October 22, 2012

"Their ideas point to the way that agriculture has to be in the future."

"There’s wide consensus that we have to figure out this fusion of ‘organic’ and 'industrial.' They’ve illustrated what that fusion looks like. It’s power and efficiency."

36 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Another Wisconsin local interest story. Keep those AO Smith Harvestor silos up boys. The cows are counting on you.

traditionalguy said...

Bat Guano is the ticket. But the windmills boondoggle has been killing the bats. ( yes, that is also Dr, Strangelove name.)

X said...

I would argue that needing more labor in these systems means more jobs

we could dig canals with teaspoons also.

MadisonMan said...

Hooray for Iowa State!

Note that it is more labor intensive, however. I'm sure that will drive whether or not it is implemented. How many people will want to work on a farm?

rhhardin said...

You get nice yields the industrial way, which already balances yield and cost.

An army of organic experts just raises the costs. Nobody can afford to spend time surveying the fields.

The farming boom at the moment I gather comes from the ethanol mandate.

Scott M said...

Is there a difference between nutrient breakdown post-harvest between "organic" and "industrial"? Does it depend more on how it's packaged than how it was grown and harvested?

chuck said...

I still think we should send university faculty and bit pushers to the fields every fall to harvest potatoes and corn. That would solve some of the labor problems and would certainly provide the sort of relevant education so sorely lacking in the modern left wing university.

Or we could just sell all the farm land to the Amish and Mennonites for low prices. Sustainable farming requires a sustainable supply of farmers, and those folks have that down.

rhhardin said...

I stop and film tractors in action along the bike commute search

Most of the year there's nothing going on. A few days somebody comes out and plants it all, and another few days somebody comes out and harvests it all.

Labor is zero per acre, more or less. Huge capital costs though.

TosaGuy said...

"On another plot, instead of red clover the researchers planted a fourth-year crop of alfalfa, which can be used to feed livestock"

Crop rotations with alfalfa and oats is not a new concept.

The article does not mention how gov't policy has influenced how farming has gotten away from these not-so-new methods.

I grew up in a corn-soybeans-hay rotation area. The hay was feed to dairy cattle, which spent considerable time in pastureland around creeks and lowlands -- land difficult for crop farming.

Uncle Sam came in 20 years ago and offered the farmers money to plant trees in the pastureland in order to keep cowplop out of the streams. Hardly anyone in the area raises dairy cows anymore, thus lowering the need for alfalfa.

Through in $8/bushel corn to feed the ethanol beast and farmers now rotate corn-corn-beans.

Land near my dad's farm in MN just sold for $12K an acre, up from $1K an acre 20 years ago. You don't buy land for $12K to grow hay.

Nonapod said...

As I understand it, the major shortcoming of large scale organic farming is crop yields being something like 25% lower than conventional farming methods, as well the concern over foodborne pathogen outbreaks that have been tied to organic farms, like the E. coli outbreak in Germany last year. It'll be interesting to see if this third way method addresses these issues.

Michael K said...

"Organic" means more expensive to only lefty professors can afford it.

Crop rotation began in the middle ages when the black death killed 1/3 of the peasants.

Alfalfa is grown in rotation in California and, I assume, everywhere else as California farm land is irrigated.

The real progress will come with genetically modified crops that resist pests. Lefties hate GM crops.

edutcher said...

Sorry, but when people start talking about what's "environmentally" good, it turns me off.

We've turned the country inside out for our betters and it hasn't worked.

TosaGuy said...

Also, if you want a good alfalfa field, you need to leave it in place for a few years. The first year doesn't yield very much.

As a kid, I would ride hayracks and stack bales for $4 an hour cash plus a few beers for after we were done. Beer rarely tasted so good. Now if they do raise hay, farmers use the big round balers and don't hire anyone.

Patrick said...

I'm sure that to an extent there will be a merging of "industrial" and "organic" farming. I note that the article states that this version is more labor intensive. That will slow the process down, or likely change. I highly doubt there will be an influx of labor to agriculture.

TosaGuy said...

Another way for kids to make money back in my day was to go bean walking. You and a dozen others showed up at 6 in the morning with a hoe and walked up and down rows of soybeans hoeing weeds. This was later replaced by bean riding where four folks sat in seats on a 20-foot bar bolted to the front of the tractor. You sprayed herbicide on the weeds as the tractor drove up and down the rows. Much faster than walking.

It is now all pre-emergent herbicides applied during planting and no kids get hired, which in this case is not a bad thing. I never did bean riding because I didn't like the direct contact with chemicals.

MadisonMan said...

The real progress will come with genetically modified crops that resist pests

Pest Resistance is a target with considerable motion. Bt was supposed to be a curative, and look what happened.

Rocketeer said...

What we need is crops and agricultural methods that resist the biggest pest of all: the EPA.

Mitch H. said...

We do some IPM (integrated pest management) here at work, we've done so for the better part of two-three decades. It isn't what's described in that article, at least, not exclusively. The meteo side of the company does a lot of crafted weather forecast & summary aimed at helping orchard operators and other agribusiness determine when to spray, etc. Pesticides are still necessary. That, in fact, is sort of what IPM *means* - a multiple-choice sort of approach to dealing with pests.

And they've been doing all sorts of semi-organic and pseudo-organic practices in Iowa for thirty years now - no-till and cover crops are hardly a new idea. I've always been weirded out by Iowa's atypical non-usage of winter wheat, though. The rest of the corn belt (south of North Dakota and Minnesota, anyrate) grows winter wheat - South Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois, Wisconsin (to a lesser degree) and Missouri are all big wheat growers. Minnesota and South Dakota are both big spring wheat growers. Iowa? Oats, if that.

Rusty said...

I sorta figure that the guys with the tractors know what they're doin so it's maybe not a good idea to fuck with em.
Nobody likes the wiseass that stands there and says,"Hey! Maybe you outa try this!"

AllenS said...

I sold my cattle in 2001. When I started in the early 70s, I went corn, corn, oats. When I put in oats with my 10 foot wide McCormick/Deering grain drill, I added alfalfa, red clover and timothy in the grass attachment. When the oats reached milk stage I would cut it and make oat hay. The alfalfa mix would be ready for hay the next year. The cows loved oat hay.

Sometime in the 80s I quit planting corn because I needed more hay than anything else and would buy cracked corn for $1.89 or cheaper a bushel. I'd take hay off of the field for 2 years then pasture the cows there for 1 or two years.

Remember, I had a full time job as a pressman and when I was on the day shift, I would stop at McDonalds on the way home and get some cheeseburgers to go. Eat that on the way home, change clothes and hay until I had everything put up in the barn. I have a 14T JD bailer without a kicker, so the bales would fall onto the ground. The fastest way to get them to the barn would be to use my pickup truck and not a hay wagon. At least I had the radio to listen to.

Unloading the bales from the truck would be 2 at a time. I would stack as I went, but when the hay was too high, I would just put them in the center aisle for the time being and then use the elevator to get them farther up the mow when I had time. Getting the hay out of the field before it got rained on was the priority.

There were times when it was so hot outside, and I would drink so much water, that when I finished even beer didn't sound good.

A couple of years ago I had thoughts about starting up again, but then I came to my senses. Lot of work for very little money.

sean said...

It seems more likely that the agricultural market will segment more thoroughly, rather than fuse, with organic foods for the 20%, and industrial for the 80%.

CausticConservative said...

This study is pretty comprehensive but fails in one major respect: it does not address profitability.

It is one thing to say income per acre can be maintained by turning away from modern production methods, but it is quite another thing completely when a report like this does not show whether the producer can make money or not.

CausticConservative said...

There are reasons why today's production methods are employed. They generally allow a producer to earn a better living over other methods.

CausticConservative said...

This study is pretty comprehensive but fails in one major respect: it does not address profitability.

It is one thing to say income per acre can be maintained by turning away from modern production methods, but it is quite another thing completely when a report like this does not show whether the producer can make money or not.

traditionalguy said...

The Progressive Malthusians are still plugging away at creating famines to make Prophet Malthus right after all.

Somebody please just say no.

Green is only a word that means chlorophyll has processed some CO2 into sugar and oxygen.

The haters of CO2 from coal, oil and gas are the actual green haters.

Rocketeer said...

A couple of years ago I had thoughts about starting up again, but then I came to my senses. Lot of work for very little money.

I was in my early 20s, and had spent a good deal of my life to that point helping on my mother's family's farm. My uncle grew tobacco and corn, and raised both dairy and beef cattle at the time. I was seriously thinking of following in his and my grandfather's footsteps and buying a small farm. Upon hearing that, he said to me what may have been the wisest words I'd ever heard uttered to me up until then:

"Farming is a great way to end up with a small fortune. Unfortunately, to do that, you need to start out with a huge one."

AllenS said...

Rocketeer said...
"Farming is a great way to end up with a small fortune. Unfortunately, to do that, you need to start out with a huge one."

That was a good one. I remember when the lotteries first started, and what I heard people around here say is: "If I win the lottery, I'll farm until it's all gone."

gail said...

Govt payments have definately created the corn-bean rotation, and even local farmers plowed down hayfields/pasture last spring to plant every acre to corn, making a 5x6 round bale of alfalfa worth $80-100 each.

We got lucky around here. Even though we've had little rain since mid-August, the corn still went 190-199 bu/A (over the scale.) The neighboring organic farmer had 40-130 bu/A...he always battles weeds in his rototilled and flamed fields. Organic ag cannot feed the world.

I haven't even been able to find part-time help for those 2-person easy jobs-like pounding fence posts. Either the job is "too hard" or the farm "smells" (and they can't understand that "smell" is the smell of $) Big farmers are turning to more automation, even replacing tractor drivers with GPS and wifi. Need the grain cart to pull up beside the combine? Just hit the right buttons and it will automatically pull right up.

I wish someone who knew something about farming would write these articles. His comments about feedlots echo the radical green/vegan agenda. Long on fear-generating emotion, short on truth.

Alex said...

Costco just started selling S&W "organic" black beans. We'll see if there's any difference with the regular.

gail said...

I just took my JD 336 baler in for some repair to the knotters, plunger and pickup. I need it working like a dream for baling straw and 2nd crop next year.

Sheep prices dropped like a rock this year. It doesn't make sense to run $7 a bushel corn, or $200 a ton hay through them, but it also doesn't make sense to ship them and lose the genetic progress the flock has made. Sheep have been out cleaning up the corn field and I need to get them in before they get grain overload.

gail said...

Seed companies have really pushed the increased yield of corn and beans in the last 15-20 years. An interesting article on the latest seed research: http://www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com/dtnag/common/link.do?symbolicName=/free/crops/news/template1&product=/ag/news/production/features&vendorReference=0702DAAC&paneContentId=70506&paneParentId=70503

I mentioned my corn fields went 190-199 bu/A, but didn't mention that 30 years ago our top yeild was 125 bu/A. We also quit planting corn in favor of more hay, and it was only after health problems the cows were sold and corn put back in the rotation. We were blessed with such tremendous yeild, but the blessing becomes evident when the soil test shows there is NO WAY to fertilize for such a yield on this soil. Or, if you prefer, the crop exceeded soil production expectations.

These new hybrids are incredible.

Dad said...

Nice to see farmers commenting on Althouse. I just retired after 25 years of dairying. An Amish fellow is buying the farm and it only took one visit from the "inspector" to "certify" the farm as "organic". Pretty good in light of the urea and roundup and such I used last year. Not to mention the chemicals still sitting in plain sight.
The world's farmers now feed 7 times as many people with 50% more calories per capita than we did just a little over a hundred years ago. The new hybrids are indeed incredible.

AllenS said...

You can't beat Roundup ready corn. No more cultivating. I used to cultivate when the corn was about 4 inches tall and I'd have the guards down so I wouldn't cover any plants. Then again at about 8 inches with the guards up, and finally when the corn was about 18 inches and at a higher speed to throw some dirt between the plants. That's a lot of times through the field. Gas was about 30 cents back then. One trip through the field now to spray the Roundup.

rhhardin said...

Bailing cornstalks.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Absolute nonsense. I'm a professional agronomist (soil-chemist by training) who earns his living as a certified-organic farmer. In fact, I developped most of the organic standards a quarter-century ago.

The vast majority of organic agriculture (80% or so) is quite simply good agronomy that's been known for generations. I have on my shelf a standard Wiley agronomy textbook from 1927: it is titled 'Green Manures'. Hundreds of pages about green manures, from three generations ago.

The issue is not "fusion" of techniques, but whether agriculture will re-adopt what we've known for a long time.

And organic in itself is no answer. In the 1990s I inspected over 800,000 acres (in ten countries) for organic certification. My biggest challenge was convincing organic farmers to employ some of the solid agronomic techniques *already* in use by their conventional neighbours.

Organic by Neglect is not an answer to anything, but it remains depressingly common.

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