Archive | April, 2016

Book review: Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate

by Laura Lengnick, book review by Chris Walters

resilient-agricultureThis is not a book composed of brisk summaries and sweeping statements. Laura Lengnick gets into the weeds without delay, devoting the first 100-odd pages to laying out the particulars of sensitivity and adaptability that affect farms buffeted by rapid changes in weather patterns. Given the size and complexity of the phenomena under discussion — as well as masses of fresh data being collected all the time — it’s something like a thumbnail sketch. But it’s an impressively detailed, lucid and well-organized introduction to a topic that could easily fill several volumes.

Lengnick asks the crucial question in the final paragraph of her book’s first third: “What are the barriers and opportunities to the development of a sustainable U.S. agriculture robust to the increasing pace and intensity of climate change?” The rest of the book is devoted to the answer as delivered by 25 sustainable producers from all over the land. Every region is represented, and readers are likely to encounter people they’ve already met either at conferences or in these pages. All of them sound like people you’d like to meet, and taken as a whole, the range of their responses to the bedevilments of the past few years are dazzling. Continue Reading →

Book Review: Miraculous Abundance: One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World

miraculous-abundanceby Perrine & Charles Hervé-Gruyer, book review by Chris Walters

Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful attempt to cut off Germany with an airborne invasion of the Netherlands in late September of 1944, might have shortened World War II by six months. The market garden operation currently underway in the tiny French village of Le Bec-Hellouin, by contrast, is rated as brilliant by outside observers, stunning even those who were optimistic in the first place. If adapted to local conditions and replicated on a massive scale in various parts of the world, it could do much to shorten the terminal crisis of humanity by several decades or more. Charles Hervé-Gruyer, co-founder of the tiny farm with his wife Perrine, can prove it — he has the numbers. Microfarming the way this family does it in a remote corner of Normandy cuts undesirable inputs and raises desirable output significantly. This book tells how they created La Ferme du Bec Hellouin over the past decade. Continue Reading →

Building Soil Health with Volcanic Basalt

volcanic-basaltOrganic and sustainable farmers have long relied on rock dust, including volcanic basalt, as an all-natural way to improve roots systems, increase yields, and promote general plant health in a wide variety of crops and conditions. Yet it has taken the rapid depletion of our global soils to bring rock dust to the attention of modern agricultural science. The good news is that there is undeniable evidence that rock minerals can help restore soil health, minimize crop deficiencies, and boost resistance to pests and disease.

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Biological Farming: Customizing Methods for Large-Scale Operations


JR Bollinger in his corn, head-high by Fourth of July.

Biological farming is not just limited to small plots. Take the story of one Missouri farmer, who through holistic approaches to farming, managed to improve his yields and the size of corn on the stalk.

At the end of 2015, I talked to Missouri boot-heel farmer David “JR” Bollinger about his experiences growing corn, soybeans and milo using carbon-smart farming principles and practices. In his first year fully committed to biological agriculture, Bollinger cut conventional fertilizers by 50 percent and applied blends of biocarbons, minerals and microbes. Soils, plants and yields are all showing positive results.

Bollinger is the fourth generation to farm on 3,500 acres in the southeast Missouri Delta, with the family’s main crops being corn, soybeans, wheat and milo.

“In 2012, I first dabbled in biological farming on a reclaimed coal mine,” he said. “A gentleman with microbial products first tickled my brain about dead soil. He challenged me to find an earthworm. I went looking, and … none. I noticed there wasn’t much life. The soil looked like moondust, vacant of life.”

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Fly Deterrents: Manage Odors Without Pesticides


Jeff Henry demonstrates official application form of soft rock phosphate as a fly management tactic.

Every farmer knows that having manure odor management and fly deterrent tactics are essential for a good quality of life, for both humans and animals. But getting there too often depends on chemicals, pesticides and toxic methods. It does not have to be this way.

And now is the right time to develop those fly management tactics. Manure odors and fly populations are at their highest levels during summer’s warmth. During summer in livestock shelter areas, with even small accumulations of fresh and decaying manure, the odor-fly relationship is cause-and-effect as manure and urine odors attract a variety of types of flies.

This we know: fresh air that is free of manure odors does not attract flies, and manure that does not produce an odor does not attract flies. Can an ideal manure odor management and fly prevention program for livestock shelter areas exist in farm practice? The ideal program results in a livestock shelter area (barn, stables, loafing shed) so free of flies, full of fresh air and chemically safe that one could comfortably picnic there with family and friends. Our image of ideal success — the livestock shelter as picnic zone — guides us to its establishment in the real world.

Real Foundations for Manure Odor Management and Fly Deterrents

The tactics to start with are: (1) a cluster of standard, low-risk, fly-prevention tools to decrease an existing fly population. Several weak items working together can support each other’s actions; (2) an emphasis on decreasing fly attractant levels typical in livestock areas (the volatiles produced by manure, urine, decaying bedding material and spoiled hay/feeds), thereby preventing fly population increases and usually ensuring its decrease. Decreased concentration levels of fly attractants also make the program easier to accomplish by decreasing the need for the prevention items in (1). Further, with consistently very low levels of manure’s attractant volatiles, area fly traps’ attractant baits become relatively more effective.

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Starting a Small-Scale Livestock Venture: Understanding Market Considerations

Kelly Klober

Farmer sitting near pigsA number of years ago a neighbor called with questions about starting a purebred swine operation in our area. It was going to be based on a breed not already present in the area, but one that was well-regarded and had been used often to produce some good, rugged cornfield shoats across the Midwest.

I agreed that it was a good idea as the breed was one that we had once considered. I was about to advise a small, careful start when he told me that they had already purchased 30 gilts and two rather pricey breeding boars. Within two years they were out of the purebred swine business. It was a case of too much too soon.

A livestock venture and the market for it tend to begin small, and it will take time for both of them to develop. Along with acquiring needed skills and experiences, the producer must determine to what level of production the venture can be grown and continue to garner good selling prices and returns.

Price is set by the quality of the output and the demand for it. The producer can certainly shape the quality and, to an extent, have control over the amount of output (at least from his or her farm into nearby markets where most direct sales are generated). Before selling a single boar of his chosen breed our neighbor had the numbers in place and the money spent to be producing them by the score.

It is a mistake that we have all made, and some of us have made it several times. A young man of our acquaintance once ordered 50 quail chicks, grew them out with comparative ease and sold them quickly for a tidy profit. He next placed an order for 1,000 quail chicks, and the results were disastrous.

Small creatures though they may be, 1,000 quail chicks taxed his facilities, almost immediately problems began to arise that were beyond his level of experience, and a market that bought 50 and wanted a few more had no need for them by the hundreds. His losses of birds and dollars were substantial.

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