Sunday, April 20, 2008

Most Ridiculous Line I Read Today

From the NYTimes magazine, on carbon farming and mob stocking ("Better Living With Livestock"):
Meanwhile, the soil on his fields continues to deepen by a few inches annually, Collins claims, and his pastures have become so thick in energy-laden plants that he’s been able to eliminate grain inputs, saving tens of thousands of dollars a year.
According to the piece, by practicing "mob stocking" on his Vermont dairy farm, Collins is able to eliminate grain feeding. In effect, according to the article, he's invented a perpetual motion machine, producing topsoil and milk without importing grain onto his farm. That formula can't work. My geology 101 class and my years of gardening say soil develops from the breakdown of the bedrock (which takes geologic ages) and/or addition of organic materials. But if the only organic material is the hay and grass produced on the farm, you've got a closed system.

When I do a Google I get this blog (I hope he takes better care of his cows than he does his blog--the last post is 2006.) It turns out the NYTimes doesn't completely or accurately summarize the idea--so the line is less ridiculous when the missing context is supplied. The "mob stocking" is a method, not to increase fertilizer but better to handle an all-grass diet. The "deepening" of the top soil is supposedly done by subsoiling and converting subsoil to topsoil. And it wasn't, as of 2006, a completely independent operation--he admits that they haven't done much "winter grazing", meaning probably they're importing feed for Dec through April, or 5 months of the year (Vermont, remember).

I do wonder about the whole scheme--he's pushing the "Carbon Farmers of America", his new company, and suggesting that society pay farmers for sequestrating carbon, at the rate of $25 a ton. To quote:
"We are marketing Carbon Sinks to businesses and to the public, priced at $25 per ton. For every ton of carbon dioxide that a farmer transforms into just over half a ton of organic matter, which can be measured accurately in their fields, the farmer will be paid $19. One dollar is going to go for administration for the company. The other $5 will go toward equipping and training new carbon farmers. A priority for us is to create what in effect will be both a training program and a bank for new young grass farmers to get started. We want to build an army of young graziers who are going to create this topsoil we need so desperately. This will give an enormous opportunity for young people to get into a really meaningful livelihood and do a lot of good, and be able to make money doing it."
My reaction is that it sounds very dubious. Perhaps a one-time reward for converting subsoil to topsoil, but not on a continuing basis. No way. But if you want to donate to Mr. Collins, here's where you can buy.

1 comment:

Sara DownToEarth said...

Getting paid for being environmentally responsible is a increasingly popular idea. I appreciate your viewpoint here, but do think we need to find a way to motivate agriculture (and all industries, actually) to be more environmentally responsible.

I've long thought that our ag subsidy dollars would be better spent if they were tied to environmental, sustainability or alternative energy milestones.