Ecological Farming: making money when margins are thin
Farming can be a challenging proposition. Land prices are too high, inputs cost more and more, machinery is expensive and usually needs a technician instead of mechanic. Meanwhile, prices on traditional crops and livestock are the lowest they have been in a decade. Many are getting rich off of farming, but it isn’t the farmers.
Decades ago, farmers went down a road. They were sold a bill of goods that said that to be successful, farmers needed to simplify the land to produce more and more bushels of fewer and fewer crops, and more and more pounds of fewer and fewer livestock species. It said that anything that lived in a cropfield that wasn’t the crop was to be killed with reckless abandon. And that agrichemicals could replace nutrient cycling and pest suppression normally provided by biology.
It seems to have worked for a long time, but the cracks in the ice are revealing themselves. As soil quality has diminished, we have required more fertilizers to maintain the productivity of the soil. As the diversity of insects and plants in and around farm fields and pastures goes down, we need more pesticides to kill the pests that have adapted to our system. To stay ahead of shrinking margins, farmers often try to farm the same way, but bigger and simpler.
A number of farmers around the world have started to manage their farms differently. Often, it was because the current simplified system wasn’t working on their farms. They started mimicking nature. Some are organic, but most aren’t. Their farms are getting smaller, but more diversified. Their input costs are shrinking, and their profits are growing. They are called “regenerative farmers”, because they are rebuilding their natural resource base while producing food and profit.
We recently conducted a research study at Ecdysis Foundation (a non-profit). We looked at 40 cornfields that were applying ecological principles, and then we looked at 40 corn fields that were farming traditionally. We looked at insects, soil, yield and profit in each field.
Insecticide-treated cornfields had 10 times more pests than insecticide-free, regenerative fields. The regenerative farms produced a little less grain yield, but more diversity of food. And the regenerative fields had twice the profit of the conventional fields. TWICE the profit.
In this scenario, most people win. Farmers are more profitable. Less unnecessary pollutants in the environment means healthier food and water and wildlife populations. Beekeepers win because their hives aren’t sprayed out. Rural communities retain the money that they have earned.
Not everybody is ready to hear this message. But for those who are tired of the status quo where farmers live from operating loan to operating loan, we hope you will attend an upcoming field event.
Blue Dasher Farm will present “Ecological farming: making money when margins are thin” on Saturday, August 26, 2017 at 2:00 PM. Supper will be provided, and the event is free to the public. Mike Bredeson, Carmen Fernholz, and Dr. Carter Johnson will present on topics ranging from grassfed beef production, perennial grain and grass seed production, intercropping, and integrating livestock and crops. Stay for an after-supper prairie walk! BDF is located on the NE corner of exit 157 on I-29 (the Brandt exit); we have the wood house with a purple roof. RSVPs are appreciated: www.bluedasher.farm
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren
CEO of Blue Dasher Farm
Director of Ecdysis Foundation