It was disappointing to read in a recent web article at Civil Eats that Marin County supervisors are getting resistance from some factions of the local food advocate groups for allowing local processing facilities. Marin County, California is known as a hotbed of local and organic foods, so I was pleased to learn that the supervisors took that ethos seriously and granted permission for locally-run, small animal processing facilities to operate in the county (less than 20,000 birds for poultry and mobile slaughter facilities for larger animals).
Those of us working in the regenerative agriculture movement know that the lack of processing facilities is a major sticking point for many communities working toward a local sustainable food system.
But there are people who believe that animal agriculture is not as sustainable as plants and thus meat is not a sustainable food source. While they recognize there is a difference between confined animal systems and grass-based livestock systems, they still believe that you get more plants than animals per acre. Thus, as we worry about feeding 9 billion people, these individuals fall into the reductionist crop versus livestock trap. They do not consider the crop and livestock opportunity that regenerative agriculture offers.
Consider the research done by USDA Agricultural Research Service on the Brown Ranch where they have been using no-till and polyseeded cover crops for many years to improve soil health from a less than two percent organic matter to over six percent in many places. They grow grain crops as well as forage crops for their livestock. Of particular import is the fact that when they began integrating their livestock into their crop fields to increase the fertility (naturally and sustainably rather than importing inputs on the farm), they were able to increase soil fertility and nutrients an almost additional 50 percent from an already highly regenerative cropping system.
Cropping alone (even done locally and organically) relies heavily on inputs (often from animals not owned by that farmer). Cropping can create the illusion of great production on small amounts of space, but the soil must be fed to produce at high volumes and there is a question of how and where those inputs are created. Holistic Management is about moving past reductionist thinking of agriculture as either cropping or livestock to focusing on agriculture as a whole system in which living soil is the key to all life and all tools are considered in the regenerative management of that system.
To help farmers learn more about how other farmers, like Gabe Brown, are building soil with regenerative agriculture, HMI has developed a Holistic Cropping Planning e-book. Click here to learn about Holistic Cropping Planning and how it helps improve soil health as well as improve the profitability of cash crops.
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