Being over leveraged, over capitalized, and over committed doesn’t leave much wiggle room to change. So why not just forget planting the annual, plant the perennial… or replant the perennial, let the animal self harvest, self fertilize. The efficiencies of self harvest, of self fertilization, and elimination of all of the equipment for tillage and fertilization is astronomical.
Diego, Permaculture Voices:
A lot of conventional farms say that they can’t afford to change over to an organic system or a Joel Salatin style system. If they converted their system over to a system like the one that you run, how much more profitable do you think that they could be?
That’s a relative thing, because profit becomes a little different ballgame. For sure what we do is profitable. There is no questions about that. But it’s a whole ball of wax. And the problem is that conventional farmers too often have reduced their options by becoming over leveraged, over capitalized, and over committed therefore, to a certain infrastructure, to a certain market, to contracts. And financially too many of them have not made a good profit so there is no wiggle room to be able to go a year with no income or to be able to make a change. A farm that is conventional and wanting to make a change, didn’t get to wherever it is overnight, and it won’t get out of wherever it is overnight. A lot of these are big aircraft carriers and it takes a while to turn it around. And the bigger the farm is the harder it is, it’s harder to turn around an aircraft carrier than it is a speedboat.
So I absolutely appreciate those issues. Many times I would advise a person who is a conventional farmer and wants to make this change to sell some land, to be able to create a cushion to make the change. And get out of that financial crutch of having no wiggle room. Somewhere along the line you have to create a little wiggle room because changing is finically disturbing, it is just hard to be going in one direction and turn without losing inertia.
Diego, Permaculture Voices:
I know that it is case specific, but how long does it take a conventional farm to turn? Is it years?
Let’s take a corn, soybean operation in Illinois as an example. The fact is that in Illinois if you were growing corn and soybeans, if you converted that ground to perennial prairie polycultures, and did grass finished beef…just grew beef, forget direct marketing… just grew beef on it, you would actually make way more money per acre, than you are doing growing corn and beans, even with the subsidies, even with ethanol. That is the truth.
It would take a year to plant it, plant the grass, and it would take another year for it to come into production. You could probably graze it lightly the fall of the first year, and the second year you could actually begin to graze it. So I call it roughly a three year conversion phase. And three years out you would actually be making far more money per acre than you could ever imagine making with corn and beans.
It’s a three year conversion process. How many farms can handle a three year conversion process? I don’t know. So generally what I encourage people to do is convert a little bit of acres. Convert a little bit, little bit, little bit, a little bit, and over a period of so many years you can finally make the conversion.
The point is that the corn and beans are being grown to be mechanically harvested to be shipped somewhere to be fed to herbivores. Why not just forget planting the annual, plant the perennial… or replant the perennial, let the animal self harvest, self fertilize. The efficiencies of self harvest, of self fertilization, and elimination of all of the equipment for tillage and fertilization is astronomical.
One of the funniest things I do is with a white board and a group of Illinois farmers. Them giving me the numbers, I don’t plant a lot of corn, so I say you give me the numbers. And we do down one side if you plant corn, and down the other side we do an herbivore and every time it’s amazing. At the end of it they all say, why are we growing corn. It’s quite an epiphany.
This is an excerpt from an interview that I did with Joel Salatin on May 22, 2013 in Big Bear Lake, CA. The transcript is verbatim. A complete transcript, audio, and video will be available at a later date. For now enjoy these small bites.
Read Part 1 of the interview: Joel Salatin on the importance of running a profitable, yet balanced agriculture business.