alternatives in land use

DMc

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I am by no means a rancher or farmer but have always preferred working with natural solutions. I was viewing this video and was wondering what some of you that have more experience in these things, like FFZ, thought of this as a way of improving diversity and land use potential.


http://vimeo.com/channels/raythesoilguy/14892294
 

Underwor

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I attended a field trip several years ago to the Dakota Lakes Research Farm just east of Pierre, SD. It was very informative from the standpoint of a Soil Science instructor trying to explain a lot of the PHC soil principles. Here is a link to one of the articles that Duane Beck has written on the subject of ecosystem management from the standpoint of good crop production and conservation management. There are many more publications on their website. This pretty much follow the theme in Dave's post in helping to manage the land and realize its potential.

I particularly like Duane's definition of a farmer.

"The best definition of a farmer is someone that takes sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide and turns them into products that can be sold. Each operation needs to evaluate how good of a job they do at performing those tasks. What percentage of the sunlight that falls hits living tissue? What percentage of the water that falls enters the soil and is used by plants and how much causes harm by leaching or running from the land. Ate the nutrients cycled or “leaked”? Ecosystem that leak nutrients (including carbon) for extended periods of time, turn into deserts."

www.dakotalakes.com/Publications/2014 Dwayne Beck Managing Agricultureal Ecosystems.pdf
 

woodworkingboy

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Not being able to change with the times is what has been the cause of many businesses going under. Not an easy thing to do if you have been doing only one approach for a lengthy time. That farmer has a lot of perseverance, probably also thinking to find a way for his sons to carry on when it's their time to be in charge.
 

cory

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Dave and Bob, very cool links. Working with nature to make money is a win /win
 

FireFighterZero

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Great video link.

Progress in agriculture moves slowly, and as a rule farmers are pretty cautious. It probabaly has something to do with the fact some of us have to borrow money against the WHOLE place to operate the next year.

Conservation has improved steadily over the last 90 or so years. Stripping out large blocks of land helped stop wind erosion. The switch to chemical fallow saved the land even more. My farm used to blow away in the fall, now the soil never moves. Of course, chemical fallow has its down sides, but it seems most of the advances have trade offs. We burn a third of the diesel with chem fallow, but use more chemical than before. Organic farming uses way more fuel but way less chemical. BASF is going to introduce "organic" chemicals to boost yields. I see it as the death knell of organic farming.

Cover crops have been talked about for years, and in the right places and times are a great tool. We are in a wet cycle right now and cover crops make sense, less inputs and higher return. Especially if you can graze the cover. We go through dry cycles too, and could not get enough cover to help.

As far as intensive grazing goes, I think we must really thank the Canadians for that one. Canada has ALWAYS been more progressive when it comes to agriculture. As much as I hate to admit it, the buffalo really had it right. Instead of staying on a piece of land for weeks and weeks, they moved through with huge numbers and left quickly. Compaction was lessened, the plants were damaged less and the soil was healthier. This is the model for intensive grazing.

Where we can increase the benefit is to plant higher producing pastures, or make use of cover crops. Around here peas are used to fix nitrogen and increase organic matter into the soil. These peas can be harvested for cash but once the plant has flowered it uses nitrogen, so a lot of producers till it into the soil before that point. One method is to use a disk to work them in. A disk is very agressive and requires a lot more fuel to pull than a cultivator. If you graze the peas then you can use a cultivator to work them in. Its a win win.

A fact of life is that any new practice must make money or save money for the farmer. This is a business, just like tree work.

It is however an exciting time to be in agriculture. We are doing better than we have before. Trouble is that we go broke more often during the good times than the tough times. Increased production from improved farming practices drives down prices. And then the WTO decides that we are not playing fair and extorts money from the US.

Mongo only pawn in game of life.
 

cory

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Why do you hate to admit 'the buffalo had it right?' Have you considered raising buffalo instead of cattle?

Stripping out large blocks of land to prevent wind erosion, what does that mean?

Chemical fallow- does that mean you take a field out of production to let it 'rest', and you do it by killing the weeds etc with chemicals so they don't get super strong while the field is fallow. And if you tilled the field (turned the soil over, upside down, to smother the weeds) to make it fallow, that takes more diesel fuel to run the tractors and also leads to wind and water erosion?

Tilling- is that making slits in the soil instead of cultivating, which is turning the soil over? I tried google but couldn't find clear answers.

Did you read Bob's link too? What did you think of it?

Thanks Jim.
 

FireFighterZero

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I did not see that Bob's link was a link. I will read it later. I skimmed it, I might print it off. Looks promising.

I am prejudiced against buffalo. Not the animals them selves so much as the smug bastards that raise them. My issue is that they should let their product stand alone, not tell everyone that they are killing the planet by not eating buffalo. Sell it on taste, if you cant do that, well, dont crucify me. Lotta sensationalism in buffalo and organic foods. Not as much science.

I tend to look at university studies with a critical eye. Montana has never had a leading program in agronomy. The Dakotas, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan have always done a better job of trying new things and implementing practices that are good for the land and farmer.

Montana does not do big picture, they look through a soda straw. One thing to remember is that every section of land is different. A really great idea may not work fifty miles away. It is best to be open minded when it comes to practices, but sometimes a new practice does not make sense in a certain area. It is best to not minimalize local knowledge or belittle someone who has been working the land for 50 years, and seen the "expert leaders" come and go. Even seen the "new, responsible" techniques implemented, tested, and abandoned, only to be "discovered" again. We have short memories. RANT over!

Back to your questions. Stripping out land would take large blocks of tilled land and cut them into strips. Alternating strips of tilled land and planted fields. The stubble in the fall or a planted crop in the summer would help hold the soil from blowing away. The edges of fields would also follow the land contours to take advantage of natural barriers to the wind. This practice is loosing favor in organic operations because it is difficult to control weeds in between strips.

Yes, chem fallow is used to kill weeds and conserve moisture when the field is being rested. Yes, it takes a lot of fuel to till the soil. On my farm I rest half of the land every year. \

We sprayed the fields four times this year. That is more than normal, but we had twice the ususal moisture this year. Had I still been cultivating I would have had to work the land eight times.

FWIW, most chemicals affect the hormones of a plant, causing it to grow beyond its ability to transport nutrients.

I interchange the words tilling and cultivating. Tilling or cultivating the soil can be acomplished with a cultivator or a disk. The idea is to work the soil a little as possible but still kill the weeds.

A typical disk will be 20 to 36 feet wide while a cultivator will be 40 to 60 feet wide. I can cost anywhere from 5 to 10 dollars and acre to cultivate. I can cost as little as 3 dollars and as much as 30 dollars to spray.

Plowing the soil is quite different as it turns the soil completely over. It works the soil quite deep. A typical row crop tractor would be able to pull a 24 foot cultivator while only being able to pull a eight foot plow.

Making slits in the soil is a process of aeration. Breaking up compaction and allowing water and nutrients to enter deeper soil profiles. It is used in pasture renovation and in farming as well.

Boy, youse guys really know how to pull my string! I'm like a chatty Cathy!
 

cory

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I'm still not clear on what tilling/cultivating vs plowing, is it like plowing but less deep??:?

Imo you shouldn't care much about other buffalo producers and their marketing efforts if buffalo could make you money from the actual meat as well as lower costs of raising and production cuz the bison require less care. You say 'sell it on taste' alone but imo that's not the way to go. Good meat all tastes similar to me (it tastes goood), so if buffalo tastes as good as steak but is much more environmentally friendly, then, in this day and age of peeps generally being much more environmentally aware, lotta folks will buy the buffler and even pay more for it cuz they feel like they are getting good food and helping the environment at the same time.

You can see I'm a buffalo proponent, but are there strong sensible reasons for not increasing buffalo production (due to their healthier meat and lower rangeland and fossil fuel impact) and lowering cattle production (due to their meat being less healthy due to being less lean and frequently containing added hormones and antibiotics which many feel is a negative to human health, and because they are more costly to raise since they aren't as well adapted to Western lands as the bison) other than tradition and inertia?

Thanks, Jim
 

stig

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I never eat buffalo, Jim.
Does that make you like me a little better?

This thread is interesting as hell because of your input.
So go on, Cathy.
 

FireFighterZero

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I had a long post written out Cory, but I was not getting my points across in a proper manner! I will try later.

A plow and a cultivator are two different pieces of machinery. Look up moldboard plow and look up field cultivator. They should be different.
 

cory

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Ok, a cultivator scratches the surface of the soil, not too invasive. A disc slices the soil and partially turns it over. A plow turns over the soil completely. Right??

Edit: Tilling seems to be a catch all term for all 3
 

FireFighterZero

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Yep, I would say you have it now!

I have been thinking about buffalo. I would like to know how to replace the protein. For all intents and purposes there are no buffalo in the US. I would think that it would take a monumental shift in, well, everything to be able to kill the same number of pounds of buffalo as we do beef right now.

The vicious circle aspect of it would be that it would probably require feedlots, high fossil fuel use, antibiotics, and increased methane release to do it.

Thankfully we can choose what protein we eat. And for the record, beef is a distant third behind chicken and pork. The average number of cattle raised on an American ranch is 40. And with improved grazing practices and management such as those outlined in the excellent articles and videos above, those 40 head are being raised on fewer acres than ever before.

That is what rubs me a bit. 150 years ago pretty much everyone lived on a farm, or lived damn close to one that was run by a better farmer than you.

Now no one lives on a farm. The population is way bigger everywhere, and the land used in farming is way less. It gets better every year as far as I am concerned.

Of course, I still have a bit of romantic in me, thinking that we should feed the ones that cant feed themselves.

I appreciate the fact that most Americans can afford to eat beef once in a while.
 

pantheraba

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You boys have got it GOIN' ON!!!! Cory, keep prodding Jim..I'm lovin' what y'all are batting back and forth.

Good stuff...lurking but enjoying the exchange.
 

cory

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I have been thinking about buffalo. I would like to know how to replace the protein. For all intents and purposes there are no buffalo in the US. I would think that it would take a monumental shift in, well, everything to be able to kill the same number of pounds of buffalo as we do beef right now.

The vicious circle aspect of it would be that it would probably require feedlots, high fossil fuel use, antibiotics, and increased methane release to do it.
You may well be right. Though everything I read about buffler v beef is that buffler takes less resources to raise than beef. But yeah, if the scale changed, maybe the overall dynamic would change too and change that premise.

Glad you're liking it Gary:popcorn:
 

FireFighterZero

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If you compare apples to apples a grass fat beef and a grass fat buffalo are similar. There are breeds of cattle that produce for less than buffalo. Piedmontese. Although I spelled it wrong.

The sheer scale of meat production is mind boggling. I dig the fact that we can eat buffalo if we want, but I dig that fact that beef is accessible to more people than ever. I also dig the fact that I can cut the loin out of an antelope and start cooking it before it gets done twitching, out on the prairie. Next to an old buffalo wallow.

We should eat more rabbits, they are good! Goat is good too. Hell, there isn't a meat i wont eat. When people did not have a choice, they raised what they ate.

The article was a bit off, people have eaten roosters and hens that stopped laying for a long time now. They did not wait for them to die of old age to eat them.
 

DMc

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Thoughtfull and informative, Jim. OK, I know nothing about the complexities facing the modern farmer and rancher but I do have a pretty good grasp on how the natural world works. I just don't see anything sustainable about the mono cultured revenue system that is modern agriculture. It is not possible to take off more than is put back and at the same time be sustainable. A fallow field is not resting and gaining resources for the next crop cycle it is losing resources by slowly killing off all the biota in the soil that are dependent on photosynthesized carbohydrates. The biota that bind the soil, maintaining pore space for oxygen and water, biota that make mineral and carbon-based nutrients plant available. They are what makes soil soil and not just dirt. All land-based life is dependent on this complex system if sustainably is to be considered.
 
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