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Re: 6-figure agrarianism

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  • Peter the
    Eric, I agree with your perception of (most of) the Salatin operation. You also raise a few more issues, see below. ... It did occur to me exactly in this way
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 7, 2007
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      Eric,

      I agree with your perception of (most of) the Salatin operation.

      You also raise a few more issues, see below.


      On Wed, 7 Nov 2007, Eric wrote:

      | > For example, Joel Salatin says that with his method one can make a
      | > 6-figure salary (in 1996 dollars).
      |
      | I've got to think that 6-figure sustainable farming is really just
      | the same old wolf in sheep's clothing, particularly in the case of Salatin.
      |
      | From what I've read, his farm is largely a processing station for huge
      | amounts of conventionally grown grains. Even allowing him his 400 acres
      | (or whatever it is) free and clear, could he even dream of making 6
      | figures if he had to grow the feed for his animals without fossil fuel
      | intensive machinery (with huge amounts of embodied energy) and synthetic
      | fertilizers and pesticides?
      |

      It did occur to me exactly in this way when I read about the poultry/rabbit
      operation. Dunno abut the pigs (have not read details on their
      schedules). Also, he does say that these are the most profitable aspects
      of the business :-)

      However, I feel that his poultry model is a HUGE step forward over the
      "organic, vegetable-fed, free-range" chicken that we now purchase in the
      US. Not in "sustainability," granted, but in almost all other aspects.
      Dunno whether we want to go in this direction, but feel free to venture.

      The _basis_ of Salatin's operation is beef, and this I feel is
      sustainable. Whether it alone can generate "6 figures" is a separate
      issue.


      | I think he'd be really lucky to make 5 figures. Is he really all that
      | sustainable, or is he just dressing up conventional inputs in just
      | enough sustainable clothing to take advantage of his customers'
      | sustainable sympathies?

      Actually, I do not believe _his_ customers have more than superficial
      sustainability sympathies. They do it for the _nutritional value_ they
      get in the food he produces. I see nothing sustainable in refusing to
      ship in bulk, hence making people undertake 150 miles round-trips in cars
      to get 100 pounds of beef and a dozen of chickens, which are subsequently
      kept in a freezer for 9 months.

      I am not a customer of Salatin, but would be if my round-trip was less
      than 200 miles and I had freezer space in the horrendously expensive
      chicken coop that passes for living accommodation for humans in our neck of
      the woods. Instead, I buy from Whole Foods $17/lb grass-fed beef that is
      flown from (drought-stricken) Australia to the US East Coast. Do I even
      for a second believe it is sustainable? No. But what is my alternative?
      Feed feedlot beef to the kids?


      |
      | Insofar as Salatin is deceiving his customers about the
      | sustainability/organic integrity of his farm, at least he's targeting
      | the top of the income ladder instead of the bottom. That may make his
      | farm model less offensive, but it doesn't make it sustainable.

      Salatin is not deceiving his customers either about the sustainability nor
      about the organicity of his products. Also, he does not target the top of
      the income ladder. Because he wants to avoid any interaction with food
      laws, he is forced to sell locally to people that can come physically.
      Which means he needs to price for the masses. He sells beef at feedlot
      prices. If I had the option of paying $5 for his beef, do you think I
      would pay $17 for Australian? If he the option to sell to me, do you
      think he would still sell it for $5?

      My point here is, if his model had the option of bypassing the FDA and
      marketing to my neighborhood, he would not need the poultry part of the
      business to generate a 6-figure income.

      Of course, you would say that he is substituting one type of embedded
      energy (in industrially manufactured grain) for another (my food dollars,
      which derive from my family's income, which happens to have ZERO intrinsic
      value at this point).


      | From what I've read, his farm is largely a processing station for huge
      | amounts of conventionally grown grains. Even allowing him his 400 acres
      | (or whatever it is) free and clear, could he even dream of making 6
      | figures if he had to grow the feed for his animals without fossil fuel
      | intensive machinery (with huge amounts of embodied energy) and synthetic
      | fertilizers and pesticides?

      Well, this is one of the questions. We were discussing the grain-raising
      method of Marc Bonfils (modified after Fukuoka). The method is (apart
      from the minerals exported with the grain) totally sustainable.

      The claim is that yields are 16 MT/ha. A few weeks ago 1MT was selling in
      London for UKP200, which is $400 nowadays. My estimate is that next year
      (among rising oil and food prices and a weaker dollar), 1MT of wheat will
      fetch $800. But let's stay with today's price. To get $100K one needs to
      work 16 ha (40 acres). Can one do it with no (or "small" amount of) oil?
      Can a family do it? Can an extended family do it?

      Now, given a rule of thumb that if you put the food through animals you
      double the income, one would need to raise only 8ha (20 acres) of grain.

      Under Salatin's system, a huge chunk of the income comes from grazing,
      which is low-labor and low-inputs job. How many acres of grazing will
      halve again the grain requirement? Dunno, but probably quite a manageable
      amount.

      My hypothesis is that with moderately sophisticated management and moderate
      physical labor of one (possibly extended) family one can generate $100K in
      revenue by raising grains on 4ha (10 acres). Give or take.

      Now, this assumes a Salatin-type model. There is also the
      Russell-Smith-type model, in which one grows a tree crop and lets
      livestock self-harvest (Salatin does that for grass too). An idiom from
      my neck of the woods is "He is walking so proudly, as if he has 100 pigs
      in the woods." With the price of Prosciutto San Daniele Back label
      $25/lb, I need to sell 4000 lb to raise $100K. Dunno how much a ham is.
      50 lb? With two hams and two shoulders a pig, I need to raise and process
      20 pigs? 30 hogs? How many acres of oak do I need to have for that? At
      1 mature tree/hog. May be add as many for mulberry. Can one family do it?


      |
      | Perhaps more to the point, the world can currently offer the average
      | person what?...a one or two thousand dollar living?
      |

      What is "two thousand dollar living?" What is "$100K living?"

      $100K becomes $93K after FICA tax in the US. For a family of four,
      federal income tax shaves that to $65K; state, to $59K, let's say $60K,
      which is $5K/month. Less rent of the chicken coop, $2.5K. Less
      utilities, $2K. Less commute, $1.5K. Less other car expenses, $1K. Less
      clothing that is necessary for earning a $100K salary, $600. At $17/lb,
      how many lb of beef can I buy with my discretionary income? 35lb.
      Barely 1lb beef a day. Give or take. 2lb beef/day?

      No wonder the lumpen-proletariat in the US is heading the same way the
      German one did a while back.


      What is "two thousand dollar living?" If this is $2K/year _after_
      non-discretionary expenses, and _after_ proper meals meals for the family,
      this is not bad at all.


      | Is consuming twelve times the average really sustainable? Only if
      | twenty-four other families can sustainably live off half the average,
      | right?

      Historically, the average area in the place where I come from is about 5
      ha (12.5 acres) per household. We were talking about 10 acres or less of
      grain raising. Let's put it to half grain half to pasture. Let's say
      this generates half -- $50K in _discretionary_ income. That would be
      average. In Eastern Europe.

      How much would be average in Tasmania? In Paragway? In China? I shudder
      thinking about it. In Rwanda? In UK? In UK in a few years, after
      Southern Europe gets roasted? In Russia? I shudder thinking about the
      China/Russia boundary.


      | Instead of encouraging wannabe sustainable farmers (like myself)
      | to keep pace with the excesses and abuses of the "developed world," I'd
      | much rather see Salatin modeling low-impact living.

      Again, I do believe that the beef operation is sustainable (modulo the
      methane burps and the export of minerals). May be 450 acres is not
      average though.

      | In other words, instead of chasing after big money with all the
      | collateral damage entailed, I think it would be a lot more sustainable
      | if he made enough money to reasonably live off in a simple way

      Well, his father was an accountant. This probably leaves a huge imprint
      on thinking in terms of dollars and cents.

      | and let his excess go to finance more thorough sustainability instead of
      | consumerism/corporate stock holdings, etc. If he's making 6 figures, I
      | think he should be able to afford a lot fewer compromises in the
      | sustainability of his farm -- if he really cares about sustainable
      | principles at all.


      Sorta agreed here.


      However, I do not believe that sustainability is possible in the US
      nowadays. Neither do I believe that Salatin's operation will continue to
      be legal for very long in the US.

      It might get better (for a small surviving minority), but before that it will
      get much worse. Especially in North America.


      --Peter.
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