Saturday, May 27, 2017

Big America

Big agriculture, or really big America goes about its business in my backyard, building yet another ten thousand cow dairy factory. Every day now when I walk out on the land to check the fields or the cows or to pick a few rocks, I hear the clanking tracks of bulldozers and the horn as they reverse. Two miles away. Yesterday a friend and I mused about the land on this farm that has, as I put it, a water problem. This poor drainage, and the obstacles to a remedy is much on my mind, having bedeviled me for most of my life. We have so few acres to carry on our farming, it seems a shame to have to live with sogginess that doesn't really rise to the level of wetland. She said jokingly that it probably wasn't possible to haul in ten feet of black dirt to raise the sixty acres. We laughed, but uneasily, the way a person walks in a cemetery. You see, we knew that though such a thing was not possible in our world, it is in theirs. Raising the level of earth and "correcting" an issue with subsoil is exactly what they are up to over there and they are doing it with bulldozers and hauled in gravel base. We have done what we can to protect ourselves. We tested the well for static water level and pumping drawn-down so that if they ruin our well with their huge water use, we will have evidence to use in court, always assuming courts continue to exist in Trump's America. But I don't know what we could do to protect our herd. We already live with the misery of epidemic PED and PRRS in our hog business, pretty much the fault of confinement concentration of hogs. Bird flu runs rampant in that huge turkey industry next door. It hangs over all of us with the constant threat that it may jump to the human population. I find myself increasingly conversant with myth, which is so often truer than truth. Icarius flies too close to the sun now, and the wax is beginning to melt from his wings. We are trying to figure out how not to fall with him. The time is getting short.

Monday, May 22, 2017


Mark, a high school classmate of mine now retired, told me in the coffee shop today that he saw me and the dog out working with the cattle several days ago while passing on the road. It was scenic, he said, just like a Terry Redlin print. He said I was lucky to have something like that to do as I got older. I agreed wholeheartedly and made a mental note on the way home to take time off from endless calculating about how to make a living without hurting the land to notice and appreciate the sheer beauty of what surrounds me! So rare in today's world and so precious! Jim

Monday, May 1, 2017


Now comes news from a Wisconsin friend that dairy farmers there are being pushed off the milk truck due to being at the outside fringes of a cheese plant’s collection area at a time when the plant has a surplus of product coming in. These people are facing quitting if they cannot find another buyer. I have been trying to square this with the fact that we are soon to have 40,000 cows within perhaps ten miles here, and the industry comes within not much more than two miles from our site and our cows. This thick concentration of cows was all pretty much built within the last decade and a half. The glaring contradiction involved in what seems to be unlimited expansion in an industry already oversupplied with product is a tribute to how fogged our brains are with modern economic superstition. I lived through the end of the open market on hogs several decades ago and saw and was impacted by the tremendous and uncontrolled expansion there. We needed to build our own meat sales business to stay in hog farming raising hogs the way we wanted to raise them. I learned that arguments from a human perspective simply get steamrolled. Human hopes and dreams including the simple desire to be at home and to be respected have no currency with modern industry(agriculture). It doesn’t matter about noise and dust, about ever increasing truck traffic, about risk to the water supply or enlarged disease exposure for neighboring herds. Nor about the viability of independent vet services and feed mills. The effect of oversupply upon real people, real farms, real small towns, their main streets and their schools is out of consideration. Humans simply do not count in this accounting. But the cows are ruminants. They can process grass and forage, including the cellulose. This fact changes everything. Scientists tell us we have already lost about 40% of the topsoil and fertility we had at the beginning of white agriculture in the Mississippi Valley. Scientists also inform us that carbon in the atmosphere is around 400 parts per million, a dangerous level. Perennial plants are critical here. Increasingly now, studies of grazing’s impact upon soil health show that if the grazing is planned and properly managed it brings carbon back out of the air and puts it into the soil. This is a “carbon pump” driven by grazing’s constant root die off and then rebuilding for the next grazing event. It is what we also call building of organic matter. Organic matter is carbon in the soil. On our farm, we show organic matter (OM) of 5 percent in our cropping acres, which is a six year rotation including hay while our permanent grass, where we graze the herds in a planned rotation is at 6.3%OM. This after only fifteen or twenty years of managed grazing! Spade use in the pastures show living grass roots at a depth of sixteen inches and more. We can work to increase this as we learn to use better plants in our grazing, such as the new grain producing wheatgrass which features a huge and deep root system. What if we could bring the top two meters of soil to life producing food and building carbon stocks? For any of this to happen, we need to open the gates and bring the cows out onto the land where they belong, reversing a trend started many years ago when we first hauled feed to the cow and manure away.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Every year the farm demonstrates Easter. This year we had the first of the spring crop of calves born on Friday and Saturday before Easter Sunday. Perfect looking little black calves, two heifers and a bull, they carry with them much of the hope to adapt our cow herd increasingly to the grass as we go into the future. Their sire was a three quarters lowline Angus bull while their mothers are black Angus/Hereford crossbreds. They will be smaller than their mothers at maturity and larger than their sire. The whole scene symbolizes hope, which we do have in spite of these dark times. And we wish it for you as well. Jim

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins report in Alternet that the Organic Consumers Association, along with IFOAM Organics International and others, supports the French effort to meet the carbon reduction goals set at the Climate conference just held in Paris. France “has launched the 4/1000 Initiative which, distilled to simplest terms, says this: If, on a global scale, we increase the soil carbon content of the soil by .04 percent each year for the next 25 years, we can draw down a critical mass of excess carbon from the atmosphere and begin to reverse global warming. How do we achieve those numbers? All we have to do is help just 10 percent of the world’s farmers and ranchers adopt regenerative organic agriculture, holistic grazing and land management practices — and by help, we mean direct a portion of the billions of dollars earmarked for climate solution projects to farmers who regenerate the world’s soils. Using the French government’s modest estimates, we can transfer, via enhanced plant photosynthesis, 150 billion tons of this carbon back into the soil in the next 25 years. Scientists estimate the world’s soils have lost 50-70% of their carbon stocks and fertility.” The USA, of course, wants nothing to do with any of this. This is not the typical slant on news relating to climate change. Much more usual is geoengineering cheerleading. Naomi Klein, also in Alternet, says: “. . .an American entrepreneur named Russ George dumped 120 tons of iron dust off the hull of a rented fishing boat; the plan was to create an algae bloom that would sequester carbon and thereby combat climate change. Mr. George is one of a growing number of would-be geoengineers who advocate high-risk, large-scale technical interventions that would fundamentally change the oceans and skies in order to reduce the effects of global warming. In addition to Mr. George’s scheme to fertilize the ocean with iron, other geoengineering strategies under consideration include pumping sulfate aerosols into the upper atmosphere to imitate the cooling effects of a major volcanic eruption and “brightening” clouds so they reflect more of the sun’s rays back to space.” “The risks are huge. Ocean fertilization could trigger dead zones and toxic tides. And multiple simulations have predicted that mimicking the effects of a volcano would interfere with monsoons in Asia and Africa, potentially threatening water and food security for billions of people.” “Bill Gates has funneled millions of dollars into geoengineering research. And he has invested in a company, Intellectual Ventures, that is developing at least two geoengineering tools: the “StratoShield,” a 19-mile-long hose suspended by helium balloons that would spew sun-blocking sulfur dioxide particles into the sky and a tool that can supposedly blunt the force of hurricanes.” Some of this stuff would make Jules Verne blush. And when contrasted with the reasoned approach of the Organic Consumers Association, it reveals a real disconnect between those who believe in technology and those who believe in people. Why would not anyone choose to have a little faith in people rather than take the huge chances that go with bringing large technological solutions to bear on a huge problem, resulting in possibly disastrous consequences for all of us? Matt Tabbai points to the problem. Mr. Tabbai, writing in Rollingstone says that the time to turn off Donald Trump was forty years ago, when we started to compress all reality into soundbites on television news. We have several generations of Americans now that cannot think about anything deeply, that really do believe all issues are encompassed in a few words, that solutions are easy and generally violent, and that television shows reality. And this has everything to do with how the elites get away so easily with convincing us that every problem is to be solved by certified smart guys in labs, while we commoners fritter away our time on football and shopping. Yes, our institutions have failed us. Our news media castrates our minds. Education teaches myth rather than history, computer rather than science, techno talk and video making rather than English. It is a wonder any of us can think clearly! Neither party represents anything but money in our “representative democracy”. Take the Democrats for instance: Suppose that when Justice Lewis Powell wrote the note to the financial and political elites in the early seventies about taking the country back from the middle and working classes and establishing the elites once again firmly in the saddle, the Democratic party had reacted by saying that it would continue to be the party of the working class(all races) rather than embarking on its half century march into the pockets of Wall Street. Hard to imagine! But in that circumstance, would there even be a Donald Trump today? Not just as a political candidate, now, but also as a carnival barker, and purveyor of televised “rich without working” fantasies? How much audience would he have in a nation of people that felt heard in their government, that felt vitally involved in the progress of their society and valued in their neighborhoods? Does not a degenerate politician need a degenerate populace to hear his degenerate palaver? Alan Savory, the thinker responsible for the principles of Holistic Management says that “the magnitude of world desertification. . .one of the factors responsible for climate change, has already grown beyond the power of any human organization to handle. So great is the challenge now. . .that only ordinary people can do it-you and I-teachers, farmers, foresters, range managers, mothers and fathers. . .” This is a legitimate hope. And this we try to practice-haltingly and imperfectly-on our farm. It is what we can try to do.

Friday, March 10, 2017


Our organic and farmer conferences continue to amaze. There are a good supply of us greybeards on hand of course, but each year there are more and more young people, many couples, little kids running everywhere and babies being carried. It gives us hope for the future but we must hear their most common comment-"We can't get access to land"-and see to it that changes. We must not waste this generation of bright young people! Jim

Monday, February 27, 2017


We spent Thursday through Friday at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Conference. Seeing long time friends is always wonderful. It is a fact that we who do things a little differently in agriculture are so scattered and sparse that it takes a regional conference like this to relax and feel among friends. And the large numbers of young people with their children and babies is heartening. The mood among us older ones at least was pensive. Many face retirement without really knowing how best to proceed. All too many have no one to help into the business following us. And current political events point to a real wrong turn taken by our politicos, and perhaps all of us, beginning decades ago. How did it get so terribly wrong? We have work to do, no matter our age. The first question is about order and priorities. What needs to come first? It is my hope that as we work to pull us and our country back from rage, hatred and fear and to heal those corrosive attitudes we can also see some of what needs to be restored in order for us all to live a satisfactory and conserving life here on earth, and to take on that work. We have reached a critical point in our country and the world. Let none of us shirk the task.