As our land recovers through the ongoing 10 year CRP contract, I continue to research and examine options we might take when the contract ends. I have looked into going organic corn, beans, and wheat. Starting a CSP. Going to niche crops. Production of alternative crops(sort of niche, but large scale). There is a lot to take into consideration. Equipment, facilities, soil types, growing zone and what crops/plants are viable in those zones. Initial investment, ongoing maintenance and expenses, inputs. And that does not even start to address the marketing end of any of those options nor the logistics and logistical costs of supplying potential markets. Thinks like packaging, pre-processing(harvesting, drying, storage etc..) transport, and all those other things that make a business viable and sustainable.
One thing is for certain, there are a lot of different approaches one can take. Some are labor intensive and that is another big consideration. Some are equipment intensive and that can be just plain a show-stopper.
Last summer, one of my neighbors introduced me to ‘regenerative agriculture’. It fits well with his and his families lifestyle(they are Amish), and he guided me to some pretty comprehensive information on a medium operation in South Dakota which has been developing the concept over the last 20 some years. It is impressive, and very tuned to their local/regional surroundings.
A bit more research turns up the fact that this concept is growing by leaps and bounds, world wide. It is a mishmash of many different approaches to food production. Key factors that caught my attention are a focus on biodiversity and soil health. To my way of thinking, those two factors are at the very base of environmental and food health and sustainability. Water is fits right in there, but is not a huge factor on our farm(so far) and so gets less attention from me.
One of the things that bothers me is the age and number of trees in our pastures. We have some large oaks and walnuts, but many are old and the wind storms have been thinning them even more than they already had been. I have had it in the back of my mind to do some re-planting, but the timing has not yet been right.
Then, this evening I ran into the article linked to below. I have always balked at the idea of clearing out our fence lines of trees and shrubs. As mentioned in the article, the reasoning to do so is to reduce the uptake of water which would otherwise go to paying crops as well as ‘stolen’ sunlight. But to me, those fence lines full of trees and shrubs provide at least marginal protection from wind erosion, a place for wild life, and they produce some darn good wild grapes, goose berries and mulberries. Hawks and owls hunt from the tops of the trees in those fence lines, and there are always wild flowers in them. They also protect from wind-blown overspray from neighbors fields to a certain extent. So I like my fence lines populated.
Turns out that can be improved on. I won’t re-iterate what the article states here, but what has been learned by those folks who are the subject of it makes a lot of sense to me. Why not incorporate trees and shrubs right into the production landscape? The arguments about water and sunlight ‘stealing’ seem to be turning out to be a certain amount of rubbish(if properly managed) and the advantages seem real, both from an environmental standpoint as well as an economic one.
So now to think about how this might work on our farm. To make regenerative farming work, one still has to look at a lot of details built into the overall picture. Regenerative farming actually takes a lot more planning than conventional farming does. I have a bit of time, but I think I had better get my ass in gear. I think this can work for us, better than any other system I have researched thus far(actually, it is a combination of some of those systems). But some serious thought and some experimentation will need to go into it…
One of the other things about this approach is that it can be made to be very flexible. Smaller plots can be easier to manage, and the risk of a single crop failing is much reduced by the sheer number of crops that one could produce in smaller plots. And because regenerative farming is very much tuned to the farm it is being applied to, one is likely to be able to grow to markets that others may not be able to so easily. Our farm is pretty diverse in many ways, so a lot of different opportunities present themselves. Picking the right combination and getting started experimenting with them will be key… . Yeah, I need to get my ass in gear….