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View Diary: Vegetables of Mass CONVENTION - Austin Edition! (34 comments)

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  •  The same principles apply (10+ / 0-)

    That's an important question, Maven.  The short answer is yes, this type of approach is doable on large-scale farms in every part of the country -- with modifications.

    The same basic principles will apply: improving the soil biology, managing the animals in a way that mimics nature, improving plant health through improving the soil.  The same consultants that I've studied with -- Arden Anderson, Elaine Ingham, and others -- work with everyone from gardeners to commercial operations that raise thousands of acres of crops.  I personally know people who raise hundreds of head of cattle or sheep using these types of methods.  

    It is more labor-intensive than conventional agriculture.  It also usually requires much less investment in equipment, and the inputs (fertilizers, etc) are much cheaper.  And sometimes labor and infrastucture are inversely related -- if you have the money to put up lots of internal cross-fencing, the labor goes down dramatically.

    Most importantly, thsi type of farming requires knowledge, skill, and observation.  You have to be walking the land, observing the animals, running experiments with the plants -- you can't just apply fertilizer and give vaccinations according to the schedule put out by the Extension Service.

    One of the best publications in this area is Acres USA  They cover livestock, crop, and veggie & fruit growing, and it has information that is useful for every scale operation.  Their annual conference draws people from the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia, to give you a sense of the geographic scope.  

    Another good journal, aimed just at the livestock raisers, is Stockamdn Grass Farmer

    Probably the major issue in trying to scale our specific approach up would be the use of heritage breeds.  Our turkeys are much slower maturing than the commercial breeds, so the costs are inevitably higher.  Same with our chickens.  On the other hand, given time to build the numbers of animals without sacrificing quality, our sheep breed (Katahdins) could probably do well at any scale without sacrificing quality.

    Ultimately, the basic principles apply at any scale.  Skill and knowledge are needed to develop a system that works for that specific farm: the climate, soil, types of food being raised, time versus money resources, etc.

    •  Good To Hear (7+ / 0-)

      I guess my next non-expert question would be:

      What are the principal impediment(s) to the application of these styles on a broader basis?  Is it a matter of big agribusness standing in the way?  A paucity of needed grant funding from federal/state/local ag. authorities?  Regulatory requirements that would get in the way once certain size thresholds have been attained?

      Or is it simply a matter of institutional inertia and reluctance to embrace change by many other farmers, who even might recognize the flaws inherent in the current system but take a "better the devil you know attitude"?

      •  All of the above (3+ / 0-)

        Sorry, I was gone for the day, hope you see this response.

        I think all of those play in.  The industrial agriculture companies started giving major funding to the land-grant universities a while back.  So the major agricultural universities don't dare put out research critiquing the conventional system.  I've talked with people whose research showed that NONE of the chemicals they were testing were very beneficial, but they were told that they could not publish that research.  And since the Extension Service is funded by the same people and relying on the published studies, the only solutions they recommend are the conventional chemical ones.  

        And then there's everyone with a product to sell.  Holistic sustainable agriculture requires fewer inputs, and the inputs decrease over time -- which means less and less money.  Conventional agriculture requires ever-increasing inputs, in contrast.

        And our type of agriculture is difficult mental work!  Farmers have been told they're stupid, and just follow the nice, simple instructions on the bag of fertilizer.  It's difficult to get out of that rut.  

        There's also the farming culture.  It's very conservative -- not necessarily politically (although that, too), but in terms of not liking change.  If you're the "weirdo" doing "that organic stuff", you'll get grief at the local feed store, equipment store, etc.

        And then there's the government.  USDA and many of our state agriculture departments are terrible examples of industry capture of the agencies.  The senior officials are all from industry, or hoping to go to industry, and so they make the rules to suit the big money interests.  

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