• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies living kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • raven ranson
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • paul wheaton
  • Devaka Cooray
stewards:
  • Burra Maluca
  • Miles Flansburg
  • Julia Winter
garden masters:
  • Dave Burton
  • Anne Miller
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Mark Tudor
  • Pearl Sutton

Kind of numb: almost half of the USA is used to raise cows  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 2130
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
96
forest garden solar
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am not sure if I should be happy or sad that over 40% of USA is used to grow meat for us to eat.
https://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-agriculture/41-land-contiguous-us-used-feed-livestock.html
 
S Bengi
pollinator
Posts: 2130
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
96
forest garden solar
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If the entire world is used vs USA it looks a tiny bit better.
 
pollinator
Posts: 189
Location: PNW
29
books food preservation homestead cooking tiny house trees urban
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I went completely plant-based over a year ago so less cows needed for me.  :)
 
pollinator
Posts: 10282
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
349
cat chicken fiber arts fish forest garden greening the desert trees wood heat
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In my region deer make a lot more sense than cows, although people still raise cows.  More people need to eat deer, here.

 
pollinator
Posts: 442
Location: SF Bay Area
64
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have to say I find a lot of this data misleading. The implication is that the all of the land used to raise cows is destroyed/damaged, and while I'm sure that's true for some of it, a lot of it just looks like open space to the untrained eye. Lumping the large, disgusting feed lot in Coalinga, CA with the grazing areas in Northern California doesn't seem legitimate to me. While I can't remember the exact numbers, I thought that the US had more ruminants before Europeans arrived here, than we do now.

This is not to say that I don't think the US has a lot of unsustainable practices, but I like to take a larger view.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2084
Location: Toronto, Ontario
159
bee forest garden fungi hugelkultur cooking rabbit trees urban wofati
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So a couple of things.

The number of ruminants on the continent pre-contact wasn't a stable thing. As I understand it, for instance, the numbers of bison on the plains varied wildly depending on how aggressively they were managed, with more males harvested in times of projected dearth, such that there would be more grazing for females and their young. I suppose that would be bulls, cows, and calves, to be precise.

I am also given to understand that after the first waves of disease spread across the continent, the numbers of bison rose because there were fewer people to harvest them.

I think calculating the carrying capacity of the continent with regards to herbivores would be a more useful measure.

And yes, I am in full agreement that the tone suggests that all of this land is in feedlots, not grazed openly. I would be ecstatic if 40% of the land on the continent was being mob-grazed with an eye to land regeneration and soil building. We have more than that amount in need of such treatment.

-CK
 
Posts: 137
Location: SW Ohio
18
chicken duck fish forest garden fungi cooking tiny house trees
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
While I am very much opposed to growing corn as cow fodder, I'm a little reluctant to accept these statements at face value. 40 is such an even number it's obviously an estimate, so how is the information collected, interpreted and rounded? I honestly have no problem with animals being grazed on former buffalo territory, as these environments actually depend on grazing to be balanced. Buffalo were a keystone species. I'm thinking there's a huge swathe of land included in this estimate that has been grazed for millennia. Now the problem is, are we overgrazing and or harming the land other ways by using it for cattle? I'd say the biggest problem here is fencing. Fencing disrupts migratory routes and discourages prairie chickens from nesting, for example.


EDIT: Just realized they quote 41% not 40, but still.
 
S Bengi
pollinator
Posts: 2130
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
96
forest garden solar
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
While I know that not all almonds are grown as mono-crop and not all soybean and corn is GMO.
I do know that more often than not, it is.

While "I myself" only eat beef and drink milk from cows that were able to roam hundreds of acres of land, in a similar setting to what wild deer/bison have. I know that for the majority of people it isn't.

But this is where we could have more permaculture farmers who practice silvo-pasture, rotational grazing, and less shipping of bulk grains/hay and more concentrated shipping of meat/milk.  

We are told to build the biggest fence and get the biggest gun to get rid of all the wild deer/animals and create mono-cultures of cows.
The same is done for almond farms and citrus and salmon and chicken and corn.
But does this really increase productivity much less net profit for actual farmers? Or healthier forest/savanna-prairie/streams/lakes. Healthier food for us humans?  
 
Posts: 1451
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
45
bee chicken duck forest garden greening the desert homestead kids pig
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Can't speak for elsewhere but our area is fit for very little else. Lots of cows around here. Can barely grow anything else but winter wheat without irrigation and since we barely get any rain, that's not a good thing.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10282
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
349
cat chicken fiber arts fish forest garden greening the desert trees wood heat
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Stacy Witscher wrote: The implication is that the all of the land used to raise cows is destroyed/damaged, and while I'm sure that's true for some of it, a lot of it just looks like open space to the untrained eye.



Typical rangeland in my region is quite damaged.  It is severely overgrazed, because ranchers put up a perimeter fence and "set stock" - that is, they don't rotate.  The cows stay there forever or until a severe enough drought forces a total sale.  Rangeland is allowed to grow up with weedy and unpalatable species of trees (mostly Ashe Juniper aka "Cedar") and toxic herbaceous plants.  This denuded, abused ground then washes away during our periodic catastrophic floods, leaving mostly rocks.

I expect these ranching practices are nearly universal throughout the West.

 
Posts: 105
Location: The Ocala National Forest. Florida, USA
9
chicken forest garden goat
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If the guvment subsidies went away for big ag food suppliers and everybody had to pay the real cost of food at the store/market instead of with their health later I think there would be more folks doing sustainable farming practices.
About 15 years ago I was doing some work near Miami, FL and staying in a nice hotel on the outskirts of the city and like 2 or 3 am I woke up an swore I hear a cow 'lowing'... Sure enough, in the daylight I seen a few acres fenced with a handfull of cows eating grass....
 
Posts: 238
Location: SE Oklahoma
19
duck forest garden hugelkultur
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Tyler Ludens wrote:

Stacy Witscher wrote: The implication is that the all of the land used to raise cows is destroyed/damaged, and while I'm sure that's true for some of it, a lot of it just looks like open space to the untrained eye.



Typical rangeland in my region is quite damaged.  It is severely overgrazed, because ranchers put up a perimeter fence and "set stock" - that is, they don't rotate.  The cows stay there forever or until a severe enough drought forces a total sale.  Rangeland is allowed to grow up with weedy and unpalatable species of trees (mostly Ashe Juniper aka "Cedar") and toxic herbaceous plants.  This denuded, abused ground then washes away during our periodic catastrophic floods, leaving mostly rocks.

I expect these ranching practices are nearly universal throughout the West.



Where in central Texas are you? I lived in the midst of 1000s of acres and 1000s of cattle in central Texas (Falls County / SE of Waco / NE of Temple / half way between Austin and Dallas).  There were some momma cow operations and a lot of feeder cattle, both on land owned by the owner of those cattle or out on gain on land leased by locals who got paid by how much weight the cattle gained.

All of those cattle grazed coastal bermuda pastures in the summer and rye grass and wheat (or oats if you're far enough south or think the winter will be mild. The land was roughly 50% improved pasture and 50% tilled and planted each fall for winter grazing.

Yes, they only put NPP out on it. No, they never restored minerals to it. Yes, they clear-cut most of the trees and left some for shade and were required to leave cover for wildlife to migrate through their property.

But none of it was over-grazed. And those cattle were out on pasture full-time. Momma cows operations had them on pasture all year, with supplemental feed as needed. Feeder cattle are out on pasture from when they are weaned until they're sent to a feedlot for finishing.

I suspect that is typical for most cattle-raising areas. Yes, they drink a lot of water. But that water is captured from rain run-off in ponds (referred to as "tanks" in Texas, but not in Oklahoma). The soil that grows grass fastest and best for grazing is heavy clay: black gumbo clay in Texas and red clay in Oklahoma.  

It rains a lot more and a lot more consistently east of I-35 than it does west.  The big ranches with money keep their pastures pure grazing. The poor ranchers who lease land often let it return to random trees here and there.

Any pasture that has been cleared will return to trees if you don't keep mowing them down. In southern/central Texas, that means mesquite. In SE Oklahoma, that would mean wild pecan and persimmon and cedar, In central Oklahoma where I am now, that would mean blackjack and post oaks, black walnut and sumac.  

Trees would restore fertility eventually, but I don't know how long or if they can turn clay into something else on their own. Eventually, I suppose they would.

Keep in mind that cattle are fed yellow dent corn which is almost pure starch and not really worth eating for humans (or them). The reason cattle get sold out of the feedlot after x time no matter what the price is at that moment is that if you feed them that corn too long THEY DIE.  

Grass-fed beef and bison actually means grass FINISHED beef and bison, as in never fed corn or grain to fatten them up.
 
Posts: 382
30
bee duck fish food preservation forest garden fungi trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I wouldn't get too wound up over this number.  

There is a lot of land that is marginal, especially out west.  You can turn some cattle out on it and get a product (although it may take many acres in some cases per cow) otherwise, you won't get anything out of it except jackrabbits and coyotes.  Probably about half of the west is in this category.  (at least 90% of Nevada).  

I've seen many places where the cattle graze in pairs, because they need to lean on each other to stay upright.  The alternate line is, one turns the rocks over so the other can lick the moisture of the bottom of the rock.  

That said, the amount of corn going into cattle in the feed lots is an example of stupidity.  (Stupidity is worse than evil, because evil takes a day off once in a while.  Also Evil is not as imaginative as Stupidity).
 
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So there are a lot of variables in how cattle are raised.  Grass fed beef is a good thing... but only if the grassland can support it.  

Just because millions of ungulates once successfully grazed on the prairies (which were full of diverse perennial species and very deep soils) for millenia does not justify, or apply to accommodate a simplified model where cattle can replace them free ranged in large fenced areas where the land has been steadily losing soil, plant diversity, and predatory pressures, which all played a roll in the continued health of the grasslands.    

Hi Stacy:

I have to say I find a lot of this data misleading. The implication is that the all of the land used to raise cows is destroyed/damaged, and while I'm sure that's true for some of it, a lot of it just looks like open space to the untrained eye. Lumping the large, disgusting feed lot in Coalinga, CA with the grazing areas in Northern California doesn't seem legitimate to me. While I can't remember the exact numbers, I thought that the US had more ruminants before Europeans arrived here, than we do now.

This is not to say that I don't think the US has a lot of unsustainable practices, but I like to take a larger view.

 I'm pretty sure that the damage is being done.  I've seen enough of it in three provinces in Canada, as well as a dozen or so states in the Western U.S., and parts of Central and Northern Mexico.  The problem is not that cattle are ranging on the traditional grazing area as bison, but the way that they are managed... which is to say, that at present they aren't really managed well.  Just as a few cattle can look innocuous to the untrained eye, the reality can be much different.  On a brittle landscape (land where rainfall is not adequate over the course of the year to provide with steady even plant growth), cattle that are free ranging tend to degrade the plants and thus erode the soil, as was mentioned by Tyler here:  

It is severely overgrazed, because ranchers put up a perimeter fence and "set stock" - that is, they don't rotate.  The cows stay there forever or until a severe enough drought forces a total sale.  Rangeland is allowed to grow up with weedy and unpalatable species of trees (mostly Ashe Juniper aka "Cedar") and toxic herbaceous plants.  This denuded, abused ground then washes away during our periodic catastrophic floods, leaving mostly rocks.

I expect these ranching practices are nearly universal throughout the West.  

 In relation to management, Tyler and Chris mention rotational  (mob) grazing.  While this does not exactly mimic natural cattle/bison movement, it does several things toward that end.  Primarily it bunches cattle up which produces intense localized impact with feces and urine being trampled into the earth along with dry plant materials that would otherwise not break down easily.  This is what happens when a predator like a wolf would come up to a bison herd.  This pretty much never happens with cattle that are free ranged.  The second thing that this does is allows all the edible plants to be grazed evenly and be monitored for grazing-Monitoring the plants is key so that overgrazing does not occur, and so that cattle will only be rotated back into that paddock when the plants can again withstand the pressure.  

Which leads to the quote from Elle:

Can't speak for elsewhere but our area is fit for very little else. Lots of cows around here. Can barely grow anything else but winter wheat without irrigation and since we barely get any rain, that's not a good thing.

 So the next thing about proper management and rotational grazing is water (rain) and timing for growth so that cattle are preceding a rain/growth cycle, or they are not allowed to return to a given paddock until a certain amount of rain and growth has occurred.  Anything less, and they are going to overgraze and damaged the plant and landscape systems as mentioned by Tyler.  With good rotation, soil can be built via the trampled feces and urine, the utilization of the dead plant material into the soil, and the rapid growth of perennial grass roots after grazing if proper moisture exists.  More info on this can be found through searching/googling Allan Savory.

Even in areas where cattle are free ranged where the moisture is adequate for steady growth there are plenty of problems with erosion because choice plants can only take so much grazing, and eventually, the soil takes a beating.  This is sometimes especially the case if the soil is too wet.  

With adequate rainfall, soil can be built rapidly if the cattle are rotated through it properly.

 
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

There is a lot of land that is marginal, especially out west.  You can turn some cattle out on it and get a product (although it may take many acres in some cases per cow) otherwise, you won't get anything out of it except jackrabbits and coyotes.  Probably about half of the west is in this category.  (at least 90% of Nevada).  

 The problem is that the acreages are getting larger in relation to the cattle, as the landscapes/plants have become a lot less able to sustain the pressure.  After 100 to 200 years of doing this or something similar, the result is what Tyer describes.  Sure you get a product, but at what cost?  Erosion.
 
pollinator
Posts: 596
Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
77
bee bike fish greening the desert solar woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
"Livestock" does not equal "cows" and 41% is closer to 1/3 than it is to 1/2.

Livestock also includes chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, ducks, etc.

In addition to "meat," livestock also produces dairy, eggs, wool, etc.  When you consider all that, well a little over 3/8 of farm land used for livestock doesn't seem so bad.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
A more telling or shocking statistic from the interactive bloomberg article (referenced in the original link) might be these stats:  

On a percentage basis, urban creep outpaces growth in all other land-use categories. Another growth area: land owned by wealthy families. According to The Land Report magazine, since 2008 the amount of land owned by the 100 largest private landowners has grown from 28 million acres to 40 million, an area larger than the state of Florida.

 Not trying to derail the thread, but... just saying.  That's scary too.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
While 41% is closer to 1/3 than 1/2...  41 minus 33.33 is 7.67, and  50 minus 41 is 9.  There is 1.33% between 7.67 and 9.  So... Not much.  Saying that it is nearly half is not much of a stretch, in my opinion, but Peter VdW's point is clear.  The article is presenting a point, and it is trying to make it using what data it has.  Saying it's nearly half sounds better than saying it's more than a third.  Here's some quotes from the Bloomberg interactive piece:  

More than one-third of U.S. land is used for pasture—by far the largest land-use type in the contiguous 48 states. And nearly 25 percent of that land is administered by the federal government, with most occurring in the West. That land is open to grazing for a fee.

There’s a single, major occupant on all this land: cows. Between pastures and cropland used to produce feed, 41 percent of U.S. land in the contiguous states revolves around livestock.

 The stats are skewed since in one part they are talking about the total area used to feed livestock:  41%.  In the other part they are talking about the land that is used for cattle, which is not really clearly accounted for: More than a third of U.S. is pasture, 25% administered by the Feds, most out West, single major occupant: CATTLE!!!.  Blah blah.  So they are slanting this particular article, for whatever reason, to point out the cattle element.  But they have no clear stats as to how much is actually grazed by or used to feed cattle.  

...Which is a shame.  As would be the stats on annual soil loss on land that is grazed by cattle.  

 
Peter VanDerWal
pollinator
Posts: 596
Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
77
bee bike fish greening the desert solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
And as Mick pointed out a LOT of that pasture land (especially out west) is like the land across the street from me, several hundred acres of desert with maybe 100 head of cattle on it.  We get less than 20 inches of rain per year around here (some years less than 10") and 3/4 of that falls in 2 months.
The land isn't really suitable for growing any kind of crops except maybe Cactus, Mesquite and Jojoba.  There isn't a big enough market for nopales and prickly pear to make large scale farming profitable.  Jojoba is starting to become popular for the oil/wax (for industrial and cosmetics use) but it's not edible for humans.  Our Monsoon rains makes a type of toxic mold to grow on mesquite beans that can cause liver cancer, and mesquite isn't that profitable for farming anyway.

There is a LOT of land out in the west/Southwest used for raising (not a lot of) cattle because it's just about useless for raising anything else.  
In Arizona alone they use over 53 million acres of land for "grazing"...approximately 870,000 head of cattle.  That's over 61 acres per 'cow'.
That skews the numbers considerably.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

And as Mick pointed out a LOT of that pasture land (especially out west) is like the land across the street from me, several hundred acres of desert with maybe 100 head of cattle on it.  We get less than 20 inches of rain per year around here (some years less than 10") and 3/4 of that falls in 2 months.  

 I've seen some really productive things done in that area with that much rain. including dates, pecans, and citrus.  It takes some good permie landscaping for some of that (particularly in the establishment stage), but it can be done.  Prickly pear and aloe can be grown as starter plants to use as mulch and soil builders. The amount of quality protein that can be obtained by mesquite is truly astounding.  It takes a good hammer-mill to produce the powder of the pods(or a lot of work with a mortar and pestle) but I think many communities have those hammer mills available to use cooperatively.  I have not heard of the cancer-causing fungi from the rain.  Not in the parts of Az I visited where people were all about the mesquite, anyway.  Prickly pear juice and the fruit of many other cacti are extremely tasty high-quality food, as are the leaves of ocotillo after the rain.   Many native tribes in that region were farming corn, beans, squash, and greens, as well as native tobacco.  I'm sure with some imagination and garden/permaculture know-how that a person can do better than a slim side of beef on 61acres.  

The landscape and the plants have changed drastically in the U.S. Southwest, and many people attribute those changes to overgrazing by cattle.    When cattle have few choice plants in a large area, they will visit those choice plants, again and again, slowly draining them of their roots' stored energy, such that when the rains do come there is simply not enough rejuvenation to fully recover and sustain the perennial plants over the years, and in particular, reducing their drought tolerance if the rains are reduced.  Young plants are routinely overgrazed as they are sweeter and more tender.  The tender shoots of the fresh growth of the edible trees are browsed for the same reason.  The soil becomes more and more exposed, dry, hard, eroded...  And the types of plants that are left are less and less palatable and as such less cattle are able to graze in the same alotted area as the decade's pass.  This is partly due to lack of rain, but more to do with habitat degradation for many choice edible species.    
 
pollinator
Posts: 563
Location: mountains of Tennessee
107
bee chicken homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Typical rangeland in my region is quite damaged.  It is severely overgrazed, because ranchers put up a perimeter fence and "set stock" - that is, they don't rotate.



I'm from Centex. Tough place to raise cattle. Dry, rocky, & all the plants have sharp pointy spikes.

Huge difference here. It rains. There is plenty of lush greenery in the pasture. There has been a herd here for over 100 years without rotation. It was once larger but there were more cattle then too. The land is quite fertile in most places. Far better than the soil in my garden. I remove cow pies & fertile soil constantly to improve & grow the garden. Not to say the pasture is perfect. It will be better in coming years. I'm working on that too. The point is ... per acre ... some places are more suitable for X number of cattle than others.
 
Mick Fisch
Posts: 382
30
bee duck fish food preservation forest garden fungi trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
It's very true that there are better alternatives in many places to grazing cattle on it.  It reminds me of a story I heard about the county extension agent coming around and talking to an old farmer about some great new practices.  The farmer cut him off with "Son, I already know how the farm twice as well as I actually do already."  You are always limited by time, money, energy, etc.  Arm chair quarter backing is pretty easy.  The natives in the southwest farmed, but mainly in certain, selected areas.  When the conquistadors came through the country wasn't covered with farmers.  It still isn't.  Many areas have been seriously damaged by overgrazing, some areas were managed pretty well.  

The main point in the article, in my view, is that it is giving a bogus impression.  Not all land is of equal value.  Most farmers want to make money.  If they can make more money raising cantalopes, someone will.  A lot of land west of the Mississippi river (about 1/2 the country) isn't really good for growing traditional crops.  (someone is going to nail me on that, this is permies and we know there are other, better uses for land, but the know how hasn't always been available).  Water is usually the key.  

Also, if you don't own the land, you're limited on what you can do, and maybe how much money you want to sink into something you don't own.    Any land the BLM is managing is not going to be available for actual ownership and there are limits what on what you can do with it.  We're dealing with federal bureaucracy, controlled by laws that are often over a century old.  The feds certainly aren't going to turn it over to individual ownership (they won't even give it to the states, as is required by the constitution, don't get me going on that one!).  
 
Peter VanDerWal
pollinator
Posts: 596
Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
77
bee bike fish greening the desert solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Roberto pokachinni wrote: I've seen some really productive things done in that area with that much rain. including dates, pecans, and citrus.


It's too cold here for Citrus and ALL of those require a lot of water.  One of the guys I work with bought a 40 acre plot that had 10 acres of pecans.  The property came with a well and pump designed to irrigate those pecans.  I forget how much he said it was costing him to run the pump to irrigate those trees, but it was hundreds of dollars a month.  So he stopped watering them and within a year all of the trees were dead.

Prickly pear and aloe as mulch?  I doubt this works well, I have a lot of that growing on my property and the soil around them isn't any better than were they aren't growing.  There is a lot of 'mulch' under the mesquite trees, but they grow slowly and their 'mulch' contains chemicals that inhibit growth for other plants.

Prickly pear juice is indeed very tasty, but it's fairly labor intensive to harvest.  Growing it is only cost effective when limited availability keeps the cost high, so you'll never see wide scale farming of it.

As for the mesquite pods, my bad, it's a fungus that produces aflatoxin, not a mold.  Apparently it's only an issue in areas where it rains while the mesquite pods are ripening (like it does where I live).  Not all pods will have the aflatoxin, but there is no simple/cheap way of determining which ones do.  Even if there was, you can't just test a sample since even on the same trees some pods might have it and some might not.

Even in areas where this isn't an issue, not all mesquite pods taste good.  Some trees make pods that taste great, some make pods that are pretty foul.  You can't tell which trees will be which until they are grown and since the grow slowly, that takes a while.
It's pretty labor intensive harvesting the pods, you have to pick them from the tree not off the ground.  The hammer mills are expensive to operate (compared to other types of mills).  Again this is only cost effective when limited availability keeps the prices high.

Only 2% of Arizona is used to grow crops (over 1/3 of that is forrage and 1/4 is cotton)

Every irrigated acre in Arizona requires about 1.5 million gallons of water per year, most of that is pumped in from the Colorado river.   The river is already running dangerously low due to all the water pumped out of it, so irrigating more land is NOT an option.

And again (thanks Mick) much of the grazing land in Arizona belongs to the Federal government(42% of the state) and you are limited to what you can do on it.
Farmers aren't stupid (many have Master's degrees in agriculture), if they could make more money growing something else, they would.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
It's not a matter of being stupid or being educated.  It's a matter of having the right information, and then acting on it.  If a tree is growing with a given amount of irrigation, it will create roots to work with that level of irrigation.  In the case of your friend, I can almost guarantee that the pecan trees had root systems which were adapted quite well to not having to seek out water on their own.   It's no surprise the died without water.  If a tree is encouraged to send roots down deep into the soil to chase water and find the water table, then it will do this.  I saw this time and again in the south where trees were coddled with far to regular water, when they should have been given the opportunity to fend for themselves and develop a proper relationship with the soil and hydrology.  I'm not saying that they shouldn't be irrigated, but that irrigation should be done in the establishment phase, and later at specific times in heavy amounts with long gaps that force the trees to chase the water.  Heavy mulching of trees and flood irrigation within the mulch, allows the water to be held under the trees rather than evaporating.  Interplanting with other carefully chosen plants can also aid in holding this moisture in the soil system.  

My comment about using prickly pear and aloe as mulch was alluding to chop and drop, or harvesting and using them as mulch around other plants, not, as you seem to be indicating, producing mulch on their own directly around themselves.

I'm well aware of the plight of the Colorado River, and I am completely against the use of this river for irrigating crops in AZ.  But you get 10 inches of rain per year and some of that could be stored via swales or cisterns for the purpose of growing trees.  Have you checked out Geoff Lawton's Greening the Desert project in Jordan?  
 
Mick Fisch
Posts: 382
30
bee duck fish food preservation forest garden fungi trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As a relatively carnivorous guy, I could say "Wow, only 40% of the land is spent for livestock?  We need to up that immediately!  Of course I'm saying this tongue in cheek, lets not get too wound up.  I doubt our discussion will change much.

I know it's fashionable now to slam meat, and some view it as a 'less righteous' food choice.  A lion is made to eat meat, we don't blame the lion.  We're designed to be omnivores, which any good omnivore (like a bear or pig) would tell you, includes meat whenever it's available.  There really aren't any traditionally purely vegetarian societies around that I know of (a few religious groups aside).  Most groups ate meat whenever they could, which was, for farming societies, way less than we do now.  They usually ate it on holidays, which were actually pretty frequent.  (What?  You didn't think anyone actually burned the animal on an altar did you?  They burned a few symbolic bits and then had a feast with the rest).  The limiting factor on meat consumption was availability of meat and general, widespread poverty.  

I would like to shift the conversation a little.  Really good farmland is generally worth too much to waste on beef cattle.  How much of the really good farm land is spent raising corn?  You can stay healthy for a very long time on a meat diet (about the only food you can live on as a single food source and stay healthy), you won't fair nearly as well on a pure corn diet.  

We really should be growing more fruit orchards and vegetables.  The american diet would be vastly healthier with more greens, and a variety of fruits and vegetables eaten daily. Instead govt. policies have put focus on high calorie foods like wheat and corn, because in the thirties, starvation (caused by not enough calories) was once the primary concern.  Now we are starting to wake up to the problem of malnourishment, caused by too many carbs and not enough of everything else.

The next question might be, how much of our very best farmland is now suburbs or city.  I heard once Nikita Krushoff was once taken to see the silicone valley area, which was some of the very best farmland in California.  It was all turning to suburbs at the time.  His comment was something to the effect that it was a crime that would never have been allowed in Russia.  (I'm not a fan of big brother telling my what I can do with my property, but he had a point)
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lots of good points there Mick, particularly the last one about farmland being eaten up by urban sprawl, and about the need for the U.S. to consume a higher percentage of vegetable foods.  

I would like to shift the conversation a little.  Really good farmland is generally worth too much to waste on beef cattle.  How much of the really good farm land is spent raising corn?  You can stay healthy for a very long time on a meat diet (about the only food you can live on as a single food source and stay healthy), you won't fair nearly as well on a pure corn diet.

The U.S. is the world's largest corn supplier, and upwards of 60% of the corn grown in the U.S. is used to feed livestock, so I'm not sure what you are creating a discussion in favor of.  People have been eating corn in the U.S. for quite a fair amount of time (centuries in some cases, and millenia in others depending on the location in the U.S), and although it has a rather poor nutritional rating (too high in carbs for its protein and vitamins), it's a mighty fine treat and is not often consumed alone as a meal by humans.  

We really should be growing more fruit orchards and vegetables.  The american diet would be vastly healthier with more greens, and a variety of fruits and vegetables eaten daily.  

 Now you are onto something, Mick.  Consider that a tractor can still be driven on a field with rows of trees in it.  The space has to be wide enough to support the tractor or two or three or five widths, and free enough of shade to not reduce crop yields.  It has been shown that if those trees were grown on swales in the contours of the slope that the resultant crop yields on the same acreages, is actually the same or higher even when taking into account the loss of acreage due to the crop trees.  This is because those trees hold water, soil, nutrients, and debris, from eroding away from the field.  The trees provide microclimates in the field that moderate temperatures, moisture, and very likely wind.  If those crop trees were mixed with nitrogen-fixing species, then there will be huge gains to the N fixation in that field.  Some of those N fixing trees can also be producers.  These trees can be providing large fruit and nuts and can also be intercropped with other useful or edible plants or shrubs to be marketed as niche products or as mainstream food sources, like blueberries, hazelnuts, and pears.  Migratory and local birds have a place to land, nest, roost, or otherwise be safe from predation, leaving nutrients all the while.  Many birds feed on crop pests.  Insects which prey on crop pests have a long-term residence in the perennial foliage of the tree strip.  With portable fencing, animals like cattle or pigs can be run on the corn, oats, or alfalfa or even better->actual perennial pasture grasses, and smaller crittters like rabbits or chickens can be run on the bush strips.  

Think of the yield on a section of land managed like that, rather than on growing straight corn, sixty percent of which is going to animal feed... ...a large percentage of that 60 of which is feedlot mash to finish fattening cattle before slaughter.  The same goes for soy.  The result is the loss of small family farm in favor of large industrial chemicalized monocrops.  The entire thing at present, including the petrol, is highly subsidized in the U.S.  All of this results in unhealthy livestock with chronic or at least prevalent diseases at end of life (when we eat them), as well as degraded chemicalized soil systems.  Here's an interesting read on the subject:  Sustainable Table  

Maybe it's unfashionable to be an adamant omnivore, and perhaps it can be seen as some green, or anti-animal-eating trend or conspiracy, but the massive slant towards meat production on farmland in the U.S., considering how it is actually being done, maybe should be questioned, or put fully in check.  While I am not a Vegan, or even a vegetarian, I do try to consume animal flesh that was raised outside of this system that I view as disastrous both for the environment and for the health of not only the animals but for people as well.    
 
Stacy Witscher
pollinator
Posts: 442
Location: SF Bay Area
64
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Mick - I agree with much you have said. I'm less concerned with overall meat consumption, more concerned with better livestock management. I'm not much of a meat eater, but in an integrated farm system with dairy animals, meat consumption makes sense. And I love bone based stock, and little bits of cured meats.

As far as Silicon Valley being prime farmland, I have to disagree. There isn't much rainfall until you get into the Santa Cruz mountains, even then, it's not during the summer. And the weather is still fairly cool until July. Orchards are/were big here though.
 
Peter VanDerWal
pollinator
Posts: 596
Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
77
bee bike fish greening the desert solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Roberto pokachinni wrote:  If a tree is growing with a given amount of irrigation, it will create roots to work with that level of irrigation.  In the case of your friend, I can almost guarantee that the pecan trees had root systems which were adapted quite well to not having to seek out water on their own.   It's no surprise the died without water.  If a tree is encouraged to send roots down deep into the soil to chase water and find the water table, then it will do this.



It's true that trees only develop roots that fit their needs.  However, regardless of what you want to believe, Pecans require a HUGE amount of water, up to 60 inches in the growing season alone.
Pecan Water Requirements

No amount of swales is going to fix that.

Roberto pokachinni wrote:
My comment about using prickly pear and aloe as mulch was alluding to chop and drop, or harvesting and using them as mulch around other plants, not, as you seem to be indicating, producing mulch on their own directly around themselves.


Catcus and Aloe are 85-90% water, there isn't a lot left over to compost.  Considering how slow they grow, this is not going to build up your soil in any reasonable amount of time.
My soils is only now begining to look like something other than sand and I've had to haul in huge amounts of compost.  I've probably added a 1-2 feet of compost.

Their are only a few non-native (food) plants that I've found that can survive here with little additional water.  Grapes can survive as long as I give them some water in May & June(our hottest and driest months), and Almond trees can survive with once a week watering with grey water(~20 gallons) .
Neither of them are thriving.  The grapes are perhaps 1/2 the size they should be (but tasty).  I've had the Almond tree for 5 years now and have yet to see any nuts survive to maturity, the trees were about 4 feet tall when I planted them and are not about 6 feet tall.  Maybe in another 5-10 years I'll start seeing nuts.
Pomegranates do well here....eventually.  I've seen some large trees that produce huge amounts of fruit, but they are 50+ years old.  I have a couple that are 6 & 8 years old, I watered them regularly the first year, now I give them 5 gallons once or twice a month in May and June.  They are large bush size (~5-6 feet) and produce 6-7 fruits each last year, zero this year from the spring bloom, but they have bloomed again last month and have 5-6 fruit growing now.

Permaculture is a great goal and can work well (with lots of effort) on small scale.  
However, as near as I can tell there are ZERO large scale permaculture farms that are economically viable, at least not in the USA.  Even the majority of small scale permaculture farms (< 100 acres) are only viable when they sell services (training, consulting, etc.); and for most of these those services make up the majority of their income.

There are a lot of permaculture farms that run at a loss, even when they supplement their income with services.

One of the most successful permaculture farms is Mark Sheppard's New Forrest Farm, and even he cant make a living on just his crops.  
Here is what he has to say; “If you think you can move somewhere, buy land and make your living just from agriculture – you should think again”
New Forrest Farm
But he's only been working on the farm for 20 years.
By the way, his biggest single source of income is meat.  Less than 10% from produce and another 20% from nursery stock.

Then again, I might be wrong.  How large is your permaculture farm?  Do you make most of your income of produce?  How much profit?
Is anyone else on this forum making a profit of growing fruit and veggies on a permaculture farm?  How large?  How much profit?
 
Peter VanDerWal
pollinator
Posts: 596
Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
77
bee bike fish greening the desert solar woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Roberto pokachinni wrote:
The U.S. is the world's largest corn supplier, and upwards of 60% of the corn grown in the U.S. is used to feed livestock,    




Where did you get that figure?  From what I've read only about 1/3 of our corn is used to feed livestock.  40% is wasted making ethanol (stupid idea).  Leaving less than 25% of it for human consumption.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/time-to-rethink-corn/

[update], opps, currently over 50% of our corn is wasted on ethanol.
https://blogs.agu.org/terracentral/2016/06/16/half-u-s-corn-crop-now-goes-ethanol/

Which I guess means less than 1/3 is used to feed animals.

P.S. on the original point, horses are also considered "Livestock".  We have a lot of horses in the USA and they produce zero food in the USA.


 
Mick Fisch
Posts: 382
30
bee duck fish food preservation forest garden fungi trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Feeding cattle (or pigs) lots of corn is just plain dumb!  Cattle were not made to eat corn.  I used to have a govt publication on food value of various meats, including bear, moose and caribou.  It commented that, while beef raised cholestoral levels, all wild meats except for bear which tends to be fatty, and beaver (I didn't even know people ate beaver enough to matter, the natives around where I lived didn't like it, said it was too bloody) actually reduced cholestoral levels when consumed.  Made me wonder, why was beef the bad guy.  Did we just happen to domesticate the only browsing or grazing animal that was bad to eat?  NO!  we are feeding them grain, which in nature would be a welcome treat, but not the main dish, and making them unnaturally obese, and harming ourselves in the process.  

As far as the silicone valley being good farmland, I was just repeating the story I was told by a local guy (who seemed honest and competent) when I worked there in the early 80's.

Part of the problem we are dealing with is large acreage.  Permaculture, as I understand it, is best approached at a relatively small scale item.  One family just couldn't deal with a 800 acre or even 3600 acre permaculture farm (they also wouldn't need to, because you can get varied and higher value products) like many farmers now do.  This was done for reasons that made sense at the time, usually, but now, with the benefit of hindsight and broader information availability, we can often see better ways.  I realize that Geoff was involved in a major regional permaculture project in China (the loess area, severely eroded) but he was working with a totalitarian govt.  Normally, it happens on a small, one property at a time rate.
 
Mick Fisch
Posts: 382
30
bee duck fish food preservation forest garden fungi trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
making corn into ethanol is also a bad use of land.  When they started doing it all the food prices took a pretty hefty jump as I recall.  You just can't get enough alcohol out of an acre of corn to be worth it.  If later, we can get the conversion rate improved a 1000% or so, then maybe.
 
Posts: 515
Location: Eastern Kansas
9
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Cattle are permaculture.

The land of the Midwest grows excellent grass, the cattle eat the grass and fertilize with their droppings. The grass puts on more growth and the top half of the plants are eaten again and fertilized again.

As another poster pointed out, it is not fair to lump together feedlots and pasture.
 
Posts: 424
Location: Middle Georgia
64
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
They may be counting a lot of federal land in that 40%. Remember the whole Bundy ranch debacle over grazing rights on federal land?

I have driven through a lot of different states and ya don't see that many cows so this 40% number is definitely being used loosely.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Where did you get that figure?  From what I've read only about 1/3 of our corn is used to feed livestock.  40% is wasted making ethanol (stupid idea).  Leaving less than 25% of it for human consumption.  

I agree that using corn for ethanol isn't smart.  Here's a quote from the sustainable table article I linked to:  

Livestock producers often use corn and soy as a base for their animal feed because these protein-rich grains help bring animals to market weight faster, and because they are cheaper than other feed options as a result of government subsidies. It has been estimated that the operating costs of factory farms would be 7-10% higher without these subsidies.  As a result, a large percentage of grains grown in the US are used in animal feed, with 47% of soy and 60% of corn produced in the US being consumed by livestock.  

 According to the Scientific American article you linked to: This includes distillers grains that are left over from ethanol production.  40% is used for ethanol, and 35% for livestock feed, but... the grain from ethanol is made into livestock feed.  

Today's corn crop is mainly used for biofuels (roughly 40 percent of U.S. corn is used for ethanol) and as animal feed (roughly 36 percent of U.S. corn, plus distillers grains left over from ethanol production, is fed to cattle, pigs and chickens). Much of the rest is exported.

 so it's actually probably more than 60%. At least they are utilizing the waste from that ethanol fiasco.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

It's true that trees only develop roots that fit their needs.  However, regardless of what you want to believe, Pecans require a HUGE amount of water, up to 60 inches in the growing season alone.  

 That's interesting.  I've seen a mature tree growing without irrigation outside of Phoenix on an abandoned farm.  Maybe it had a decent water table.  
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi, Mick.

Permaculture, as I understand it, is best approached at a relatively small scale item.  One family just couldn't deal with a 800 acre or even 3600 acre permaculture farm (they also wouldn't need to, because you can get varied and higher value products) like many farmers now do.  

permaculture is a design system based on ethics.  The design can be for a small house with a moving chicken coop on it's small garden, or it can be for a nation.  There are no size restrictions on creating an ethical design based on Human and Earth care.  Most permaculture, at present, is practiced on the small scale; so you are accurate there, but this approach to design can be as expansive as the state of Texas or the nation of Canada, or as small as a ground floor condo yard or the balcony of a bachelor's suite.  While we might, or often do think of permaculture as being a homestead-based idea, it really shouldn't be restricted to that in our minds.      
 
Peter VanDerWal
pollinator
Posts: 596
Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
77
bee bike fish greening the desert solar woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Mick Fisch wrote:making corn into ethanol is also a bad use of land.  When they started doing it all the food prices took a pretty hefty jump as I recall.  You just can't get enough alcohol out of an acre of corn to be worth it.  If later, we can get the conversion rate improved a 1000% or so, then maybe.



It's worse than that.  Growing ethanol uses petroleum (diesel fuel for the tractors, fertilizer made from petroleum, diesel fuel to haul the corn to the distillery, energy to convert the corn to ethanol, etc.)  when you add everything up, the amount of petroleum used to grow/make the ethanol is equal to the amount of petroleum saved by using the ethanol instead of petroleum.

So not only do you not save any petroleum, you end up producing MORE pollution in the process than you would if you'd just stick to using petroleum.

It's a stupid idea squared.
 
Mike Barkley
pollinator
Posts: 563
Location: mountains of Tennessee
107
bee chicken homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Pecan trees absolutely need huge amounts of water. That's why most of the best wild ones grow near rivers. They get HUGE near rivers. Take a walk around New Braunfels, Tx to easily see the impressive results.

Fairly certain we all know who/what is behind the big ag corn situation these days. It begins with M. Or is it now B since the recent buy out? I won't eat that crap & neither will our cows. Ever. Trying hard to be successful growing some quality corn organically. Zero luck in Texas. Better results here. It will have more space, higher quality soil, & much more effort next season. It's soooo close I can almost taste it. A humanely raised true corned beef is something worth struggling for! Without destroying the land. And then there's cornbread & corn on the cob. YUM.

For the record ... my vote is we should breed & release a large amount of buffalo & elk. Give them plenty of space to roam freely & do their natural thing. Then not foolishly slaughter them to near extinction ever again.

 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

For the record ... my vote is we should breed & release a large amount of buffalo & elk. Give them plenty of space to roam freely & do their natural thing. Then not foolishly slaughter them to near extinction ever again.  

 Are you aware of the project in Banff National Park:  Parks Canada: Bison Reintroduction
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2307
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
285
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Unfortunately, a couple of the bulls wandered out of the Park and were heading toward private grazing lands, and one of them had to be killed. Here is a: CBC article about the rest of the story
 
Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible - Zappa. Tiny ad:
Self-Sufficiency in MO -- 10 acres of Eden, looking for a renter who can utilize and appreciate it.
https://permies.com/t/95939/Sufficiency-MO-acres-Eden-renter
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!