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.