Friday, February 4, 2011

and the Pendulum swings toward...Permaculture?

It really becomes a paradigm shift to think of agriculture and nature in terms of finding natures own checks and balances to solve problems in agriculture.   I love what he says about not having a grasshopper problem but a poultry deficiency.   Using poultry to control insects to control pests as a holistic approach to agriculture does not fit with the current paradigm of modern agriculture.

Modern business like modern agriculture is focused on doing one thing and doing it well and doing it on a large scale.    Large production gives economies of scale which lower costs and gives you fewer competitors.  It takes ingenuity and insight to look at lowering costs and improving margins by finding solutions to your problems by creating a self-sustaining system.   It requires dynamic thought.  Maybe having an orchard and a poultry farm takes a very special person who can do both well, or maybe it doesn't.  A mediocre fruit tree farmer and mediocre poultry farmer may be out of business quickly, but if both were done on the same plot of land, costs could be lowered and the mediocre could be not only diversified but profitable.

Gardeners have known this all along.  Certain plants make good companion plants.  Garlic helps repel pests, tomato and basil thrive together.  Applying this to modern agriculture on a large scale is what requires thinking in an entirely new fashion.  Relatively cheap fertilizers, pesticides, hybrids or GMO's have given many alternatives to problems at relatively low costs.

The world is progressing, populations are growing and there can be debates on peak oil, but there is no debate that the cheap easy to reach oil, easy to refine oil is disappearing rapidly.   The higher the oil prices the higher the inputs for agriculture and the less economies of scale give the farmer in competitive advantage.   Food will cost more to fertilize, cost more to transport and cost more at the grocery store.

A holistic local and organic approach to agriculture will become more needed and cost effective.  A farm with its own supply of organic fertilizer that doesn't have to be reliant on petroleum based fertilizers will have an advantage over conventional agriculture.   Local produce won't have to be shipped as far and will have an advantage over mass produced crops shipped thousands of miles.    Higher oil price will continue to be a issue to wrestle with.  The pendulum needs to swing back toward what farming was like 100 years ago; more localized, more self sufficient and more diversity of production.

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