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What makes diversified farming profitable?

There are many variables that control profitability for rural industry.

  • the season
  • the economy
  • government interference
  • the season in other parts of the world
  • currency value
  • labour availability
  • availability of your product locally
  • availability of your product overseas
  • and heaps of others
The key is that when one crop is down, another is riding high and some are middling. Next year is the same – with different crops. Diversity provides the constant profitability which is necessary for a sustainable business.
 

Table of Contents

Monoculture is Gambling​

There is one constant on the land – no two years are alike.

Using an orchard as an example, some fruits need frost early in the season to set the buds for next year’s crop. The same frosts will damage the buds for other crops. Rain later in the season will fill some fruit and split others. This variability will occur in almost every rural venture.

While one crop is excelling, others are OK and others are not performing at all well. Next year it is the same – with different crops.

The only reliable answer is diversity. Multiple income streams are sustainable – monoculture is gambling that all the gods will constantly smile upon you. I do not like those odds.

A Higher Yield from Multiculture​

This is quite logical, just not thought about by many people.

This compares the yield of monoculture to the yield of multiculture.

There is no doubt that if you grow one crop, that your yield OF THAT CROP will be greater than if the crop was part of a selection. It could not be any other way. You have optimised the conditions for that crop.

Lets change our viewpoint for a minute from a view of SINGLE CROP YIELD to the TOTAL YIELD of multiple simultaneous crops.

It is also worthwhile overlapping some crops in time. Growing one crop under another so that when the first is harvested, the second may mature.

There are seven productive layers described below.

  • Canopy / Tall Tree Layer
  • Sub-Canopy / Large Shrub Layer
  • Shrub Layer
  • Herbaceous Layer
  • Ground-cover / Creeper Layer
  • Underground Layer
  • Vertical / Climber Layer
 

If each of these only yield a half of their single crop potential you still have three and a half times the yield. You will of course have the guild effect to boost yields to around three quarters of their potential  instead of half each.

That gives you a possible multiple of five and a quarter. It is unlikely that you will use all of the layers but just doubling the income from a piece of land is still a good show.

Even if you choose the simple path and place two crops per year on the same land that has gotta be better than one.

This describes the “Efficient” in Clean, Efficient and Profitable. It does lead to increased profitability.

It all depends on what your goal is – to grow pumpkins or to make money.

Monoculture is gambling.

Product Integration

Multiple uses of the land

Different land uses utilise the soil in different ways – some consume fertility, some increase it. Aside from the positive economic effect, diversity tends to boost fertility of the soil which is your most important resource. Be aware of any soil exudates produced by any crop and the effects on a subsequent crop – these may be positive, neutral or negative.

Simultaneous cropping

A more sophisticated method of landuse involves growing multiple crops simultaneously. This is done by having crops at different stages of maturity so that when the current crop is harvested, the next crop is “uncovered” and allowed to mature in its turn.
To achieve this, a second crop is drilled into the same ground as another crop in mid life. The second crop germinates and commences its growth timed such that it will begin its run to maturity after the first is harvested.
Because the crop is sewn using a drill which causes little damage, and the first crop is still young enough to easily recover from tread damage there is little time lost.
Properly done, this can enable three crops per year in the same ground. One of these may be a green manure.

Sequential cropping

Often known as crop rotation, sequential cropping can rest the soil whilst keeping it productive.

Green mulch

Nature feeds the soil from above, usually by leaf drop. This does boost the soil.
Green mulch or green manure protects the soil whilst feeding it. The cover provided protects the soil from moisture loss and damage by raindrop impact and sun. The soil is open to ingest moisture and nutrient rather than heat sealed by a top layer of powder. Erosion by wind and water is thus eliminated or minimised.

Healthy plants are immune to insect damage and many diseases

Recent research has shown that insects are not able to digest complete proteins. They require separated amino acids. When a plant reaches level 3 health, it produces complete proteins which inhibit insect damage. This is true for both leaf feeders and sap suckers. Many disease vectors are unable to access the plant when in good health.

No till

The soil is a living environment, an Eco-sphere of its own. When it is operating at peak efficiency it is producing at an optimum level.
Consider a tradesman, say a painter, who does not wash his brushes after each use but instead binds a new set of fibres to the handle prior to each task. He costs himself time, effort and resources to repair his tools, more than the time needed to wash his brushes.
Soil is a farmers most important tool and repair time in each cycle is not efficient.
Constant deep ploughing will damage the soil crumb structure causing compaction and hard pan, it will break the worm tunnels that are used to transport air and water as well as dissect the fungal mycelium.
Mycelial damage is possibly the most important as the mycelia have a symbiotic relationship with the plants and deliver water, minerals and other necessary substances to the plant in return for sugars and starches. Quite the underground economy. All of this takes time to repair in order to perform. This is less efficient for the plants as they lack complete nutrition until the mycelia are repaired leaving them open to predation by insects and other pests.
If the soil is not damaged, it can retain its function with minimal repair required yet still perform to our needs.

Companion planting & guilds

The theory of companion planting revolves around chemical and physical compatibility.

It is a complicated system of relationships between plants, fungi, insects and animals. There are as many antagonists as there are companions.

The reason that companion planting is regarded skeptically by many is that the effects are regional.

Take the tomato / basil story. Many nematodes attack tomato roots. The basil traps and feeds on a nematode that ruins tomato roots. The difficulty is that that type of nematode is not found everywhere and basil has a specific taste in nematodes. This only seems to work in southern England and France, so the companion status is unavailable elsewhere. No doubt there are other nematode feeders that will attack our local varieties. Once identified, they are your tomato companions.

The main considerations here are:

  • root space competition
  • shading and light levels
  • root and sap exudates
  • pest protection
  • mycelium symbiosis

 

Root space competition

Plants hold their roots at different levels. Some are shallow and others deep. If the roots are competing for water and nutrients, we have a situation where neither species will thrive.

If however the roots are at different levels, we have a symbiosis (helping each other). Consider this, the deep rooted plant extracts nutrients that have leached down to the subsoil, feeds its leaves which then drop in their season. These leaves will release deep nutrients when they decompose that are now available in the topsoil to the shallow rooted plant – win win!

Shading and light levels

There is a famous guild called the three sisters that originates in North America. It is a simple guild of Corn, Squash and Peas. It works by sharing environmental advantages. The large leaves of the squash provide shade and shelter which maintains an even soil temperature and reduces moisture loss. The peas are legumes so provide nitrogen and shade the roots. The corn provides a trellis for the peas and acts as a windbreak.

The corn is shallow rooted, the peas are deep rooted and the squash are middle feeders. Each of the crops can be harvested at different times allowing each to boost their yield in turn.

Root, leaf and sap exudates

Allelopathy is the chemical inhibition of one plant (or other organism) by another by releasing substances that act as germination inhibitors, growth inhibitors or outright poisons. Strong examples of this are Eucalyptus, Black Walnut and Tomatoes.

Pest protection

Some plants protect themselves from competition and pests using exudates.  Others trap pests. This protection can assist other species. Exudates do not kill or suppress all other plants, so we have an opportunity to be selective and inhibit certain weeds by growing allelopathic plants or using the allelopathic plants as a mulch.

Mycelium symbiosis

Mycelial fungi usually form symbiotic relationships with the plants in their neighbourhood. There is an underground trade economy happening. The fungi provide an underground internet to pass information and channels to trade water, minerals and other substances to the plant in return for starches. It is significant and runs on a bidding system. Soil life is quite complex and intelligent.

Fungi 1: I have some phosphate and chromium

Fungi 2: I have some phosphate and zinc

Plant: I will take the zinc in return for some starch

Fungi 2: Deal

This sounds a little strange, but has been well proven by research over the years. The mycelial tips actually enter the roots of the plants and pass between the cells of the root in order to deliver their goods and chemical intelligence directly to the plant.

This is a higher form of symbiosis.

In 1998 a fungus Armillaria ostoyae was discovered that covered 2,384 acres (965 hectares).

Waste Management

Where possible integrate your enterprises. In most cases, a waste from one enterprise will become a raw material for another. Since most of our systems are organic, compost will be the catch all.

Integrating waste management is cost-effective and in many circumstances can save you the cost of purchasing soil amendments etc. Compost products are not the only option – be creative.

Standard Operating Procedures allow you to create a business that is  process dependent which is role based rather than person based. This means that you have multiple people capable of doing any process – even yours – particularly yours.

This increases the value of the business considerably.

Micro-Enterprises

Here is a selection of micro-enterprises for you to consider. They do integrate in that  their wastes can be processed as compost and some may be grown simultaneously on the same ground as different level crops. For example the orchard may have flowers growing as a herb layer or in the lane between the trees. For maximum yield, be careful to only grow compatible crops.

The waste from Organic Hydroponics may be used as a fertigation solution for flowers, vegetables and herbs. Once again, ensure the Hydroponic crop and the other species are compatible – the hydroponic crop will leave root exudates in the solution. Use tomato solution only on pasture – grasses and most forbes are strong enough to resist its effect..

A trap crop of Azolla and duckweed will capture accumulated hydroponic nutrients to be passed easily to compost.

Here is a list of some possible micro-enterprises.

  • Advanced Tree Nursery
  • Bamboo (Timber and Fibre)
  • Berry Orchard
  • Compost
  • Flowers – Cut
  • Flowers – Edible
  • Fruit Orchard
  • Herbs
  • Microgreens
  • Mushrooms
  • Nut Orchard
  • Organic Hydroponics
  • Seedling Nursery
  • Vegetables
  • Wasabi
  • Water Chestnuts
  • Water Cress

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