This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 28th of January 2019.
Jon Moore reporting!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
A little housekeeping. Some of you have noticed the website is still down. I’m still in discussions with my host about appropriate levels of performance and hope it will be back up soon. In the meantime I’m posting things to the Facebook page if you’re interested. And now to the show.
From the site Civil Eats come a piece entitled: Silvopasture Can Mitigate Climate Change. Will U.S. Farmers Take it Seriously? A fair question!
Steve Gabriel curls back a bit of flimsy net fencing and shakes a plastic bucket of alfalfa pellets. Immediately, a sweet-faced, short-fleeced mob of some 50 Katahdin sheep pull away from a line of young black locust trees on whose leaves they’ve been snacking and swarm around him. The sheep race after Gabriel as he strides across nibbled grass and out from the fencing, around a dirt path’s shallow curve, and into a shadier, overgrown pasture dotted with long standing black walnut and hawthorn trees.
A sweet image and one that can be replicated across much of the world. It does require a mindset shift from those on the ground. Not the easiest of things but it is the people on the ground who can see the changes occurring as I write then read this. There’s serious fires to the south of us here in Highclere. Emergency evacuations, watch and act alerts and very little sign of rain. Two days ago it was predicted we would receive between 20 – 40mm on Wednesday. Today, Monday, that forcast is now down to 1 – 5mm. I’ve seen this pattern too many times in my life. Rain forecast, clouds arriving and then nothing!. We’re fortunate here. We have a very small holding, 1.5 acres and a permanent bore. We can de-stock, focus on the vegetables and get through this. If this is not the new normal.
Those on the ground see, I think we can all agree on that. It is the properties with multi-generational occupation with rainfall and temperature records that prove most useful. From small grape growers to corporate types the harvest dates, temperature at harvest and annual rainfall records all form part of their business IP. Those in the southern parts of the Australian mainland are and have been buying land in the southern island state of Tasmania. It is cooler here. Whilst the mainland has been under 40+ degrees celsius for most of January, our part has hit 30 once or twice. The southern parts of Tassie have hit the hit 30s and that’s where the fires are.
So we have a dilemma. The rising temperatures and falling rainfall are a consequence of climate change. Silvo pasture as one variation of regenerative agriculture provides a solution in some cases. The nature of silvopasture is that it includes trees, obviously. Trees are a worry in bushfires. Now there are ways around this. Tagasaste is a species which is fire resistant as is, I believe, saltbush. There are ways around these things.
Back to the piece sited:
Gabriel (the person in the above quote) is an agroforestry specialist at Cornell University’s Small Farms Program. He’s also the author of the book on silvopasture, a farming technique that’s touted as a way to sequester carbon by growing trees in livestock pastures.
Gabriel himself runs a 35 acre farm. He rotates meat sheep across once fields. Some of these have black locusts planted on them for feed, shade and nitrogen. These black locusts sequester between 1 and 4 tons of carbon per acre per year. It’s taken five years to convert the place from ru down to productive with huge improvement in soil organic matter and soil biology. All the work has been done by the animals. This is the bit I like, let the stock do the “work” for you by doing what they evolved to do. Stock go to the feed, they manure the ground and move on.
The alternative, CAFOs, feedlots, chick and pig sheds bring the feed to the animals and take, eventually, the manures from the animals. All at the cost of fossil fuels. The differences are obvious. I understand that debt levels will affect decisions in on farm management. I also understand that not everywhere on the planet can stock be outdoors all year. These cases can be opportunities to collect organic matter but again the way is the most important. Slurry tanks and aerial spreading are not good, in a carbon sense, but are technologies worked out and powered by diesel. You can see the pattern. Everytime a technique is powered by a fossil fuel, it reduces the need for people and pumps carbon into the atmosphere.
Silvopasture offers some opportunities dependant upon the landscape, the climate and the preferences of the farmer.
To give you some idea of the wider range of possibilities for silvopasture, the piece goes on:
For example, 14 miles south of the Gabriel farm, the 69-acre Good Life Farm has had success with a peach and apple orchard grazed by beef cattle and poultry, supported by salad crops.
About 180 miles east, in Valley Falls, New York, first generation farmers Dustin and Kassie Gibson have converted 20 acres of what Kassie calls “useless woodland” to silvopasture that supports beef cattle and hogs, thereby expanding the number of animals they’re able to support on their 70 total acres.
Now we come to piece from Inside Climate News entitled: Industrial Agriculture, an Extraction Industry Like Fossil Fuels, a Growing Driver of Climate Change.
Industrial farming encourages practices that degrade the soil and increase emissions, while leaving farmers more vulnerable to damage as the planet warms.
This pretty much sums up the dilemma. Yet there are, of course, people on the ground making a difference. Gabriel, quoted above is one such example.
In this piece they bring us Seth Watkins.
On his farm in southwestern Iowa, Seth Watkins plants several different crops and raises cattle.
He controls erosion and water pollution by leaving some land permanently covered in native grass. He grazes his cattle on pasture, and he sows cover crops to hold the fertile soil in place during the harsh Midwestern winters.
Watkins’ farm is a patchwork of diversity—and his fields mark it as an outlier.
His practices don’t sound radical, but Watkins is a bit of a renegade. He’s among a small contingent of farmers in the region who are holding out against a decades-long trend of consolidation and expansion in American agriculture.
Watkins does this in part because he farms with climate change in mind.
“I can see the impact of the changing climate,” he said. “I know, in the immediate, I’ve got to manage the issue. In the long term, it means doing something to slow down the problem.”
Seth is a hold out against the consolidation process that’s been occurring with increasing rapidity since WW2 but examples can be found as far back the Roman Republic and more recently with the clearances of the 18th century.
Clearly there are economic advantages to consolidation and industrial agriculture but it is these very economic advantages which are driving climate changes. So it is time to do things differently.
“The industrial food system presents a barrier to realizing the potential climate benefits in agriculture,” said Laura Lengnick, a soil scientist who has written extensively on climate and agriculture. “We continue to invest in this massive corn and soybean and beef-making machine in the Midwest despite all that we know about the changes we could make that would maintain yields, improve farm profitability and deliver climate change solutions.”
This is happening as landmark government reports and ample academic research show that agricultural soils are critical for stabilizing the climate.
There is, of course, a political element to all this. Where there are subsidies, there will be lobbyists and market distortions through price signals. These have led to investments based upon the subsidies, consolidation of farms, and then these rely upon the continued subsidies to maintain profitability. A self sustaining cycle. No problem if there’s no down side. In this case, there’s plenty. Fossil fuel use, soil erosion, water contamination and animal cruelty as a starting list. All because the subsidies point enterprises into growing corn, soyabean and beef.
From the article:
Agricultural policy has long emphasized over-production, propped up by government subsidies that favor certain crops. Lawmakers have been unwilling to change the system, largely because of a powerful farm lobby and the might of agribusinesses that profit from technological advancements.
“Farmers are dictated in how to farm,” said Adam Mason, a policy director with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “They’re locked into a system.”
This system has transformed agriculture into a business that resembles the fossil fuel industry as it extracts value out of the ground with relentless efficiency and leaves greenhouse gas pollution in its aftermath.
I would see this as an implementation of Henry Ford’s factory methodology to the whole world. We can do things differently.
Bill Mollison springs to mind in these cases.
“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex,
the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”
“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.”
And on that note I’ll draw this episode to a conclusion.
Remember: Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Of course the podcasting checklists are still available over at Jon Moore Podcasting Services
Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.