Hey, there's a powerful new idea out there about farming and climate change! This article in Mercury News explains the new idea called "carbon farming." Here's what it means according to the article:
“We found a clear correlation between the addition of manure to the soil system and an increase in carbon numbers,” Creque said. During the second year, they stopped adding compost and observed any changes that occurred in the plots. But even then, they observed a significant increase in the level of plant productivity and soil carbon levels in the treated plots versus the untreated plots.
“We kickstarted a positive feedback loop,” Creque described. “Add compost, increase plant growth, increase carbon absorption from the atmosphere, increase forage production, build more soil carbon.”
Hmmm, sounds familiar. Like what farmers have been doing for, say, the past thousands of years or so. Adding manure to the soil helps grow things. And it is good for the soil. And, it turns out, it captures carbon.
There is a growing awareness that cattle and good soil go together, and that is a good thing for all of us. Allan Savory has been teaching this for some time. He is a grassland ecosystem pioneer and he is widely promoting the idea that the way to address climate change is by having lots of cattle stomp around on lots of grassland.
His years of scientific study and experimentation on this are well explained in his Ted Talk viewed now by 5.5 million people.
We live in a state (Washington) where our elected leaders seem intent on driving our family farms out of business. They pile on new fees and regulations for farms hiring much needed guest workers and even introduce legislation requiring farmers to report when they are using slaves on the farm. (Seriously!) The idea that cows and manure might be good for the soil is a very, very old idea. But maybe it will enlighten some when it is packaged around the ideas of carbon sequestration, desertification and combatting climate change.
This story, originally in Grist, but published in HuffPost, tells a sad tale. A project aimed at demonstrating how fish and farming can thrive together failed in Northern California.
The Nature Conservancy purchased a ranch for the purpose of demonstrating the viability of fish and farming together. But to pay the huge price for the land, they sold water rights to the state. Then, when the drought hit, the state demanded all the water flow to the ocean, even at times of the year when it wasn't needed for fish. This left the farmers high and dry:
But The Nature Conservancy’s vision of salmon-filled streams winding through green pastures of fat cattle was short lived. After the Board of Supervisors reluctantly gave in to Fish and Wildlife in 2013, the state gained the ability to keep all the water in the river — meaning none for irrigating the land. During the reluctant final vote, one of the opposing supervisors warned, “You can’t trust this Fish and Wildlife. They have none of our interests at heart.”.
That was at the height of the most severe drought in California in more than 1,000 years. Ranchland was drying up. Nature Conservancy scientists urged Fish and Wildlife to continue irrigating pastures when the fish didn’t need all the water. But Fish and Wildlife now had control and refused to allow any diversion of Shasta Big Springs’ water for agriculture.
So much for a bold, but ill-executed experiment. Is the lesson that fish and farming can thrive together as we are seeing kn many parts of northern Puget Sound, but only if we keep government out of it?
The post below links to the sad article published in Washington Post written by a very small dairy farmer who finally gave up the farm and business. But, as this post in AgDaily shows, that piece didn't tell the whole story.
Dairy farming is in serious trouble. There are many reasons for this, including global market conditions and lower demand for dairy products, particularly in the US and other Western countries.
Dairy farming is also troubled by the growing voices against what anti-farm activists call "factory farming," which in the activists' minds is basically any farm that produces more than the local farmers' markets can use.
The remarkable efficiency of today's dairy farms is the only way they could possibly survive the ups and downs of global prices while costs continually rise. Hence, we have more and more large farms.
Size doesn't matter when it comes to the things people care about like caring for animals, people and the environment.
What matters is the farmer, his or her personal character and responsibility, and there financial ability to meet the growing costs of having a farm. Costs that include ever more regulations.
This writer does an outstanding job of communicating some of the challenges farmers face and why efficiency is essential for survival:
Here are a few excerpts from this sad story of the end of a small dairy farm. Similar stories are being repeated around Washington state as well as many other states right now.
"After 40 years of dairy farming, I sold my herd of cows this summer. The herd had been in my family since 1904; I know all 45 cows by name. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take over our farm — who would? Dairy farming is little more than hard work and possible economic suicide."
"A grass-based organic dairy farm bought my cows. I couldn’t watch them go. In June, I milked them for the last time, left the barn and let the truckers load them. A cop-out on my part? Perhaps, but being able to remember them as I last saw them, in my barn, chewing their cuds and waiting for pasture, is all I have left."
"When family farms go under, the people leave and the buildings are often abandoned, but the land remains, often sold to the nearest land baron. Hillsides and meadows that were once grasslands for pasturing cattle become acre upon acre of corn-soybean agriculture. Farming becomes a business where it used to be a way of life. With acreages so large, owners use pesticides and chemical fertilizers to ensure that the soil can hold an unsustainable rotation of plants upright, rather than caring for the soil as a living biotic community."
This post from American Agriculturist shows what most contemporary family farmers know: that today's more intensive, more efficient, and often larger scale farming methods are more environmentally sustainable. Here's on quote:
For example, organic dairy systems in Europe caused at least one-third more soil loss and took up twice as much land as conventional systems for the same amount of milk produced. Researchers also found that greenhouse gas emissions per ton of beef could be cut in half by simply adding more shade and forage for cattle.
It really raises the question why, given the clear and compelling science, some environmental leaders fight to destroy our farms in the name of environmental protection. Some seem to think that only the small, five acre or so organic farms have a right to exist. Only those feeding farmers markets should be allowed to continue.
We fail to see how even today's population can be fed that way, let alone a rapidly growing global population. Those efforts need to countered with more and more environmentalists working to help our family farmers survive in very difficult global market conditions.
We've heard about raspberry growers in Poland or Serbia protesting their government because the berry prices were set too low. Now we see beef farmers in Ireland protesting because of low beef prices.
This strikes farmers as strange. In part because it seems our growers and farmers see perhaps more directly that prices are ultimately market driven. But, protesting just seems strange and uncomfortable to farmers. It's what activists do, those fighting for equal rights under whatever banner, or claiming environmental damage. Farmers don't protest, at least not those around here.
But should they? After all, the media seems to love protesters and activists. They give a great amount of attention to those who claim others are hurting them, or even better, hurting the poor, the innocent, consumers, the greater public. The media live on emotion and particularly outrage and what attracts audiences more than a bunch of angry people pointing at others for harming something they value.
Farmers are beginning to understand that we live in an activist driven world, where reporters rush to loudly report the latest vicious accusation regardless of its truth or falsity, where government agency leaders and elected officials jump to the conclusion that a media report shows vast public concern (when it is there to get eyes on the screen), and where lawyers pile in to leverage the outrage into settlements and legal fees. When you look back at this process it starts with someone accusing someone else, preferably in a banner held in front of cameras.
Farmers are getting steamrolled by this well established process. It looks like farmers in Serbia and Ireland are coming to understand that you fight fire with fire.
This graphic presentation by Bloomberg is very interesting and informative. Great detail about various uses of land in the US. The transition from traditional farmland and farming activities to urban and suburban uses is primarily a coastal phenomenon. The "heartland" remains a vast and vital farming area.
The question for those in our urban centers who more and more determine the future of farming because of their political clout is whether or not they want places like Whatcom and Skagit Counties to remain vital farming areas. It is in places like this where urban pressures are greatest and where family farmers face their fiercest critics.
Austin Allred, owner of Royal City Dairy, (center) receives the 2018 Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award.
Dairy cows the star of sustainable agriculture
By AUSTIN ALLRED
For the Capital Press (Published July 20, 2018)
With National Dairy Month over, it’s an excellent opportunity to reflect on the cow’s contributions to society and its vital role in the sustainability cycle of agriculture.
Today we feed more people on this planet on less land than ever before. The decrease in farmland is an accelerating trend here in the United States where we lose an average of 1 million acres of productive farmland each year. The current world population is 7.6 billion, and in just 12 years, another billion humans will require a significant expansion of food production, on even fewer acres.
Man has much to learn about inventing, improving and adopting “Best Management Practices” within the very diversified agricultural production systems. Cows are a great example of adaptation and adoption of practices which make dairy critical in obtaining a genuinely sustainable cycle in the food sector.
While innovative technology can do wonders, it is no match for the natural biological systems built into the dairy cow. Sunlight and carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — combined with soils and water to grow forage and grain plants which are consumed by cows in a very scientifically designed diet. Their four-part stomach can digest materials that man cannot — and produce milk, meat and manure in return.
The value of milk and meat is obvious and goes back to creation. However, while the United States had almost 23 million dairy cows in 1950, producing 116 million pounds of milk, by the year 2000 cow numbers had plummeted to 9.2 million, producing a total of 167 million pounds of milk, these animals are incredibly efficient. Today, over 16 percent of this high-quality protein in the form of whey, powdered milk and cheese is exported, much of it to food deficient areas of the world. Regions like Asia have seen incredible benefits recently since starting to eat more of these superior proteins.
What makes the dairy cow the star of truly sustainable modern food production? It all starts with the amazing four-part stomach, able to take in a wide variety of plant-based nutrition and convert it to metabolic energy, milk and meat. Every kind of traditional forage in the form of hay, haylage or silage forms a base in the cow ration.
This is diversified substantially with trim and cull materials from food processing plants — carrots, peas, potatoes, beets, onions, cotton seeds, sweet corn which would otherwise be filling up our area landfills provides a wide variety of high-quality feed to be mixed into the cow ration. Wet brewers mash from beer makers, dry distiller’s grain left over from ethanol production, grape pomace from wine and juice making join all the fruits like apples, pears, cherries and more and add palatability and nutrition to the cows diet.
Some of the energy consumed by dairy cows is lost to metabolic requirements, some is found in the milk, and the remainder — some people have incorrectly labeled as “waste” — we call it manure. This manure can be applied to soils in lots of different ways. Composting is one of the most popular, cow manure makes up the majority of most composts, the consistent source of cow manure allows for high-quality compost that can handle all sorts of green waste, food waste, even paper and cardboard to be mixed in and converted to plant food, again keeping more and more out of our landfills.
Our dairy creates more than 50,000 tons of compost a year. Most of this compost contains different wasteproducts from cities. Testing confirms what common sense tells us — that manure was once plant material — and it contains almost the same ratios of nutrients required for optimum plant growth. Even better yet, these nutrients are naturally slow release when compared with most synthetic sourced nutrients, so they are more likely to stay in the plant root zone and
be taken up by the plants for growth.
As the soils warm in the spring and irrigation water is applied, plant growth peaks in late June and July, just when these organic-based nutrients become plant available as the manure or compost breaks down. They also positively alter soil characteristics, increasing the water infiltration rate — reducing runoff, and increasing overall soil water holding capacity.
All in all, it’s a perfect circle of recycling that makes this resource truly sustainable and crucial in the whole cycle of the $28 billion food sector in America. By continuing to increase productivity with fewer cows on less land and improving practices of manure management the cow is taking on more and more of responsibility in making our world work how is was meant to work. These incredible animals are not only feeding the world with arguably the best protein out there, but they are keeping more and more out of landfills and instead creating a critical product needed to grow and manufacture food sustainably.
Austin Allred is the owner of Royal Dairy in Royal City, Wash.
We live in a time when farm critics and activists are complaining ever more loudly about the "powerful" farm lobby, "corporate farming" and, their favorite: "industrial agriculture." They try to build anger against family farmers, particularly if they are larger than they think they ought to be. About 97% of farms across the nation are family farms, that is owned and operated by family members and usually handed down from generation to generation. Some are large, some small and many in the middle. But family farms just want to survive and pass the farm and land to the next generation.
These farm families for the most part are hurting, as this May 17 article in USA Today makes clear. Farm income is at or near the lowest in 12 years.
Think about this next time you are enjoying a steak, a cup of yogurt, or a fresh baked slice of bread. If you paid $10, for that steak, the farmer who raised the beef got only $2.20 of your dollars. That compares to $4.40 of it just four years ago. That was 2014! Remember way back then? Milk? Today's dairy farmer gets 30 cents of the dollar you spend on dairy products, compared to 51 cents just four years ago! Wheat farmer gets just 12 cents of your delicious bread, bun or donut dollar.
Numerous stories about farmer suicide rates (highest of any work category) highlight the difficulty and uncertainty that face today's farmers. This is why the effort of some so-called environmental groups to load massive new requirements on our farmers in these conditions (requirements that would not improve the already impressive and improving environmental performance) is so frustrating to farmers.
We noticed in this advertising for Coastal farm stores an interesting little tidbit about dairy farming.
This innovative greenhouse located in Blaine, Washington (near a number of dairy farms in the far northwest corner of Washington state and Whatcom County) uses output from a dairy methane digester to heat the greenhouse and grow lots of beautiful plants.
Here's what the Van Wingerden message said:
Keeping Greenhouses Warm
Of course, plants need heat to grow. To ensure growth year-round, Van Wingerden teamed up with a local manure digester to utilize the heat the power plant creates.
“We pump the heat through our water lines,” Tom said. “It’s a wonderfully sustainable solution.”
Other cool technologies the Van Wingerden Greenhouses have implemented include the hanging basket carrousel that takes the hanging baskets you find at Coastal along a conveyer that takes plants along a path of watering, fertilization, and shipping. In addition, an automatic transplanter takes seedlings out of large trays and packs them into individual pots in mere seconds.
Save Family Farming
We're working to build public understanding of the environmental stewardship of our family farmers.