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E-M:/ re: are "mega" farms really the only future?

Enviro-Mich message from Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com>

On Tue, 1 Oct 2002, Kenneth Vermeulen wrote:

> You seem to put more concern on the use of sythetic fertilizers than
> those trying to put my dairy clients out of business.  I trust that,
> although compost would be best, that use of organic fertilizer (manure)
> is certainly preferable to synthetics.  While I agree that the way is
> used to be may have been best, I am afraid that the reality is that we
> can't go back.  Economic pressures will require that animal agriculture
> (just like manufacturing, groceries, and local hardware store) become
> more and more concentrated in order to be profitable.

Hello Ken,

There is a certainly a great sadness in having lost much our agrarian 
roots but I do believe that one "can go home again". Many small farmers
are turning to organic niche markets which the mega farms cannot supply.

This is also true for many dairy farms which have changed to organic,
i.e: no steroid use, grazing the herd on organic certified fields, etc.

> I expect several of my clients to be installing some form of
> digester/composter/co-gen facility in within the next few years.  The
> problem, as always, is money.  With milk prices where they are (my
> clients are losing $30,000 per month) there is no money for these kinds
> of improvements.  And even in good times, there is no way that a small
> (100-200) dairy could ever hope to make such an improvement.  The
> catch-22 expands!

Yes, composting with anaerobic digesters for also getting methane
production while avoiding lagoons, is initially a large capital investment
but the costs are coming down, now that the technology is becoming more
widely used in the USA. 

The main thing is finding engineers who really know what they are doing in
specifying the systems. You should do your homework carefully on that, as
bad design due to lack of knowledge, is what caused failure in the earlier

For those farmers and dairy people who want a far less expensive
composting system which avoids lagoons, aerobic windrow composting is the
answer, as you just need a tractor to turn and then re-shape the windrows
and a water supply to keep the developing compost moist. If all the
compost is then not needed for crop production, it can be bagged and sold.

I don't mean to say that surviving economically on the farm is easy in
light of the pressure from the mega farms, but ingenuity to meet demand in
niche organic markets is a viable solution.

The following links will remove any of your doubts, 
as to the economic reality of organic niche markets:

Organic Growers of Michigan (this includes dairy)

Lowell Prag

> >>> Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com> 10/01/02 03:28PM >>>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Enviro-Mich message from Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Tue, 1 Oct 2002, Kenneth Vermeulen wrote:
> > Lowell, I agree with your basic premise that the use of compost is
> > superior to the use of synthetic fertilizers or non-composted
> manure.
> > But surely you must concede that it is also A LOT more expensive.
> > Unless consumers are willing to pay for the cost of organic farming
> > (which to date, they have not been)  organic farming methods will
> not
> > succeed in the market.
> >
> > Ken
> Hello Ken,
> The "organic farm" problem is a bit of a catch-22 type of thing:
> 200 years ago, over 90% of the USA was rural farm life. Things
> were a lot slower, marketing of produce was a local thing, plants
> were not breed for long travel instead of more valuable traits,
> crop rotation and the use of cover crops was easier, as letting
> land lay fallow for awhile was easier, organic waste was utilized
> on the farms in a traditional manner, etc. In short, we had no
> problems feeding ourselves without causing any great ecological
> harm.
> At present though, less than 2% of the population in the USA are
> farmers. That puts a great burden on them for food production and
> therein lies the problem of "organic" vs."non-organic" farming.
> The catch-22 becomes even more apparent when observing the
> results of a dependence on petrol-chemical derived fertilizers,
> instead of compost.
> Plants need a vast array of micro life in the soil in order to be
> healthy plants, as there is a symbiotic relationship that has
> developed over millions of years.
> The way that micro life is nurtured is through the use of
> compost.
> i.e: the forests do very well without any human intervention, as
> everything that was once was alive, returns naturally to the soil
> via the natural composting process and the nitrogen-phosphorous-
> potassium cycle is naturally maintained, as is the micro life in
> the soil which in numerous ways, then makes the nutrients
> available to the trees and plants.
> The problem with petro-chemical derived fertilizers is that they
> do not nurture the micro life in the soil and in many instances,
> are actually toxic to that micro life.
> At that point, the plants will still grow but are not as healthy 
> as they otherwise would be, and it is unhealthy plants that are 
> most susceptible to disease, insect attack, etc.
> To combat those problems, fungicides, pesticides, and herbicides
> are applied which temporarily control the problems but their
> application is also toxic to the micro life in the soil and the
> beneficial insects above the soil.
> In short, the real catch-22:
> by attempting to solve the problems created by the sole use of
> petrol-chemical derived fertilizers, the problems only get worse,
> as do the problems created by the run-offs of the chemicals used
> to combat the problems.
> What then, is the solution?
> More farmers would help, as they could proceed more slowly and
> still maintain the food supply but given the global competition,
> that is difficult with the controversy of price supports, etc.
> Composting all our urban organic waste and returning it to to the
> farm soil would help, instead of dumping it in landfills, but
> that would require a national commitment to recycling to make it
> cost effective.
> Composting all our farm waste would help but as you suggest, 
> are the farmers aware of the advantages of compost compared to 
> petrol-chemical derived fertilizers and are they willing to make 
> the initial capital investment to wean themselves off the 
> petrol-chemical derived fertilizers?
> Greater use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) would help,
> whereby natural biological controls are used to control problems,
> rather than chemicals.
> Making more land cheaply available to our smaller farmers would
> help, instead of turning it into condos, shopping malls, mega farms, 
> etc., as the farmers could practice better rotations and cover crops.
> A greater public awareness that we are in fact, killing not only
> our farm soil but also our various eco systems through bad,
> "hurry up", farming practices would help.
> In the long run, more organic small farmers are needed to combat
> the intrusion of the corporate mega farms and pressure must also
> be brought on those corporate mega farms to make the switch to 
> truly sustainable agricultural practices.
> Given the relationship of those corporate mega farms to the
> petro-chemical fertilizer industry and the other related
> industries, initiating truly organic farming practices nationwide
> would require some type of federal mandate.
> Is such a mandate possible?
> Well, I guess anything is possible with a well informed public
> and it will take an established, "green", third political party
> to begin to mount the type of public pressure necessary to make
> such a change possible.
> In conclusion, I remain an optimist, as given all the other
> ecological problems we are facing not only in the USA but also
> globally, and the failure of past and present federal
> administrations to deal rationally with those problems, the
> development of a strong, "green", third political party is
> inevitable.
> Lowell Prag

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