Thursday, August 26, 2010

An ode to grass

***Editors Note*** If I had managed to hit the correct button, this post wouldn't have published until tomorrow. Since I hit the incorrect button, I thought what the heck...let 'er rip !

Of the two general terrestrial biomes that are warm enough and wet enough to support unirrigated human agriculture, grasslands have better, more naturally fertile soils than do forest biomes by far. The reason for this mostly has to do with the rate and volume of decay. Believe it or not, due to the fact that most grasses die back to the ground every fall in temperate regions, the weight and volume of material that is available to decay (and build soil) is actually far greater in grasslands than it is any temperate season forest where trees may well live for centuries.

If soil building, which in this instance means maintaining and enhancing soil fertility (hopefully) in a natural manner, is an integral part of sustainable agriculture, it is my belief that we as a society will have to rely heavily on crop rotations that involve many years of grass for each year soil is put to the plow to grow any sort of grain crop. As I have mentioned several times in previous posts, grain crops destroy soil and grass builds it back up. Since humans don't have digestive systems designed to utilize grass in an effective manner, if we are to utilize all the "new" grasslands in America, we will have to use livestock to do so. As such, I think the future for a very different brand of ruminant livestock that is respectful of the animal and it's natural cycle in improving the grass and the strong.

In industrial agricultural settings today, it's common to talk about grasslands as being inherently less productive than land planted to corn, beans, wheat, etc. I'd say that's more of a commentary on the dullards issuing the proclamations than it actually is on the potential productivity of well managed grasslands, especially if we remove the advantage of large quantities of purchased synthetic nitrogen from the grain crops.

At the end of the day every agricultural enterprise I am a a part of relies heavily...actually almost totally.... on grass as it's foundation. Despite the number of animals I raise, I'm not really a beef farmer and despite the number of horses we board, I'm not really a horse farmer either. What I really am is a grass farmer. I manage the grass that grows here naturally and I turn around and sell some of that grass into the market place for a higher value than that which I paid for it. The enterprises that create this value are currently beef production and horse boarding. Over time, we may very well add to those enterprises, as long as they are sustainable, complementary to our existing enterprises and make financial sense.

This is a very different mindset than that which commonly exists today, but as I mentioned in my last post, I am far from alone in sharing it. I believe the future for this sort of agriculture is very bright. The only fly in the ointment is that it took me the better part of 25 posts to fully introduce the concept ! LOL !

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