It's not Just Joel Salatin anymore

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Sci Am, April 2010
Breaking the Growth Habit by Bill McKibben
For the past quarter of a century, despite the rapid spread of massive-scale agribusiness farming, pesticides and genetically engineered crops, the amount of grain per person has been dropping. Serious people have begun to rethink small-scale agriculture, to produce lots of food on relatively small farms with little or nothing in the way of synthetic fertilizer or chemicals. The new agriculture often works best when it combines fresh knowledge with older wisdom. In Bangladesh a new chicken coop produces not just eggs and meat, but waste that feeds a fishpond, which in turn produces thousands of kilograms of protein annually, and a healthy crop of water hyacinths that are fed to a small herd of cows, whose dung in turn fires a biogas cooking system. In Malawi, tiny fishponds that recycle waste from the rest of a farm yield on average about 1,500 kilograms offish. In Madagascar, rice farmers working with European experts have figured out ways to increase yields. They transplant seedlings weeks earlier than is customary, space the plants farther apart, and keep the paddies unflooded during most of the growing season. That means they have to weed more, but it also increases yields fourfold to sixfold. An estimated 20,000 farmers have adopted the full system. In Craftsbury, Vt., Pete Johnson has helped pioneer year-round farming. Johnson has built solar greenhouses and figured out how to move them on tracks. He now can cover and uncover different fields and grow greens 10 months of the year without any fossil fuels, allowing him to run his community-supported agriculture farm continuously. I'm not arguing for local food because it tastes better or because it's better for you. I'm arguing that we have no choice. In a world more prone to drought and flood, we need the resilience that comes with three dozen different crops in one field, not a vast ocean of corn or soybeans. In a world where warmth spreads pests more efficiently, we need the resilience of many local varieties and breeds. And in a world with less oil, we need the kind of small, mixed farms that can provide their own fertilizer and build their own soil.
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Billy wrote:

I assume this means the amount of grain per farm worker working to produce it, is that right?
I had imagined that the productivity by this measure climbed very rapidly in the early 20th century and then the rate slowed down with little surges as bigger and more automated combine harvesters, irrigation gear, better strains of grain etc were introduced. So I expected that in the last quarter century it would have levelled off like a diminishing returns curve, I didn't expect it to start going down.
Does the author provide any references to where and how this statistic is measured? Does this just relate to the absurdity of the USA corn belt or is it global? What are his reasons for the decline?
Have you got the book?
David
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Unfortunatly, no. It came out in April and I am #24 on the waiting list.
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben, Apr 13, 2010 <(Amazon.com product link shortened)82538531&sr=1-1> I'm in the middle of a movie (Vitus). I'll get back soon. But the answer is humus.
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I'm speculating that number of consumers are outstripping production. "the observed figures for 2007 show an actual increase in absolute numbers of undernourished people in the world, 923 million in 2007 versus 832 million in 1995.[88]; the more recent FAO estimates point out to an even more dramatic increase, to 1.02 billion in 2009." <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overpopulation>

The other problem is that production levels are proportional to optimum humus levels in the soil. Falling humus levels require more and more chemical fertilizers to reach the same production levels. (I'll need to go through my books to come up with the citation, but I think I know where it is.)
This is running a bit afield of my purpose in posting the various systems to maximize production. One reference I read said that Salatin grew an inch of top soil per year. A typical pine forest grows an eighth of an inch of top soil per 50 years.
"in 2007, we used 13 million tons of synthetic fertilizer, five times the amount used in 1960. Crop yields, by comparison, grew only half that fast. And it's hardly a harmless increase: Nitrogen fertilizers are the single biggest cause of global-warming gases from U.S. agriculture and a major cause of air and water pollution -- including the creation of dead zones in coastal waters that are devoid of fish. And despite the massive pesticide increase, the United States loses more crops to pests today than it did before the chemical agriculture revolution six decades ago."
"Another cause for concern is that industrial agriculture and genetically modified crops dangerously reduce biodiversity, especially on the farm. In the United States, 90 percent of soy, 70 percent of corn, and 95 percent of sugarbeets are genetically modified. Industrial farms are by their very nature monocultures, but diverse crops on a farm, even weeds, serve multiple functions: Bees feast on their nectar and pollen, birds munch on weed seeds, worms and other soil invertebrates that help control pests live among them -- the list goes on." <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/04/29/dont_panic_go_organic

Look for the book at the usual places.
<http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/ was recommended for further reading by SciAm.
Part of a Q & A with the author.
SA: Is sheer size the culprit, or is it the complexity that size brings? You say that not just banks but more basic industries are "too big to fail." Should such institutions be broken up or disentangled somehow?
McKIBBEN: The financial system, the energy system and the agricultural system share great similarities: a very small number of players, incredibly interwoven. In each case, cascading effects occur when something goes wrong; a chicken pot pie spreads botulism to 48 states. My house runs on solar panels. If it fails, I have a problem, but it doesn't shut down the eastern U.S. power grid.
SA: So you're advocating a return to local reliance. But since E. F. Schumacher's 1973 book, Small Is Beautiful, dedicated people have been trying to implement local food and energy systems around the world, yet many regions are still struggling. How small is "local"?
McKIBBEN: We'll figure out the size. It could be a town, a region, a state. But to find the answer, we have to get the incredibly distorting subsidies out of our current systems. They send all kinds of bad signals about what we should be doing. In energy we've underwritten fossil fuel for a long time. It's even more egregious in agriculture. Once subsidies wither, we can figure out what scale of industry makes sense.
SA: Don't local products cost more?
McKIBBEN: We would have more farms, and they might be more labor-intensive, but that would also create more jobs, and the farmier would reap more of the revenue. Economically, local farms cut out many middlemen. Buying vegetables from CSA [community-supported agriculture] farms is the cheapest way to get food. Meat might still be more expensive, but frankly, eating less meat isn't the end of rhe world. The best news in my book is the spread, in the past few years, of all kinds of smart, technologically adept, small-scale agricultural techniques around the developing world.
SA: It sounds like the key to local agriculture, at least, is to teach people how to raise yields, without more fertilizer.
McKIBBEN: Yes, and it depends on where you are. There will not be one system that spreads across rhe entire world, the way we've tried to spread industrial, synthetic fertilizer-based agriculture. The solutions are much smarter than that. Instead of spreading chemicals, which causes all kinds of problems, we are figuring out alternative methods and how to spread them. SA: Okay, even if local agriculture works, how does that support durability instead of growth?
McKIBBEN: Probably the most important assets we can have for long-term stability, especially in an era of ecological upheaval, are good soilssoils that allow you to grow a good amount of food, that can absorb a lot of water becausc rainfalls are steadily increasing, soils that hold that rainfall through the kinds of extended droughts that are becoming more common. Good soil is precisely what low-impact, low-input, local agriculture builds, and, precisely what industrial agriculture destroys.
SA: Local reliance sounds attractive, but how do countries like the U.S. get out of huge debt without growing? The U.S. Treasury Department says the only painless solution is growth. Do we need a transition period where growth eliminates debt, and then we embrace durability?
McKIBBEN: Well, "painless" is just delay. You know: "Pay me now, or pay me later." The primary political question is: Can we make change happen fast enough to avoid all-out collapses that are plausible, even likely? How do we move these transitions more quickly than they want to move?
www.ScientificAmerican.com April 2010

Later
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In article

My authority for the above is The Fatal Harvest Reader Edited by Andrew Kimbrell <(Amazon.com product link shortened) /ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid82583500&sr=1-1> This is a anthology of agricultural authors. Part 3 starts with ARTIFICIAL FERTILITY by Jason McKenny, p.121 - 129
p. 125 THE BREAKDOWN OF A SYSTEM We now know that the massive use of synthetic fertilizers to create artificial fertility has had a cascade of adverse effects on natural soil fertility and the entire soil system. Fertilizer application begins the destruction of soil biodiversity by diminishing the role of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and amplifying the role of everything that feeds on nitrogen. These feeders then speed up the decomposition of organic matter and humus. As organic matter decreases, the physical structure of soils changes. With less pore space and loss of their sponge-like qualities, soils are less efficient at retaining moisture and air. More irrigation is needed. Water leaches through soils, draining away nutrients that no longer have an effective substrate on which to cling. With less available oxygen the growth of soil microbiology slows, and the intricate ecosystem of biological exchanges breaks down. Acidity rises and further breaks down organic matter. As soil microbes decrease in volume and diversity, they less are less able to physically hold soils together in groups called aggregates. Water begins to erode these soils away. Less topsoil means less volume and biodiversity to buffer against these changes. More soils wash away. Meanwhile, all of these events have a cumulative effect of reducing the amount of nutrients available to plants. Industrial farmers address these observed deficiencies by adding more fertilizer. Such a scenario is known as a negative feedback loop; a more blunt comparison is substance abuse.
127 THE DEBT IS DUE All of these adverse effects of fertilizers result from their application. It is equally important to consider the problems associated with the production of fertilizers. The Haber process first made for the direct link of fertility to energy consumption, but this was in a time when fossil fuels were abundant and their widespread use seemed harmless. The production of nitrogenous fertilizers consumes more energy than any other aspect of the agricultural process. It takes the energy from burning 2,200 pounds of coal to produce 5.5 pounds of usable nitrogen. This means that within the industrial model of agriculture, as inputs are compared to outputs, the cost of energy has become increasingly important. Agriculture's relationship to fertility is now directly related to the price of oil.
128 This economic model made some sense throughout a farming period in which we were mining the biological reserves of fertility bound in soil humus. Now it is a crisis of diminishing returns. In 1980 in the United States, the application of a ton of fertilizers resulted in an average yield of 15 to 20 tons of corn. By 1997, this same ton of fertilizer yielded only 5 to 10 tons. Between 1910 and 1983, United States corn yields increased 346 percent while our energy consump- tion for agriculture increased 810 percent. The poor economics of this industrial agriculture began to surface. The biological health of soils has been driven into such an impoverished state at the expense of quick, easy fertility that productivity is now compromised, and fertil- izers are less and less effective.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 1997 declared that Mexico and the United States had hit the wall" on wheat yields, with no increases shown in 13 years. Since the late 1980s, worldwide consumption of fertilizers has been in decline. Farmers are using fewer fertilizers because crops are physiologically incapable of absorbing more nutrients. The negative effects of erosion and loss of biological resiliency exceed our ability to offset them with fertilizers. The price of farm commodities is so low that it no longer offsets the cost of fertilizers. We are at full throttle and going nowhere. Economic systems assume unlimited growth capacity. Ecological systems have finite limitations. It would be wise to recognize how the industrial perspective of fertility as a mined resource drives us toward agricul- tural collapse.
SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS Certainly the adverse effects of fertilizer use come as no sudden surprise to farmers. Even those who manage the most chemically based agricultural systems recognize the important roles of organic matter, microorganisms, and crop diversity ill fertility maintenance. Unfortunately, under crushing financial pressure most farmers are limited in the changes they can afford to make.
Some of the greatest reductions in fertilizer use have come from conservation practices and more careful applications. These represent a savings for farmers. Better timing and less indiscriminate applica-
129
tion of fertilizers reduce the adverse effect on soil biology and the likelihood of environmental pollution. Equally important are conser- vation tillage methods in which ground disturbance is minimized and the decomposition of crop residues is promoted. Less tillage distur- bance gives a greater opportunity for microorganisms to proliferate, and more crop decomposition helps provide habitat and resources for them. More water, nutrients, and soils are retained on the farm. Organic farmers approach the management of fertility biologically rather than chemically. Most organic methods work to enhance soil nutrient cycles by relying upon strategies of crop rotation and cover-cropping to provide nutrient enrichment. Nitrogen-fixing and nutrient-building crops are grown explicitly for the purpose of improving soils, increasing organic matter and soil microbes, preventing erosion, and attracting other beneficial organisms. Soil diversity is maintained with crop plant diversity. Multiple varieties of different crops are grown in successions, which maximize nutrient use by different plant types and minimize pests and pathogens. Additional fertility is provided through organic sources. Naturally based organic fertilizers include composted plant materials, composted manures, fishery by-products, blood and bonemeals, and other materials which decay and release nutrients, participating in rather than destabilizing the nutrient cycle. Practiced well, organic methods establish a dynamic yet stable fertility. Costs of outside inputs dwindle, while soil health and overall fertility grows.
<snip>
A bit of over kill perhaps, but just to justify my assumptions about McKibben's article in the April, 2010 Scientific American.
As a side bar to Frank's fear of finally having to do some work is the exchange between SciAm and McKibben in the Q & A
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SA: The subtext here is that large, centralized, monolithic systems of
agriculture, energy and other commerce drive growth. Are you saying big
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Are you seriously saying that you support fish that eat chicken shit? Seriously... This is just one more reason why I consider you an idiot.

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No sense in explaining to the mentally myopic. Good luck with your life.

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Thos wrote:

It says:
"a new chicken coop produces not just eggs and meat, but waste that feeds a fishpond, which in turn produces thousands of kilograms of protein annually"
It is not the fish that 'eat' chicken shit it is the pond. I think you will find that the manure makes algae and/or water plants grow which in turn feeds the fish. You seem to be short on basic understanding of how nutrients are recycled in nature and the benefit that humans can and must get from coopting such processes.
Manures are some of the best additives for a productive garden. Mushrooms grow on cow manure, do you despise them? Most of the phosphate that is found in commercial fertiliser came out of the bum of a bird or a bat, does the thought of that bother you? Rabbits regularly eat shit, does that mean they are forever banned from your life?
If the fish did eat chicken shit (they probably wouldn't) why would it be such a problem? Seriously.
David
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.
Didn't know any in group see it as I do. Op wants us to go back to the days when 95% of us were farmers ;)
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snipped-for-privacy@peoplepc.com says...

http://www.google.ca/search?client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US % 3Aofficial&channel=s&hl=en&source=hp&q=water+hyacinths+purification&meta =&btnG=Google+Search
Do some reading and then start backward engineering the system being described.
sheesh
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Billy wrote:

Before the specialization trend that led to corporate agribusiness manure from the critters in the barn was not toxic waste because there wasn't too much of it. There was enough to spread on the fields as fertilizer without polluting the ground water.
Written in gardening and small farming terms does it come across more like preaching to the choir on a gardening group?
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That is exactly the case, Doug. With Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) the animals waste is pumped into foul smelling lagoons, waiting to be hauled to land fills. The animals are raised in filth and terror. They are in such tight spaces that they need antibiotics to keep diseases from killing the herd. The bacteria then develop resistance to the antibiotics, rendering the antibiotics useless to human beings. The killer E. coli, like 0157:H7 come from feed lots. Never existed before and are now a threat to human health. The conveyor belts move so fast at packing plants that the work is quick and sloppy (and extremely dangerous) and the meat comes out with fecal matter on it. Meat packers want to irradiate the meat to disinfect it, but as Marion Nestle has said,"Sterilized shit is still shit."
In pastures steer manure, can make topsoil, and the entire operation would greatly reduce the need for antibiotics, and the animals wouldn't be covered in their own filth.

We got all kinds here. Some (I know I'm leaving people out) like Pat and Emilie, seem to know everything, the rest of us know some, and are just trying to fill in the gaps. Everybody starts at the beginning.
Welcome.
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In wrote:

Who's going to be the person to tell 2/3 of the earth's population that they're going to have to starve?
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That would be the fossil-fuel, industrial, corporate farmers, waving their price lists about for people to inspect.
If you have followed the thread, Bert, you would have seen numbers that indicate that we are getting diminishing returns from industrial farming, and industrial farming is based on increasingly expensive fossil fuels (2200 lbs of coal for 5.5 lbs of nitrogen fertilizer?).
Joel Salatin on his farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, yearly transforms his pastures into "40,000 pounds of beef, 30,000 pounds of pork, 10,000 broilers, 1,200 turkeys, 1,000 rabbits, and 35,000 dozen eggs. This is an astounding cornucopia of food to draw from a hundred acres of pasture, yet what is perhaps still more astonishing is the fact that this pasture will be in no way diminished by the processin fact, it will be the better for it, lusher, more fertile, even springier underfoot (this thanks to the increased earthworm traffic)."
----- He grows an inch of topsoil/year. ------
Like Salatin, in Bangladesh a new chicken coop produces not just eggs and meat, but waste that feeds a fishpond, which in turn produces thousands of kilograms of protein annually, and a healthy crop of water hyacinths that are fed to a small herd of cows, whose dung in turn fires a biogas cooking system. In Malawi, tiny fishponds that recycle waste from the rest of a farm yield on average about 1,500 kilograms offish. In Madagascar, rice farmers working with European experts have figured out ways to increase yields. They transplant seedlings weeks earlier than is customary, space the plants farther apart, and keep the paddies unflooded during most of the growing season. That means they have to weed more, but it also increases yields fourfold to sixfold. An estimated 20,000 farmers have adopted the full system. In Craftsbury, Vt., Pete Johnson has helped pioneer year-round farming. Johnson has built solar greenhouses and figured out how to move them on tracks. He now can cover and uncover different fields and grow greens 10 months of the year without any fossil fuels, allowing him to run his community-supported agriculture farm continuously. " . . . in a world with less oil, we need the kind of small, mixed farms that can provide their own fertilizer and build their own soil."
--

Monocultures, repeatedly planted in one area are highly susceptible
insect and plant pests. These vast monocultures are grown because of
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I believe in the theory "The world is a zero sum gain". If food and population grows it is at the expense of nature. Predator vs Prey and so on. So Joel Salatin grows thousands of pounds of food and improves his soil. If this true where does he get thousands of pounds of material to go back into his soil? Does the amount of rain that falls on his land have as much substance that leaves his farm in food production? I bet he also buys "lime" and other soil improving substances as well. If he does buy lime and other soil improvements, is he really self sustaining? Or are using the term self sustaining in terms of economics?
While I am posting this, I will download "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet" A book some one recommend on this thread, looks like a good read. Enjoy Life... Dan Using an iPad
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Dan L wrote:

Perhaps you mean "zero sum game". This is where there is only a fixed amount in the pot, the total gained by the winners must be made up by the total lost by the losers. I don't think it is true to say that of the world in general. It is true of fixed resources eg oil but much of the living world is not a fixed resource like that. For example while it is technically true that there is only a fixed amount of some plant nutrients (for example nitrogen) in the earth's biosphere humans only need a tiny fraction of it and if we recycle it well then it effectively becomes limitless.
If food and

From air and rain. The great bulk of biomass comes from carbon dioxide in the air, nitrogen in the air and rainwater.

Not exactly, see above and this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_cycle
and this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_cycle
I bet he also buys "lime"

He probably does by some minor inputs such as lime. The aim in sustainable agriculture at this stage is not to produce a perfect closed system where nothing is lost so nothing needs to be input except sunlight - although some people are actually experimenting with that. The aim is to get away from reliance on fixed resources, especially energy sources like fossil fuels which are going to run out fairly soon. This is because if we don't our present system of agriculture will fall in a heap.
In the future we may well have to worry about running out of lime or phosphate rock but those limits are not urgent now. It is going to be hard enough dealing with climate change, fossil fuel running out, water being used inefficiently and over population adding more pressure every day, let's get those out of the way first.
David
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Thanks for the clarification, The term "closed system" is the key word that I was associating with "sustainable".
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In article < snipped-for-privacy@news.eternal-se ptember.org>,

???????
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I purchased a new toy called an iPad from apple computer. I put the phrase "Using an iPad" for my self to know which machine I was posting from. I forgot that my main computer setup puts a flower pot in the upper corner. I will remove the added catch phase because I doubt I will use the main computer for Internet use much longer in favor of the the new iPad, which is also a book reader also.
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