators will put the soil back on a path to regenerating fertility. Eliminating tilling will do a lot to improve the living soil. Getting deep rooted perennials will also do a lot. These will take more than 1 year.

You can probably demonstrate that an income can be generated off the land, but it might take more than 1 year and will involve time and work. Lots has been written about that here in other threads.

The culture/tradition/psychology is the most difficult factor to deal with, by far.

If I were going to help a friend in that situation, I might give them Joel Salatin's Salad Bar Beef book. It outlines one possible transition to sane and profitable farming, written by a farmer for other farmers. The fact that your friend already has experience raising beef makes it possible that he might relate to Salatin's vision and advice.
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 116
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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food preservation forest garden fungi
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Thanks Jonathan.  I'll check out that book.  Yeah my father asked him recently if he was making any money off this farm and Doug said he was earning $0 after the year is over.  After subtracting chemicals, fertilizers, tractor fuel, etc it sucked up all the revenues.  Doug works with my father in their business and that's the only way he could keep the farm going.  If the farm was on its own it wouldn't stand. 

Yes I was thinking deep rooted perennial legumes would get things started and would most likely take more than 1 year to show improvement.  If the soil is really burned out I can imagine it taking a pretty great effort to get it going again.  I need to take a trip over to his farm to gather more information. 

I agree the tradition that has been instilled in him will be very difficult to change.  For some reason I don't understand how you can be stubborn about changing after breaking your back all year and making nothing for the time involved.  Seems crazy haha.  At that point I would be extremely ready to go down a different path. 
 
Sam Surman
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'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink' comes to mind, I wouldn't even start if I were you.

I feel and believe the best way is to lead by example, then the traditional guys will be at your door asking what you are doing, and teaching someone that actually wants to learn is a different story, they will be 'drinking' in every word!

I know that when you are passionate about something you want everyone to know what you know, but it dosen't work like that.

Cheers

 
maikeru sumi-e
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Soil infertility can be caused by a multitude of factors and "sins," such as increased soil salinity from fertilizer use and irrigation, destroyed tilth and soil structure (compaction, lack of humus, mixed up horizons, lack of aeration/water), lack of organic matter or humus, nutrient depletion (having mined the soil of most plant nutrients due to crop and animal waste/biomass removal), lack of functional nutrient cycles (nitrogen, phosphate, potassium, trace elements), soil poisons or pesticide and herbicide build up, etc.

Something as simple as working in and leaving behind more organic matter in the soil could solve numerous issues as well as have a stunning regenerative effect on the land. Carbon stocks in most farmed soils are dangerously low, some having lost 50% or more of their soil carbon due to tilling, fertilizing, and continual biomass extraction of crops, crop waste, animals, and animal wastes. The soil may not even have topsoil...or subsoil...due to erosion.
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 116
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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food preservation forest garden fungi
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Good point dolmen, I do have that problem of wanting to spread the wealth.  Especially when people whine about their problems. 

Maikeru I believe that may be the case and the organic matter is dangerously low.  I have heard him mention a few times that the soil seems like only dust and plants don't get as tall as they used to a long time ago.   
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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if he is a reader and if you have books, make them available to him..and allow him to make his own decision.

we each have a right to our own decisions, and if we are doing something that isn't working sometimes it helps to be reminded gently that it isn't working, but still be allowed to fail.

if you are using permaculture precepts on your property and it is thriving, invite him over for lunch and then walk around the property and show him..maybe explain how excited you are over the new things you are doing?
 
Chris Holcombe
Posts: 116
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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food preservation forest garden fungi
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Yes I like that idea, I'll call him up and walk him around the property.  Surely that would inspire him !    I think he is more of a person that likes to see things rather than read things.  I'm more of the opposite so I have lots of books to reference. 
 
Terri Matthews
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Location: Eastern Kansas
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You might read "Salad bar beef", by Joel Salatin.

Basically, he does pasture improvement and pasture rotation. In fact, he rotates his pasture EVERY DAY by running a couple of hot wires down it. once a day he moves the wires, the cattle move forward, and the hot wire goes up behind them.

Each bit of pasture then rests for weeks and gets a chance to make use of the manure that has been dropped on it.

As I recall, he spends a lot of time on talking about pasture improvement. And, yes, he is a commercial farmer so hopefully his ideas will not be too strange.

By the way, he sells his beef directly to the consumer, and the price he receives reflects this! He signs people up throughout the year, and he lets them know when their meat is ready and they can come and get it.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I have to add my voice to the chorus recommending Joel Salatin's books. 

Holistic Management is a permacultural practice which might be helpful:  http://www.holisticmanagement.org/

This video might appeal to a farmer, as it is made by a farmer:  http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/farm-for-the-future/
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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there are tons of good podcasts over at agroinnovations if you like to listen to things, quite a few on holistic management and permaculture.

http://agroinnovations.com/index.php/en_us/multimedia/blogs/podcast/

i say if he already has cows or experience with them, use them to help you in building fertile soil.
 
maikeru sumi-e
Posts: 313
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cholcombe wrote:
Good point dolmen, I do have that problem of wanting to spread the wealth.  Especially when people whine about their problems. 

Maikeru I believe that may be the case and the organic matter is dangerously low.  I have heard him mention a few times that the soil seems like only dust and plants don't get as tall as they used to a long time ago.   


Plants have a hard time eating only dust. Check the color of the soil--it's a great indicator. First thing then is for him to figure out how to get that organic matter back into his soil and maintain it. It could be crop stubble/waste, manure, cows back out on the pastures as others have suggested, etc. Soil organic matter (SOM) is the key that unlocks most of the goodies in the soil. So long as we feed the soil, it will feed us.
 
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