PITTSFIELD, Pa. – The 4-H building on the Warren County Fairgrounds was filled with farm oriented people as Joel Salatin, a nationally known speaker with sustainable agriculture roots, prepared to speak.
In spite of the fact that Salatin’s family farm is located in a different climate zone, he sees “more similarities than differences” in the two areas. He is a second generation farmer, purchasing his Virginia facility from his parents who purchased it in 1961.
Diversity. “A farm is a functioning ecosystem. The more diversity there is on the farm the more stable it is,” said Salatin. “Agriculture should heal the land first, then heal the plants, then heal the animals, and then it will naturally heal out people.”
While many in the audience accepted his views as innovative, some were skeptical about how to incorporate them into their operation.
Productive. He gave an example about selling wood. Wood in his area normally sells for $45 per pick-up load delivered.
Salatin sells it at $25 a load cut into lengths picked up at the farm.
Salatin encouraged producers to define what they are good at and subcontract the rest. He said it is not necessary to own a lot of machinery or employ a lot of people.
“Farmers have to get away from the idea that bank barns are the way to go. They have character, but they are not efficient for animal management.
“Use your bank barns for other types of enterprises. Start a miniature golf course, plan a Halloween outing, use it for a catering facility, just do not use it for animals.”
Salatin uses all pole buildings. He stores his food and brings the animals to the food. He said that is cheaper than trying to get the food to the animals.
Grazing system. A rotational grazing system is not hard to implement. All you need is permanent perimeter fence and moveable interior fence.
Salatin lets bedding accumulate all winter. He raises the gate as the level rises. It should not smell.
“If you smell something, you need to add more bedding,” said Salatin. “This is an anaerobic material.”
Pigs aerate the bedding. By spring you have compost. Chickens can follow the pigs to keep the process moving along.
“Profitable local farms are the ultimate,” said Salatin. “The idea is to offer a product that is not available elsewhere.”
Age. Salatin sees single-use infrastructure as wrong. It cannot be retrofitted into something else. The average age of farmers is 60. Within a short span of time 50 percent of American farms will change hands.
“Any industry with an average above 35 is beyond its productivity. What does that imply for farming?”
Farmers need to identify the weak link on their farm. Salatin maintains it is between the ears.
“It is the creativity, the mind set. There are many tools out there and there are available to be used.” Part of the problem as Salatin sees it is lack of innovation.
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