Sustainable Farming

First some background. In the past I have done the following:

  • Bought a grass fed cow and had it butchered.
  • Belonged to a food coop.
  • Belonged to a CSA.
  • Bought organic foods.
  • Shopped at a local farmers market (will continue to do so).
  • Bought farm eggs (will continue to do so).

So I could be mistaken for a “sustainable farming” aficionado.  However this would be wrong.  I did these things for taste and quality.  I don’t make any claims besides my personal taste preference (and scrambled farm eggs are nice and meaty tasting) about these types/styles of food, nor would I ever require the government to force people to do these things.  You pay a lot more (except butchering a cow).

With that in mind I’d like to write about the “sustainable farming” fraud.  Check out this picture:

Note the dark green patch. That is wheat that has been fertilized with ammonia during planting.  The tan on the hills and the yellow road side grass should be considered “sustainable”.  These grasses are clearly nitrogen limited.  Can you imagine the loss in yield if the wheat looked like that?

Now some say you can add nitrogen with legumes.  You can, assuming you plow the crop back into the field.  So you would have to plant clover, then plow it in at the end of the season.  This will add nitrogen, but you cut productivity in half.

One way you could do it would be to graze cattle on a clover and alfalfa pasture.  This would allow you to “harvest” nitrogen annually.  On the downside you’d have to be very careful about bloat, so you could probably use a grass/legume mix.

Unfortunately besides meat production, you are screwed with grains and vegetables.  And then we get into potassium, phosphorous, and trace minerals.  You simple have to add those chemical some way to your field or you will deplete the soil.

Another trick I’ve seen is to run chickens on the pasture.  I’ve noticed that those chickens are given feed, and that is how you are adding minerals to your field (via chicken droppings).

Another trick I see is the “sustainable” farmer capturing a niche market.  Usually they will slaughter free range chickens (with cheap Mexican labor), and possibly pigs.  For a small niche market it is definitely a business idea that works, but it won’t feed a country.

Bottom line if you harvest you will deplete the soil.  The only exception would be nitrogen harvesting using a legume/grass mix and cattle, however you still lose the other constituents and have to add it back some way.

Again I like the products and buy them from time-to-time, but there is no way you can feed 350 million people doing these things.


2 thoughts on “Sustainable Farming

  1. I know the Amish have some methods (rotate crops, distribute manure, plow back in clippings, husks, cuttings, etc.) that must replenish the soil. Not sure which of those would reintroduce ammonia, and not sure if that could scale up to feed the whole country…

    • The manure comes ultimately from hay. So you are taking the nutrients from another man’s land and putting it on your field. Eventually someone somewhere has to fertilize. Plowing clippings, etc… back in is good, but it doesn’t get you to 100%. If you remove potassium (which you eat in your vegetables) it is gone. It has to be added back. Same with meat protein, or even vegetable protein. It comes from nitrogen.

      As I wrote, you can plant clover, then plow it in. This will add nitrogen, but you lose that growing season. Much better to spread urea (which is rotted piss, though in modern cases it is man-made in a chemical plant. Same stuff).

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