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Input from Farmers about Broadacre Permaculture

 
                      
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I am a graduate student at the University of Florida in the Interdisciplinary Ecology Doctoral Program. My dissertation research focuses on the barriers to farmer adoption of broadacre permaculture. I believe that in order to truly infiltrate the current system, Permaculture must be adopted by people who are producing food for others. I am interested in hearing from folks (especially farmers who have been inspired by Permaculture) about their experiences. Here are a few questions that I have to guide the discussion:

    Why do Permaculture principles, practices and strategies still remain on the fringe of mainstream farming in the United States and Australia?

    b. Are farmers who adopt Permaculture driven by their beliefs and ethics or by rational scientific principles?


    c. What are the main barriers to farmer adoption of permaculture?


    d. What benefits do farmers expect when they adopt permaculture?


    e. What benefits do they actually realize?


    f. Why hasn’t permaculture been disseminated to a wider population of farmers?


    g. How can dissemination of permaculture reach a wider audience?


    Your input will help to shape my inquiry as I will be conducting observations and interviews with Permaculture-inspired farmers in the US and Australia in the near future.


    Thanks!
    Wendi
 
tel jetson
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this thread here might be worth checking out.

bit to busy to add much more than that at the moment.
 
duane hennon
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hi Wendi,

here is another good thread
http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/8927_0/permaculture/tedxmanhattan-cheryl-rogowski-being-a-family-farmer

also in my experience with farmers and permaculture
1. most conventional farmers are mechanical oriented (tractors, tractors, tractors) so in their view, the answer is more tractors, combines, harvestors, etc
2. farm layout is based upon machinery access, straight rows, monocrop for ease of mechanical harest
3. soil, not being mechanical, is not thought about as much
4. any inputs would therefore be delivered by machines, ie, herdicide, pesticide sprays, and fertilizer
5. one of the selling points of monsanto's chemical gmo no till is that one person, who never has to get out of the cab of a tractor, can prepare, plant and harvest a large amount of land
 
                      
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This is good fodder, folks. I can imagine that aside from the technical aspects of farming such as infrastructure and machinery, there are also many social aspects such as the stigma of being an outlier against the norm.  It seems that there would be much economic risk involved with pay-offs coming many years down the road. One other thing that I thought of is that Permaculture principles are largely based on small scale systems. I am  confused a bit about what broadacre permaculture would entail.Has anybody ventured into coming up with PC principles for broadacre? I can definitely put all of these assumptions on the table, but I need to actually speak with many of the farmers who are trying to implement PC design...which will happen within the next 18 months.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Wendi wrote:
Has anybody ventured into coming up with PC principles for broadacre?


Why would the existing principles not work with larger acreage?

 
Terri Matthews
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Wendi, just off the top of my head, an acre of corn will yeild 5000 pounds of dry shelled corn, is not raised using permaculture, and needs only a few man hours to do.

An acre of permaculture yeilds far less calories and takes many man hours to do.

Therefore it is less profitable.

By the way, Wendi, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE share with us what the permaculture farmers are raising? This is a subject very near and very dear to my heart!
 
Terri Matthews
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Oh, yes. I just remembered.

For farming permaculture, check out the very old farming books.

Did you know that fields of crops used to be "hogged off"? Yep. Instead of harvesting the grain by hand and carrying it to the pigs, they used to put good fences around their fields and move the hogs to the fields to let them harvest their food themselves. Now, straight grain is not a balanced diet so they usedd to take the protien supplements to the field to the pigs: skim milk was popular because there was a better market for cream than their was for milk. In this manner the farmer avoided a great deal of effort. When the pigs were ready (or when the feed was all eaten) the farmer would load up the hogs and take them to auction, and the pigs would be how he got the money for the field of grain.

In a modern operation the pigs are confined, and the grain is carried in from the field to give to them.

150 years ago, what we are now calling permaculture was often done, as people did not have our machinery available.
 
                      
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Terri, I will definitely post a link to my dissertation when I am finished, but it may be quite a while. As part of the dissertation, I will also propose a curriculum for Agricultural extension to incorporate PC into their farmer trainings based on the benefits and barriers that I discover in my research.

You say that an acre of permaculture yeilds far less calories and takes many man hours to do. But does that have to really be the case? Yes, corn produces plenty of biomass beyond the kernels that is not useful unless returned to the soil in a no-till operation.

An acre of Permaculture as we have at our home susbsistence mini-farm in Florida produces so many more calories in a diversified manner than an acre of corn would. There was alot of labor at the beginning, but now, 4 years after the first sheet mulching and planting all we do is feed the soil with local compost, minerals and guano and weed a little and the yield is extraordinary. During the winter, fall and early spring we plant annual crops before the perennials come up. Now I can't imagine having the same system on 100+ acres and trying to profit from it. I believe therein lies another barrier with broadacre PC.
 
Troy Rhodes
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I am surrounded by big farm people.  I grew up on a chem/tractor farm.  I see two serious barriers right off the bat:

1.  Labor.  Assume I'm a chem farmer with 1000 acres.  And I want to experiment with a little piece, just 100 acres.  How many people does it take to implement that 5 year plan?  Where would I get those people with the expertise and motivation to plan, plant and maintain a "little" 100 acre plot?  It will be hard to convince them that a 5 acre plot could get them anything worthwhile in terms of cash flow.  Even 5 acres, how many people to plan/plant/maintain/harvest? 

These guys have a hard time finding 2 or 3 dependable farm hands during the busy season.

2.  Risk.  One of the consequences of "modern" factory farming is that the profit margin is very thin.  That's why a "successful" farmer under the current conditions is often working 1000 acres or more.  600 is considered small.  Most farmers have to borrow the money to get this year's crop planted/sprayed/harvested.  If they have ONE really bad year, they could lose the farm forever.  Would you bet the family farm on something that no other farmer in the county is doing?  Would your banker?  Where does the money come from to convert a conventional farm while it's not making money for 3 years.  Or 4.

Joel Salatin is the best PR man we have for converting a farm and making money at it.


Finest regards,

troy
 
Terri Matthews
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Wendi, will you share what permaculture crop you are raising that produces so many calories?

This is a problem that I have not yet solved. I have a mixed garden and fruit trees, but, calorie-wise I am way behind a field of corn!
 
                      
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Thanks, Solarguy...I fully agree with everything you have said. These are certainly two of the issues that I will be looking at in my research.

Terri, this time of the year passionfruit has taken over. We planted 2 vines and they have sprung up everywhere providing abundant fruits and greens during the summertime, a time when the farmers stop producing annual crops in our region. Other high energy perennial crops that produce heavily with very little inputs in our neck of the woods are yuca cassava, sweet potato and seminole pumpkin. Its very hard to grow corn where we live.
 
Terri Matthews
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Thanks!
 
Saybian Morgan
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Check out http://permaculture.biz/
Darren J. Doherty specializes in broadscale permaculture.

 
                                
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Wendi wrote:
    c. What are the main barriers to farmer adoption of permaculture?


I can answer that in one word: Money.

But to elaborate, it would be the USDA and the Farm Bill standing in the way.  The major broadacre crops (corn, soy, wheat, etc) are subsidized to prop production up to excessive levels, thus keeping prices low.  The subsidies then become the only way (in current thinking) a broadscale farmer can profit... thus enslaving them to the system of cheap commodity calories.

At this time, it is cheaper to produce beef by growing millions of bushels of soybeans, chemically, then transporting them to feedlots.  This would not be the case without the Farm Bill.  Oh, and relatively cheap fossil fuels.  Take those two things away, and the economical way to raise beef goes back to planting pasture and keeping cows on the land, where they harvest and fertilize their own food without mechanical or chemical input.  The only trucking done then is to haul steers to the slaughterhouse -- a far more sustainable model.

That in mind, we can see that the only way a broadacre farmer can adopt more sustainable methods... is if he's sitting on piles of cash, and has no debt.  Theoretically, it could be forced by removing the subsidies, but given the sheer political power of agribusiness conglomerates, that's not going to happen.
 
                                
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Terri wrote:
Wendi, just off the top of my head, an acre of corn will yeild 5000 pounds of dry shelled corn, is not raised using permaculture, and needs only a few man hours to do.

An acre of permaculture yeilds far less calories and takes many man hours to do.

Therefore it is less profitable.



That's exactly the kind of thinking that has us in this awful mess.  The farmers I know who raise corn, wheat & such here in eastern CO are farming upwards of 15-30 sections just to get by.  That may be a lot of calories, but I sure as hell wouldn't call it profitable.  That's not even counting the fact that they're mining all the soil away -- if they have any left anyway.  Losing topsoil is not profitable, period.

Now, if one man working 5 acres of sustainable permaculture can make the same annual net profit as the guy with 10 tractors and 30 square miles of row crop... what's more profitable, long term? 

 
duane hennon
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slowly, slowly the change is coming. the "big boys" will probably be the last
http://www.ellwoodcityledger.com/news/local_news/local-farmers-raise-grass-fed-cattle/article_3763fd75-c685-549f-9869-a3eed2c08919.html
 
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