Farming without chemicals amongst those who do

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by futurefarmer, May 21, 2014.

  1. futurefarmer

    futurefarmer Junior Member

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    I am looking to buy my first farm and the place I am considering is in a rather productive farming area - flat, arable, dual-purpose country which is popular for both cropping and grazing (fattening) livestock.

    I’ve spoken to farmers in the area and all are fond of using chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and the like. My farm (about 100 acres) would be surrounded by such farms.

    My plan is to buck the trend and run my farm chemical-free. I’m a believer in organic and permaculture principles and I want to set up a mixed farm that does bit of grazing, tree crops, and possibly small scale cropping.
    By selecting to live in such an area though, do you think I am setting myself up for huge headaches by being surrounded by farms like this? Or can I kind of ignore the these other farmers if they want to farm the way they do, and just get on with my own farming approach?

    I want my family and I to live reasonably cleanly and healthily on this farm, but I am a little worried that may be this won’t be possible being in such an, in some ways, “unclean” area to begin with. But I’ve little experience with this, so hoping that those who do might be able to chime in.
     
  2. Grasshopper

    Grasshopper Senior Member

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    Its a great opportunity to drive change by example.
    Peak oil will convert them all into organic farmers soon enough.
     
  3. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    the land you are buying is likely already contaminated enough that it won't matter. sadly, there is little farmland available which hasn't been abused.

    where i am at, we have almost two acres with farm fields on three sides. none of the farmers care much about what they do or where they spray or how their runoff goes. i'm in the middle of one large project to keep runoff from one farm field from coming across our property when it floods. the gardens here have all been growing naturally for four or five years now. things are going well, no bug problems, some critters around, plenty of bees and overall a very thriving community of creatures. yesterday as an example there were chipmunks, pheasant, snake, woodchuck, rabbits, turkeys and the top predator of the neighbors cat all wandering through the property.

    if you do plan on going through with this, i'd advise your outside edges to be buffer zones, likely grassland or mixed forests, windbreaks, etc. if you are in an arid climate you'll likely have regulations about fire breaks or brush and what you can and can't do.

    i'm not sure for the land itself what can be done to help break down toxins, but for sure, you'll be well advised to get the soil tested in several locations to see what you are up against, and if you put in a well the water should be tested too as it may have been affected. it may take many years for some of the toxins to break down. i'm sure there are methods of increasing soil activity to encourage fungi which can often do a lot to break apart strange compounds, but most fungi like only certain conditions and it may be rather expensive to bring in enough compost or other organic materials to help things along. what i've done here is to set aside some areas to grow green manure which then is used as fertilizer for the gardens and to feed the small scale worm farm. it all works well together and i'm happy with it, but this is not a farm in the sense of the people around me. it's not big enough and i don't use machines much at all. once in a while i use the electric hedge trimmer to cut back the green manure patch and we mow the last bits of grass, but otherwise it's a very low input system here. peaceful too.

    i wish the picture were brighter for what you hope to accomplish. i suspect a lot of the surrounding farmers will view your acreage as a source of weeds, pests and other likely problems. if you are lucky you may have neighbors who are willing to help out and you can influence them gradually to learn how to do things differently. as of yet, though, my own experience is that those who farm are stuck in their ways, and it will take quite a change in oil prices or some thing else to get them to rethink their methods.

    in the case around me, the farms are small enough and still in the family. the machinery is paid for, so what they are doing is unlikely to change until they retire or die or some major change comes from outside. i suspect high oil prices won't change any thing as then they just get higher prices for their harvests.

    sorry this is so disjointed of a reply, good luck with whatever you do. i sure hope you can manage as every acre that goes from *cides and chemical fertilizers to more natural methods is a gain from the perspective of the bees and other wildlife.
     
  4. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Will water and wind be continually bringing contaminants in from outside? As songbird says a buffer zone will be needed if you hope to keep the place chemical free.

    You are also moving into a community. Do you want to be surrounded by people that you get on with and want to be with, or ones that treat you with disdain or suspicion? If you have small kids can you cope with them being labelled at school as the kids of those weirdo farmers? It's about more than the land...
     
  5. futurefarmer

    futurefarmer Junior Member

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    Thank you for your replies so far. This has definitely given me a few other points to consider. To summarise, some major things I hadn’t thought about which I need to be aware of:

    Physical:
    Existing contamination/toxins in the soil
    Existing water (ground or surface water) contamination
    Potential for ongoing contamination via run-off

    Social:
    Relationship with neighbours and the community in response to alternative practices

    Mitigations:
    Soil / water tests prior to purchase to assess levels of contaminants
    Buffer zones around property to reduce run-off

    What else have I missed? Anyone?

    I suppose spray drift would be another concern similar to run-off, if the neighbours use a lot of sprays. Does anyone have any experience with this? Is it something that can be a big challenge to deal with?
     
  6. mouseinthehouse

    mouseinthehouse Junior Member

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    Depending on the size of the farms and what they produce spray drift from neighbours can potentially occur but usually only from aerial spraying. However the onus (at least here in Australia) is for the company spraying to only spray when drift is unlikely ie in still or relatively still wind conditions. Other things we encounter is fox baiting; we have lost a dog from neighbours fox bait when the dog never left the inside of our home. Incredibly strange but true (and long) story. We encourage wildlife like kangaroos and wallabies and snakes etc. Some neighbours shoot them. Why? Because they can.
    You are also legally obliged (at least here in Australia) to spray or otherwise eradicate certain 'weeds' on your property; to have the capacity to slash or spray for fire breaks and to spray and control declared weeds on your road verge outside your property.
    These are some of the things one can encounter. Having said all that it is quite possible to go ahead on your own path but it is not always an encouraging environment/community to live in when one is surrounded by traditional farming practices which are entrenched. I say this from bitter experience. If I had my time again I would try to locate to somewhere much more conducive to what we were trying to achieve.
     
  7. Terra

    Terra Moderator

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    Is the property amongst very large farms using massive machinery or amongst small intensive properties , if its amongst big farms growing broad acre crops then spray drift is a real concern , I chemical farmed my place for 12 yrs ive been out of that world for 13 yrs I am staggered at what happens now incredible strong cocktails every paddock has residual insecticide as well as multiple herbicides , the smell can hang around for a week if there is no rain.

    If you can smell it its there for example I lost a heap of tomatoes one year when the paddock west of the house was sprayed that's 200metres through thick large trees over a tin fence , im not convinced any buffer zone will protect against that lot .

    If your amongst small operators not so much of an issue , but still there depending on what they are producing .

    Find out a bit more about what usually happens around there , are the crops summer or winter or both , where do the strong winds come from during the growing seasons , in the end you will have to make a decision based on your research .

    My next property this issue is no 1 for me no nil zero chemical coming over my fence , I nearly died from many / lots small long term exposures to anticholinesterase compounds while I worked in the shearing industry as a young person it doesn't happen very often these days , now I know and im a grand bully x 10 if this comes up in the work place ive had to make a scene many times .

    So that may or may not help you .
     
  8. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    it's a funny thing about "supposed to" and laws and what people will do anyways. they may not supposed to spray when there is wind and the chance for drift, but around here they'll spray any time even when there are winds. the small operators hire people with big rigs to do their spraying and the big rig sprayers just do it when they can. and they use rigs with very fine sprays that will linger and carry.

    we got gassed out one day last week from such an episode. i tried to hold my breath until i got inside, but couldn't last that long and then spent some time coughing and hacking up stuff that i could taste. great for the lungs i'm sure. it doesn't happy all the time. they spray perhaps 4 times a year, but what are they using? it's not just glyphosate that is for sure. probably some other wonderful conconction from some chemical company.

    could i file complaints? sure. would it make any difference? no. there are too many windy days and only so many days to get the fields done and planted between frosts, rains and such. dust carries, sprays carry, if we didn't want to be exposed to them we should not have moved here or bought much more land.

    but there are few bees these days and i would guess that won't matter anyways when the bees are gone the farmers will come up with some excuse like they didn't know and can't be held responsible. grr... well anyways, good luck, there's more to it than just contamination issues as Eco says, there's the social aspects too. we know every person who owns land around us, but that still doesn't alter the basic facts that are on the ground. things must get done and in the end they're going to keep doing it until they die or there is some actual change in practices which is forced on them. i don't expect that to ever happen.
     
  9. Curramore1

    Curramore1 Junior Member

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    The laws do work here in my part of Australia. I suffered some herbicide damage on a tree crop from 2,4-D drift caused by a worker spot spraying weeds on the neighbouring farm on a gusty day. At the time of the drift I went and chatted the worker who was oblivious to the drift and he immediately stopped. I saw the owner of the neighbouring property several days later who was very apologetic, showed him the damage and he made a claim on his spray drift insurance (which is compulsory here if you have an ACDC commercial herbicide contractor's license) to the tune of $14000.00 which I received 30 days after the event. The neighbour no longer sprays the field adjacent to my food and timber production areas and has introduced some camels as a weed reduction strategy instead. In return I supply him with the seconds of avocado, pumpkins, bananas etc. which I would normally compost or give away anyway to keep the communication lines open. As for the bees the Farmers here actually bring in rented hives to pollinate their crops, they would have to pay the owners if they killed their bees with insecticide. We destroy any wild hives of European honey bee Apis mellifera here as they are mostly diseased with introduced fungal, bacterial and viral pathogens and use our own healthy hives to pollinate our fruit trees and produce honey. Natïve bee hives are also encouraged instead, but the Euro ones are better for pollinating the introduced crops.
    Your Neighbour's spray contractor must carry insurance. If you must, sue them for damages like any other business would. My naïve and probably narrow impressions are that citizens of the U.S are a litigious society where legal actions such as in your case would be common? I know that doesn't do anything for good neighbour relations, but do they know the damage has occurred? Have you evidence of the damage? Can you put a value on it? Have you asked them to pay damages?
    The farmers here seem a bit more in tune with nature than yours, they know they need pollinators, biodiversity, good water quality etc. and are more often than not university educated as well. You would soon go broke here if you farmed the way of 25 years ago, Farmers here also rely on farm-stay, Agro/Eco-tourism and have increased the diversity of their enterprises to survive. Most Farmers practice integrated pest management begun here in the late 1970's instead of just relying on chemical pest and weed controls. Our graziers are not quite so enlightened.
    I hope that your lot changes for you soon for your sake. I think it may have been Terra who said that "If nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes".
     
  10. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    we are not big ag, if there are actual dead plants from a spray drift it would be less than $100 invested. at the moment i don't know if anything was damaged by the drift - it doesn't appear that plants have died. i was more concerned about my own lungs/health at the time and getting inside. and my concern is not about individual plants, but the overall cumulative effects of such spraying on everything. it just seems so blatantly wrong. for so many years people farmed and did well enough without such things being used...
     
  11. Terra

    Terra Moderator

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    Yep
    If you don't change anything nothing will change .
    Ive got good communication with the broadacre cropper that is alongside me , he is aware of my allergies and will pick the best days to keep drift away from my house area . Still the residual insecticide is the biggest issue for me .
     
  12. helenlee

    helenlee Junior Member

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    When I lived in Coraki I lost all my native bee hives because of ariel spraying (soybeans, & I think they sometimes even flew something onto the sugar cane?). The people whose paddocks were being sprayed used to tell me when they were spraying so I could plug up all the hives the night before. But sometimes, if they told me they weren't spraying & I let the bees out, & then the wind changed to favourable, they would fly anyway, because that window of opportunity with the weather can be narrow, & they can't "afford" to miss it ... cough.
    I never discovered a way to call bees back to the hive , & over time, I lost all of the hives :(
    I would never live nor buy land anywhere within a bulls roar of people using chemicals on farms, or even domestically. Your life is worth much more than that. Leave the people willing to be lab rats to their own devices & find a community of enlightened people to join. You'll be so much better off, in so many ways :)
     
  13. helenlee

    helenlee Junior Member

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    mouse ... I dunno what happened to your dog (& I'm so sorry to read that - it must have been dreadful - hugs) but I recall that one of the best Kelpie bitches Australia ever saw was lost to a bait taken while she was on a chain at her kennel. The only possible scenario they said was that a wild bird or animal had dragged/dropped the bait within her reach. Tragic. The stuff shouldn't be allowed to be used in any circumstances. A hideous death for anything, "vermin" or not, is unacceptable in my opinion.
     
  14. briansworms

    briansworms Junior Member

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    A friend of mine is running beef cattle and growing silage. Mostly Lucerne.
    He isnt using chemicals. He had his soil tested and is spreading gypsum,chicken manure and looking into spraying liquid worm castings across his paddocks.

    A couple of weeks ago he bought another farm which butts onto his. He will also convert this property.
     
  15. Curramore1

    Curramore1 Junior Member

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    So gypsum, Magnesium sulphate or other naturally occurring soil ameliorants are not a chemical? Arsenic and asbestos and 1080 poison are also naturally occurring chemicals, chicken manure contains no chemicals like uric acid, ammonia or any phosphates does it?. Silage is plant material chemically preserved by the production of preservative acids produced by specialist micro organisms in an un-natural, anaerobic environment. Liquid worm castings are a mixture of worm shit who are fed on what? My cynicism arises from the fact that these practices are called traditional farming from where I come from. Where is the sensational new technology or practice? I aerial spray/spread occasionally just with legume seed and inoculant, I must remember to never use "chemicals" like water or naturally occurring minerals and other compounds like those spread in my poultry litter........ Obviously the naturally occurring external and internal parasites of the livestock of your neighbour are being controlled by pure outstanding long term quarantine management or positive vibes or happy high herbs ( all with no chemicals) or a combination of the preceding as well no doubt. I wonder if the profits from the first farm over the past 100 years of beef production chemical free have funded those of the second? Exactly what devilish practices are these properties being converted from? No addition of sold off in production or leached nutrients, overgrazing, compaction, weed infestation, poor fencing, or just plain lack of capital input due to the sad economic importance of locally grown food in our society. My question is, what is regarded as a chemical by permies or sustainable food and fibre producers? Common salt is a chemical, water is a chemical, Air is a mixture of chemical gases, soil itself is a living mixture of chemical compounds, both inorganic and organic, those organic being converted by natural microorganisms to inorganic so plants can use them, then the plants dying to produce organic material to start the cycle again. There is no mystery. The only chemicals I worry about are those which do not biodegrade readily and persist as toxins to man, beast or plant. I bet the folk who carp on about farm chemicals still use panadol and Neurophen. Pyrethrem, tea tree oil, neem oil, capsicum oil, eucalyptus oil, 1080 etc. are all naturally occurring poisons designed to kill plant and animal pests. They are chemicals. The debate should really be about the LD50, ( lethal dose 50, a measure of the mammalian susceptability of a compound) the half life or biodegradability, the short and long term environmental effect, the broadness or the specificity of the effect of the chemical, not whether the sucker was found in nature and misnamed " organic" which really means "contains Carbon atoms"and concentrated or whether it was man made or modified. Australian society is so very misinformed when it comes to the chemical inputs to our food. Australian Farmers are cleaner and greener then most think. It is difficult to educate folk when the majority of the cheap food Australians buy is from Overseas where there are no stringent food production protocols and chemical residue limits like we have here. We are hornswoggled by the major food chains in the cities. What really is "Organic Certification" other than another marketing tool? Has it been scientifically proven to prolong life and provide well being? I know that my minimal chemical input food is more nutritional, has a longer shelf life and is more tasty than my monocultural "organically certified " neighbour even though the only chemical I use are those found in sheep manure I fertilize my plants with.
     
  16. briansworms

    briansworms Junior Member

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    We might as well all be dead.
     
  17. futurefarmer

    futurefarmer Junior Member

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    Goodness. I don’t believe I mentioned anything about producing organic products or being an organically certified farm. Incidentally I agree with you about pretty much everything you’ve said, and I’m sure most people here do too, but that’s a topic for another discussion. When I use the word “chemical” most people know that I’m talking about the frequent use of the more worrying man-made chemicals “which do not biodegrade readily and persist as toxins to man, beast or plant” as you put it. I’d add to that that the frequent broad application of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers…basically the stuff that became popular amongst large monoculture farms following the “Green Revolution” of the 1950’s. I'm sure you know what I mean.

    I see you’re from Queensland Australia. I’m looking specifically at some of the western fall country popular for cropping and fattening livestock. I’m concerned about the use of these types of chemicals in such an area, but to be honest I’m not really up on how pervasive their use is in these parts. I assumed they would be pretty commonplace given the prevalence of cropping and cropping/grazing outfits. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this though – will many of these types of farms use a lot of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilisers do you think?
     
  18. Curramore1

    Curramore1 Junior Member

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    Sorry to sound so depressing to you Briansworms.
    Futurefarmer I think that chemical usage has lessened and been finer tuned with more target specificity, more naturally occurring compounds with greater biodegradability and shorter half lives. Chemicals here are still as dear as poison. The other trend is that less is imported from the US and more from China and India.
    I know what you mean regarding the use of persistent, residual herbicide chemicals. Common table salt is one of the worst. It and other metal salts are naturally occurring over many of the soils in our country and is made apparent particularly where the groundwater comes to the surface where the water table has risen due to over-clearing of trees, particularly along ridgelines and because of poor long term irrigation practices.
    Sorry if I got off topic, late night ramblings.
    In regard to the West of the Great Dividing range in Queensland.
    The cropping areas of the Darling Downs in Queensland are some of the most productive in Australia with good rain they can produce amazing yields once there is a full moisture profile in these deep cracking clay soils. They are under threat on two fronts. One they are on top of huge black coal deposits and 2. they have underground sub-artesian waters and huge areas of natural gas and are subject to widespread coal seam gas mining at present, a pretty gloomy future. The western downs around Roma have equally good soils but a more unreliable rainfall with 2 in 5 years profit, 2 in 5 years break even and 1 in 5 years loss on average as a generalisation in a grain farming scenario. To retain a moisture profile to grow a grain crop the paddocks are generally fallowed over the summer to build up a soil moisture profile and planted with a winter cereal in the autumn which is harvested in the late spring. The plants must be kept off the soil through the fallow to conserve moisture for the next crop. this can be done by cultivation, grazing sheep or by herbicides such as glyphosate. The soils are relatively young and little in the way of fertilizers are applied at planting. All the stubble after harvesting is retained and left on the soil as a ground cover to reduce evaporation and to provide organic matter for soil biota and also as an aid to soil retention in heavy rainfall events.
    Herbicides are generally applied by ground sprayed rigs with glyphosate applied at rates of about 1L per hectare. Cotton is a crop which uses a heap of chemical inputs, especially insecticides, which are usually aerially applied once the crop gets tall, but with the advent of leggy spray coupe tractors there is less aerial spraying. Summer crops like sorghums and corns or maize would also be sprayed with insecticide to kill midge, bollworm etc. Most Australian farmers use integrated pest management where management and cultural practices such as strip cropping and resistant varieties are used in conjunction with biological control and minimal chemical application. Controlled traffic cultivation and satellite crop yield data are also used to computer control the application of fertilizers and other inputs and to alter planting spacings to maximize the returns and minimize inputs such as chemicals. There is an increase in the production of certified organic grain and pulse products on the Darling Downs, particularly towards the Western Downs. Government allocations of irrigation water which is usually flood harvested have become more expensive and less available due to the increase in the environmental flow required as this is the headwaters of the Murray-Darling system. The major irrigation users are increasingly foreign owned such a Cubby Station near St.George, the largest Queensland irrigated cropping entity now Chinese owned and operated. I have no idea whether they grow GM crops, use unregistered chemicals or other as their produce is probably all exported back to China.
    Grazing operations use very little parasite control chemicals because of the low stocking rates and quarantine areas where the cattle tick is kept free from the Downs. Buffalo fly control in the summer with fly tags or backrubbers is common. Some areas use chemical pour-ons to control cattle lice. Sheep are jetted with insecticide to prevent sheep blowfly attack once or twice a year and a pour on is used after shearing to control lice. Sheep are probably drenched a little more often than cattle to control internal parasites. 2-3 times a year where cattle might only be treated annually. There is a saying there that" the soil is so good it would fatten a crowbar".
    Many graziers only treat their animals on the results of dung sampling which tells them the species present, the level of infestation and what chemicals those parasites are resistant to. Often no treatment is necessary in older animals.
    The Darling Downs and western Queensland are the easiest areas to try to produce organically certified grains and pulses and meat and animal products due to the climate and lower stocking rates.
    The recent droughts and later than usual arrival of summer rainfall coupled with high summer temperatures have given us all a flogging. Areas like Hebel have had several years of drought on the trot.

    I think our best bet here and everywhere else is to consume food that can be grown locally with low food miles and with little pest and disease control and with minimal inputs in a diversified polyculture and accept some damage by bugs and some yield loss and appearance faults. We also have to accept shorter shelf life and the seasonal availability of fruit and veges. If we are to approach food production sustainability on a local scale the nutrients in Green household waste will have to be returned somehow to the soils where the food is produced if fertilizers are not to be used.
    Water use and re-use and water conservation in this arid land is our biggest challenge.
    It still amazes me that we can easily grow great quality foods here yet we import much from other countries where their labour is cheaper, regulations are more lax, the land is cheaper, water is cheaper, electricity is cheaper and life is cheaper. Try to find a pure Australian grown fresh orange juice in our supermarket. There will only be one from a hundred. Our local Independent grocer has different coloured food labels to show the origin of all it's foods for sale, it blows me away that most of the foods are shipped here from overseas.
    Permacultural principles make very good sense, but how to apply it on a larger scale is the question.
     
  19. futurefarmer

    futurefarmer Junior Member

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    Very much agree with your thoughts on localising food and sustainable practices. It is indeed a challenge to apply many permaculture principles to a lot of the larger-scale farming operations we've become accustomed to - especially broadacre cropping.

    Thank you very much for your succinct and helpful insights into Southern Queensland's farming practices - it can be exceedingly difficult to find someone with a both local experience and a fairly broad perspective on such issues.
     

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