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"Now the only thing they farm is wind.”
September 3, 2013 1:07 PM   Subscribe


 
Kernza sounds like a brilliant idea. Is there some drawback to it I'm missing?
posted by squinty at 1:20 PM on September 3, 2013


Savory proposed a number of methods, but the most dramatic was a change in fencing. Instead of allowing cattle to run free within the perimeter of the property, ranchers could install a series of smaller paddocks, through which the herd could be shuffled every few days. This would force them to pick each paddock clean before they moved on, and then allow each paddock time to recover. The cost of the additional fencing and herding, Savory argued, would return to the rancher in efficiency and sustainability, as the fields produced more grass and the cattle ate more of it.

That part of the article reminds me strongly of something I've read before from another farmer/trendsetter* that also advocates rotating cattle amongst smaller partitions instead of having them roam free. The benefits are many but educating and convincing the ranchers that it's possible and that there's benefit is difficult. Here's one quick link that I turned up on the issue.

*Anyone remember what the name of that farmer is? I wanted to say I read about him and his farming methods in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or The Omnivore's Dilemma. I remember one of his pull quotes being that he didn't farm cattle, he just farmed grass and the cattle took care of themselves.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:27 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


As we neared the edge of a rotation paddock, we could see the strands of an electric fence drawing close, but Haverfield kept speeding forward with no sign of slowing down. He flashed a rascally smile and said, “You want to see how I cross?” Before we could answer, he’d thrown the truck into low gear, opened the door, and jumped out, leaving Teske and me in the driverless pickup still lurching toward the electric wires, until here came Haverfield sprinting ahead, kicking up a seventy-four-year-old leg to stomp down on all the wires at once, just in time for the truck to rumble across, while Teske and I glanced at each other in disbelief. The driver’s door began to rattle again, and Haverfield leapt back into the cab.

Ok, so it turns out this guy is my hero for the month just for that right there.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:30 PM on September 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


The article is concerned with how wind turbines are industry destroying the environment. But it doesn't seem like there is much difference between an industrial farm and an industrial wind array except for the wind farm being sustainable and the latter not if it is dependent on non-renewable water.
posted by Mitheral at 1:31 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


The plains have always been more suited to farming wind than wheat or cows, so this article (from june 2012) is more or less suggesting to folks what they already should know.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:32 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


RolandOfEld, you're thinking of the Omnivore's Dilemma and Polyface Farm
posted by houshuang at 1:33 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


And his name is Joel Salatin.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:35 PM on September 3, 2013


Thanks for that, it's been a few years since I read that, but it has stuck with me nonetheless.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:39 PM on September 3, 2013


Read this earlier today by odd coincidence. It made me think of the trip I took to northern Arizona earlier this year, and the long abandoned native Pueblos strewn across the landscape - mostly next to places where what little runoff there was would have accumulated.

There's never a guarantee that things will be the way they've always been. (And they weren't really always that way.)
posted by Naberius at 1:47 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


“Anytime you get somebody talking about a government takeover of the land,” he droned in a voice like a didgeridoo, “people around here are going to start grabbing their guns.”

Kind of silly to say.
posted by resurrexit at 2:16 PM on September 3, 2013


Kernza sounds like a brilliant idea. Is there some drawback to it I'm missing?

Skimming a few abstracts, it seems that yield is the major drawback; perennial Kernza yields are 25-50% lower than that of annual wheats.
posted by Kabanos at 2:17 PM on September 3, 2013


In the dystopian future that Teske imagines, the cycle of farm dissolution and amalgamation will continue to its absurdist conclusion, with neighbors cannibalizing neighbors, until perhaps one day the whole of the American prairie will be nothing but a single bulldozed expanse of high-fructose corn patrolled by megacombines under the remote control of computer software 2,000 miles away.
Oh, please tell me that the writer thinks that "high-fructose corn" is a type of corn.
posted by mikeh at 2:43 PM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am confused as to why a wind farm is more disturbing (all that clean energy! oh man!) than a cattle farm, or a soybean farm. Unless you are worried about its effect on birds, that's the only real downside I've ever heard about, and it does worry me. But then so does breathing coal-polluted air.
posted by emjaybee at 2:48 PM on September 3, 2013


Oh, please tell me that the writer thinks that "high-fructose corn" is a type of corn.

I'm gonna charitably assume he's picturing a dystopia in which corn has been genetically engineered to produce even more HFCS, like top-heavy chickens which are 75% breast meat.

Because the alternative is to awful to contemplate.
posted by straight at 2:52 PM on September 3, 2013


Any writer who describes someone's voice as "like a didgeridoo" isn't talking literally about kinds of corn, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 2:55 PM on September 3, 2013


I wish we had sound on that guy who talked like a didgeridoo. He must be a trip.

Also youtube provides this cover of Dave Crossland's buffalo song.
posted by bukvich at 3:02 PM on September 3, 2013


“Fine, just give it back to people we drove off of it and the buffalo!”

Fixed that for her.

here came Haverfield sprinting ahead, kicking up a seventy-four-year-old leg to stomp down on all the wires at once, just in time for the truck to rumble across, while Teske and I glanced at each other in disbelief. The driver’s door began to rattle again, and Haverfield leapt back into the cab.

Did anyone else flash back to The Gods Must be Crazy here? The Land Rover with no starter and no parking brake and the four different ways of getting it through a gate, depending on slope and whether it opens toward you or away?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:09 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compared to cane and beets, all corn is high fructose.
posted by localroger at 3:13 PM on September 3, 2013


RolandOfEld: "The driver’s door began to rattle again, and Haverfield leapt back into the cab.

Ok, so it turns out this guy is my hero for the month just for that right there.
"

Ghost riding the electric fence.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:53 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Erm, I realise that there’s limited agricultural experience here on metafilter, but cell or rotational grazing is far from a new or radical technique for graziers. Maybe US farmers have been slower on the uptake than Aussie farmers? But there wouldn’t be an Aussie farmer who didn’t know about and accept the technique (though implementations has been limited by access to capital and labour). Basically every single dairy farmer uses it, while many rangelands farmers are too. Not that I’ve ever heard of this Savory bloke, and I suspect the story is more prosaic that the heroic insight model that is beloved of writers.

I can imagine a future for the US’ Great Plains of buffalo grazing freely, with little sign of human intervention except for the whopping great turbines everywhere. Seems kind of like my vision of the 22nd century.
posted by wilful at 4:20 PM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


The fun thing about wind farming is that you can do it AND the other farming too. I don't know what percentage of the land the turbines take up, but it's pretty low. (You may have to zoom in, but the map is centered on one.)

Also, compared to the rest of the world, the US's population is spread out nice and even-like. I'm not sure why we need to make it even more dense in the Plains, if there is no need for it.
posted by gjc at 4:31 PM on September 3, 2013


I realise that there’s limited agricultural experience here on metafilter

This is phrased with admirable restraint.
posted by brennen at 4:35 PM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


In 2010, they were invited to address the annual convention of the Kansas Farmers Union by the group’s president, Donn Teske, who farms the same land his family has owned for five generations.

Dude do I know you?

But seriously the footprint of a wind farm installation is much, much less than less than the other great energy boom to hit the plains -- oil. It's honestly much easier for farmers, crops and cattle alike to coexist surrounded by wind turbines than it is in a landscape pocked with pump jacks and pitted with drainage pits from hydrofracking.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:43 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I always thought the Ingalls family from Little House on the Prairie had bad luck. Then I went to the windswept, barren place that is South Dakota, visited Laura's home sites, and realized that the family and all of the homesteaders of the 1880s were fighting an uphill battle. There's a reason it's still so uninhabited on the prairie and in the plains state, and wind farming actually makes sense as opposed to eking a living out of that inhospitable grassland.
posted by mynameisluka at 4:59 PM on September 3, 2013


They absolutely use rotational grazing most places in the US. I don't know why its being presented as a radical new idea. Unless they are running the cattle on open range which is leased from the government and which they therefore can't fence

They also might lack the manpower to maintain the fences on a very low density range. If you're running 13 cows per square mile or something that is a shit ton of fences. Fences are pretty high maintenance.
posted by fshgrl at 5:10 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


This article is ridiculous. It uses Texas as an example of what is happening to the Great Plains. If you want to make a case that deserts are dry and water sources next to it are drying up, it is probably not something you can extrapolate to other areas like the Missouri River Basin, which is most of the Great Plains. Some areas of the Upper Plains have much higher density of wind power generators than Texas, and farmers aren't abandoning their farms.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:27 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


They also might lack the manpower to maintain the fences on a very low density range. If you're running 13 cows per square mile or something that is a shit ton of fences. Fences are pretty high maintenance.

The only reason that maintaining existing fences is that most fences are like Jason's ship -- they were put in decades ago (a century in many cases) so the hard up-front labor was sunk long ago. All that's left is keeping the fence in good shape which, honestly, can be a pretty difficult task in and of itself. Fixing an old fence means digging out rotted, sometimes pre-depression era posts and splicing in new wire. Hope your tetanus shot is current and you have a good back.

As for costs -- if you fence a section of land that's four linear miles of fence. If you split that section into quarters, that's six miles of fence to install instead of four. Assuming quarters that's about 600 extra fence posts and 6 miles of barbed wire. That's around $3500 in materials, plus a couple person-days of hard manual labor just to install the thing -- you have to pound every one of those posts in by hand plus string, tension and clip three strings of barbed wire.
posted by nathan_teske at 5:39 PM on September 3, 2013


""Now the only thing they farm is wind.”

Nebraska isn't like the Texas panhandle. Hell, Nebraska isn't really like any place on Earth, except, perhaps, now and then, like the steppes, south of Russia, and in some seasons, comparing the sand hills to the western Sahara, like Africa.

You want to understand prairie, I recommend you go along westbound I-80, a little north of the state capital of Lincoln, to a rest stop near Waverly, where you can pull over, see on the horizon the skyline of Lincoln, including the capital building, in the salt bowl in which Lincoln is built, and then stoop down, in the inevitable wind, in front of about an acre of restored "prairie," courtesy of the fine folks at UofN Lincoln. Ya get a dollar bill out of your wallet, and you measure an hours progress of seeing and understanding that landscape, 18 inches in front of your nose, by the length of the bill. Prairie is a micro-ecosystem, and a micro-landscape, as much as it is an endless sea of what you think might be grass, but mostly, isn't.

This article is written by someone who probably flew over the heartland a lot, before he deigned to plop down on it, for a few weeks, to do a few chores, and get paid for writing about it all, "authentically."

Prairie dog towns and circling raptors are great, as revelations go, but if you want to hold the land against the wind, even the wind turbined, hope-there-ain't-a-F5+-tornado-this-year, you-hope-you-can-sell-it-when-you-hope-it-blows-just-right, hope-this-blizzard-don't-turn-to-all-ice kind of wind that you imagine when you talk about wind farming, you've got to be willing to get down to one short, red bandana Cornhusker step at a time. You've got to watch the Platte River sink into sand pits, and the cranes fly and stop and fly again, and the sand hills out west rise up in winter storms and spit sand/ice at you, to begin to understand Nebraska.

Because only idiots driving down the Jersey Turnpike talk about "The Buffalo Commons" as a "higher use" of that great place.
posted by paulsc at 7:06 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


you have to pound every one of those posts in by hand

Nah, there are machines for that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:11 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought I read somewhere that they were using portable fencing for rotational grazing. Quite a bit more expensive than fixed fencing per foot, but you only need a few thousand feet of fence and you move it every week or so.
posted by localroger at 7:22 PM on September 3, 2013


If someone's abandoning their farming methods after wind turbines go in, they are either:
· getting enough money from the turbines that they don't need to bother with the tedious and variable ag stuff, or:
· not very good at farming.

Access roads and turbine bases take 2-3% of the field area. Usually the fight is trying to keep the access road short, 'cos the farmer is trying to get you to build him the biggest road for his equipment the full length of his lot.
posted by scruss at 7:43 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"OONNNNNYOOOOOWOOOAAAAAOOOONNNNNWWWWWAAAAAA," said the man with the voice like a digeridoo
posted by mike_bling at 8:04 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know why its being presented as a radical new idea.

Because to the various parties involved in reporting this story it is?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:45 AM on September 4, 2013


I enjoyed the story, moreso as I imagined Tommy Lee Jones narrating it.

I don't read this here article as being against windmills (which have dotted the Plains for moren a century. Them big-energy windmills each take up only about a hunnert sq.ft. of land. They pay the landowner a steady income, which can't be bad in that population-drained landscape. I read it as being about the going away of the aquifer, which only got started in the 50s, and once its gone, that's that for farming anyway.

I can understand if you love that country that all that 'industrializing' might be distressing. But that's no more distress than felt by those who describe the ripping sound made by the inches-thick mattress that used to cover the Plains as plows cut through it to open up crop farming - which is in itself a kind of industrializing isn't it - or those dismayed by the 30-foot-high piles of buffalo skulls that preceded that.

Change doesn't ask people's permission. And it's not stoppin.
posted by Twang at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


All of our paddocks/cells are subdivided using a single wire electric fence (charged often w a solar charger) and little fiberglass posts. It is very easy. Cows are pretty smart and after not too long you don't even have to have the electricity charged on in order to keep them where they need to be.
posted by J0 at 2:23 PM on September 4, 2013




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