Archive | May, 2017

Industrial Agriculture Versus Biological Agriculture: An Ethical Debate

Industrial agriculture and biological agriculture differ on one very fundamental point: ethics.

A free-range pig.

Sometimes it behooves us all to step back and look at the foundations of our own paradigm in order to give us a greater conviction in its defense. The philosophical underpinnings of our views are often easier to defend than specific details.

For example, I have debated agri-industrial darling Dennis Avery, author of Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic, three times in public forums, and he is no dummy. A retired USDA big-wheel economist, a Ph.D. and spokesman for everything genetically engineered. irradiated or confinement reared, he is articulate and likable.

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Soil Minerals: Nature’s Sunken Treasure for Health and Fertility

Soil minerals not only can help your plants, but they can help your health too. 

Periodic Table of the Elements with atomic number, symbol and weight.

Readouts from high-priced instruments tell us that ocean water contains 92 elements — give or take a few, depending on location near ocean vents and extraction methods — which appear as the first 92 entries of Mendeleyev’s periodic table. We rely on paleontologists and archeologists to tell us what happened with the North American continent. One single event suggests recall before we move forward to place ocean minerals under the microscopic eye. About 55 million years ago an asteroid crashed into the shallow sea near what is now the Yucatan Peninsula. It had been traveling at perhaps 85,000 miles per hour, give or take, and lost its way for reasons only speculation can supply. The crash terminated the age of dinosaurs, literally leveled most of the continent, extinguished species, annihilated woodlands, and prepared the way for mountains to rise, savannahs to form, and, not least, for mineral dusts to be distributed worldwide.

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Organic Weed Control: Cultural and Mechanical Methods

Organic weed control methods are often debated and dismissed by large chemical sprayers. But organic weed control methods do work, and work better for your field’s health.

Organic weed control

Weeds happen. Knowing how to work with them can save you a lot of time and effort.

Weeds happen. That is a fact of life for organic farmers, and therefore many of our field operations are designed to make sure that the health and quality of our crops are not jeopardized by the inevitable weed pressure.

Planning an effective weed-control program involves many different aspects of organic crop production. As farmers begin to explore organic possibilities, the first two questions invariably seem to be: “What materials do I buy for soil fertility?” and “What machinery do I buy to control weeds?” We asked these questions when we started organic farming, but we rapidly realized that this is not the best way to understand successful organic farm management.

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Chicken Breed Selection

Chicken breed selection can be a confusing prospect for the modern small farm laying flock. Sex-link birds will give you a great many light brown-shelled eggs of fair size right now, but they won’t build a sustainable and enduring flock.

Locate the purest possible sources of a breed’s genetics. The longer a particular flock’s history is, the better.

Small producers often need to do a better job of presenting their eggs for sale. Even if a flock is made up of all heirloom breeds, a badly mixed-up flock will not produce uniform eggs for sale, produce predictable replacements or foster a positive image. A friend says such flocks look like “grandma’s chicken yard.”

An egg is an egg once the shell is removed and no one will prosper by fostering and spreading old wives’ tales and misinformation. The white-shelled egg deserves the small-scale producer’s consideration every bit as much as the brown-shelled variety.

A good laying flock with a purebred basis is a long-term pursuit. Don’t take up heirloom birds on a whim and then neglect or let them go after a season or two. Such birds seldom make it to another set of caring hands with any sort  of commitment to their preservation as  a breed.

Heirloom breed producers can and should function in a number of different roles. Yet, even with a single focus, be it meat, eggs or seedstock, each flock and producer will have its own unique nature. A part of the task is to know your breed or breeds fully and even more so the birds that make up the actual flocks. A White Wyandotte and Rosecomb White Leghorn have a great many similarities, but all must admit that they were bred and refined for two rather different tasks in life. If you have a good market for light brown eggs in fair numbers and some demand for broilers or roasters, then the White Wyandotte should be your choice of the two breeds. While Leghorn cockerels were my grandmother’s favorite choice of young birds to fry in her day, the Leghorn must be your breed of choice for eggs in greater numbers.

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Tractor Time Podcast Episode 6: Joel Salatin, the Most Famous Farmer in the World

Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin, courtesy of Polyface Farms.

We know how busy farmers are this time of year, so we feel especially lucky to have our guest on this show. He really needs no introduction, but we’ll give it a shot anyway.

Joel Salatin is known around most agricultural circles as the most famous farmer in the world and is the purveyor and owner of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. He calls himself a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer, which is a mouthful, both in words and in meaning.

More practically, he’s a successful author and speaker, has written dozens of pieces for Acres USA magazine through the years, has spoken at our Eco-Ag conferences, and through all that, we’ve learned that he is not afraid to be funny, educational, or to step into controversy when he needs to. But his belief in honoring the land and the animals is something we respect the most, and why we are glad to call him a friend.

He spoke to us about the challenges in the eco-agriculture movement growing around the world, and answers some questions about how ecology, agriculture and the food supply can work together. He also talked about how to create a truly “sustainable” farm.

“Unless you are generating two salaries from two different generations, you do not have a sustainable farm,” Salatin told us.

Hosted by Ryan Slabaugh.

For those wanting to learn more, you can order books and DVDs by Joel Salatin from the Acres U.S.A. bookstore. You can also register for the 2017 Polyface Intensive Seminars here.

You can download and listen to previous episodes of Tractor Time here, or on iTunes.

The Soil Food Web: A World Beneath Our Feet

The soil food web: Unseen beneath our feet, there dwells a teeming microscopic universe of complex living organisms that few humans ever consider. In one teaspoon of soil alone, there may be over 600 million bacterial cells, and if that soil comes from the immediate root zone of a healthy plant, the number can exceed a million bacteria of many different species. These bacterial cells exist in complex predator-prey relationships with countless other diverse organisms.

This topsoil food web forms the foundation for fertile, healthy soil, for healthy plants, and ultimately for a healthy planet. It is an essential but exceedingly delicate foundation that even the brightest scientists know very little about.

Dr. Elaine Ingham has been researching this tiny universe for nearly 20 years. She has sought to understand the importance of these organisms and the relationships that exist between them, and to elucidate the effects that various agricultural practices have on this vast network of life.

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