Dog and Stick

How do we extract crops, while maintaining future yields? – By cycles of use and return, but also by introducing generative phases in rotation. Perennial cropping of fruit and nut trees and bushes is useful and perennial cereal prairies as dreamed by the Land Institute may be a thing of the future. Nevertheless, even perennial cereals will need regenerative phases – by either cutting and mulching, or by grazing.
A very old rule of thumb is one year of cropping to two years of pasture (once called fallow). Many organic growers, practice two years of cropping to four years of green manure, or pasture.
I don’t see how we can escape that simple rule. I think a vegan rotation could work very well, but I think the introduction of animals would work better. Meat, eggs and dairy add to the diversity of both biomass in the field and to the quality of diet.
Used as part of rotation, animals increase the final yield. Pasture and green manure work equally well, so that animals add to overall harvested biomass, rather than being (as is commonly cited) an extremely inefficient way to grow food.
If efficient growing systems do best by imitating natural cycles, then that sort of proportion of animals is surely appropriate.
Of course, we cannot have feed-lots, broiler houses, battery houses and piggeries, but also how much area can we dedicate for perennial grasslands dedicated solely to dairy, beef and sheep production? Think of a glade in the forest, dedicated to human cultures. How big can that glade be, to avoid collapsing eco-systems and swelling atmospheric CO.2 ?
All agriculture disrupts the natural system it has replaced (my mantra). How much of the natural must re-grow and how far must human interference shrink? Whatever the grassland polemicists say – no (UK) grassland is as rich in life as the forest it has replaced. Yet, beautiful human cultures have evolved with grasslands. How can we deny that?
Here’s something – thinking of the UK, those wide upland pastures were not created by ingenious local habits. They are not an ancient cynefin, terroir, or clan territory, they are the result of a vicious aristocratic (most of it) expulsion of people from their lands. The enclosures were a land grab for the currency of sheep’s wool. A very few got rich, nearly all ended in starvation, city slums, or voyaging Atlantic, or Pacific oceans.
Close cropped uplands are nearly deserted – economically but for wide-scattered farmsteads and ecologically, but for sheep, crow, buzzard, a few skylarks, curlews and so on and of course tourists – who may be the largest economic contributor – along with farm subsidy and the meagre lamb trade. The tourists come for the wide, desolate spaces and think it wild.
But those scattered farmsteads could surely find a better living in re-foresting and re-wilding? We certainly need timber more than we need sheep. We also need to overturn the terrible injustice of the enclosures and bring people and life back to those places. Those farmsteads can still provide lamb for local butchers and (if soil permits) milk to local dairies. People can widen their skills into forestry and wood-working and bring new meaning to the word cynefin. Eighty percent of Welsh lamb is exported. Well, eighty percent of that land area can certainly be re-wilded, or re-forested without the smallest economic harm. Eighty percent is a precarious percentage.
Thinking of pastured flocks and herds, the East of the country is in desperate need of them for its tired and half-dead soils, while the West has far too many. Is that a recipe for a beautiful friendship, which also increases the species diversity of both West and East? Also, bear in mind that we’ll not need the vast acreage of cereals, previously destined for animal feed. Economies will gain some slack. Also, efficient, most ecologically-integrated flocks and herds will follow, not the grain market, but the seasons. People will re-learn the true calendar (UK) of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Communities may synchronise with the true movement of time. Each month will contain ecologic/economic meaning. That is a delight.

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2 Responses to Dog and Stick

  1. Joshua Msika says:

    You’ve been busy! I can’t keep up.

    Have you been reading Simon Fairley? If not, then the similarity between his argument – of ‘default meat’ – and yours must just be born of similar circumstance.

    I wanted to briefly comment on your final paragraph. In Scotland, there was a historic link between the uplands where young lambs and calves were reared and the lowlands where they were sent to fatten up, likely fitting into rotations on both sides. Is that what you mean by beautiful friendship?

    I’m starting a small piece of work which may interest you on the options available to upland farms to reduce their use of fossil fuels. I may send you a draft for “peer review” – which you so often decry – if you’re interested.


  2. bryncocyn says:

    Great to hear from you Joshua and thanks, I’d love to see your upland farm research. Peer Review! It’s a very good idea and probably still exists here, and there, amongst the careerism and intimidation.

    Yes – the partnership between uplands and lowlands has existed of thousands of years. It survives in the buying and selling of livestock. In Wales very many families owned or tenanted two connected farms, or stretches of “mountain” The lowland farm was the hendre, while the upland farm was the hafod. You see the terms echoed in thousands of place names. It was a partial transhumance, in that parts of the family would move uphill for the Summer. The “home” farm, or hendre would be occupied all year round. It still happens, but land rover and pick-up have made it nearly obsolete.

    I was thinking of a new productive home for those millions of redundant upland ewes – a money transaction, keeping upland communities afloat

    I’ve read and enjoyed Simon Fairlie, but my opinions were formed before then – He’s n’but but a lad.


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