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[nafex] organic works - the evidence

I was too busy last week to hold up my end of a discussion on this topic,
but I have something you all might find interesting, from a buddy of
Lucky's.  Donna

First, Joe Hecksel's comments on the Nature article:

Wow!  Treacherous ground.  This could turn into a lively thread.

I have read commentary about US farmers complaining about "unfair"
competition from Argentina, etc.  They do not have the same input
costs.  They accept lower yields by having more acres in rotation.
They make their money by producing commodities at the lowest possible
costs.  All those chemical inputs cost cash-money.  In hard currency.
They avoid buying N by growing alfalfa for a few years.  Grow one or
two years of maize.  Then a year or two of small grains.  Then
soybeans.  Then back to alfalfa.  The rotation reduces disease

US farmers cannot afford this approach because he/she has high fixed
costs (property, equipment) and debt that he/she must service.

Next, a comment from the graze-L list that Owen and Lucky hang out on:

> > I couldn't believe that anyone, even a dairyman
> > (just joking), would do all the work that it takes
> > to care and feed, milk and muck-out a dairy cow
> > for a year in order to earn $63.

This link will take you to Owen's comparison between low input relaxed and
profitable dairy farming, and high stress, high stakes financially suicidal
dairy farming.  You will enjoy it.  I'll try to cut and paste it, but if it
doesn't go, you'll have to look at it in situ:

Low Cost Structure:
The two columns below are an attempt to describe the typical well managed
Ohio dairy farm (first) and an emerging new high profit style of Ohio dairy
farm (2nd).

These lists were developed to stimulate discussion at a meeting of graziers
and conventional dairy farmers.

Characteristics of a high cost structure dairy farm:
Full line of machinery for tillage, row crop production, manure hauling, 3
or more different forage, storage and feeding methods, feed processing, feed
mixing, cattle hauling.
Newer, dependable machinery.
Machinery purchased with borrowed money.
Powerful pickup truck less than 5 years old with payments.
Attempts to maximize production per acre. For example attempted corn yields
of 150+ bu/A.
Near constant use of 2 to 5 tractors and loaders.
Year around cow exposure to concrete stress & free stalls.
Little or no nutrients from pasture.
High Cost Structure
Attempt to grow most forage and concentrates
Purchased feed tending to be high quality imported hay and exotic protein
supplements like cottonseed.
High level of dependence on agri business for products & services.
Hire consultants for ration balancing, animal health, agronomy and financial
Multiple employees
Larger herds, 3x milking. 16 to 24 hr/day milking parlor schedule.
High tech milking facility. Replacement value of over $100,000 dollars.
Popular, high value, high index proven bulls used
Frenzied, fast paced, toxic lifestyle
Focus on herd average and high individual cow performance.
Very strong temptation to ignore profit and seek maximum cash flow to
service debt, pay employees and agribusiness suppliers.
Net profit potential per cow break-even or less. Herd size 100-400 milking.

Characteristics of a low cost structure dairy farm.
 One small tractor, small skid loader, manure spreader and mower, hand cart,
pitchfork, broom.
Older rebuilt machinery.
Total fair market value of all machinery under $5000.
No pickup or a well maintained 10 yr. old or older truck. No payments.
No seed or herbicide purchased. A little fertilizer and lime purchased. Max.
effort devoted to precise manure distribution by cows.
Tractor use usually a few minutes or less per day.
Cow exposure to concrete limited to milking time and winter months.
100% of forage from pasture April 10 to Nov. 25.
Low Cost Structure
Maximum use of very low cost purchased feeds like shelled corn and coarse
hay for winter feeding.
Purchased feed limited to cheap low quality hay and cheap local shelled
Total lack of need for agri business products and services.
All management functions handled by owner-operator with vet. principal
No employees
Herd size limited to number owner can milk in 2 hours or less.
Simple, home built and maintained milking facility. Replacement value of
less than $5000 total. Could be a stanchion panel bolted to two posts and a
cheap used pipeline.
Max. use of A.I. and natural service young sires.
Slower sustainable life style.
Herd average totally ignored as irrelevant to anything.
No cash flowing out except the electric bill and to buy low cost local
shelled corn and rough hay for winter.
Net profit per cow of up to $800.00 Herd size up to 150 milking.

For many years I operated a farm like the first one. Through the 1970s this
type of operation was very, very profitable. By the mid 1980s it was less
profitable. By the year 1990, it was not profitable. I now have a farm more
like the second.

Unfortunately, influential people advising farmers have picked up older
(therefore misleading) income data on the farms in the first column and
projected it into the future. As a result dairy farmers are struggling to
get into the first column, while remaining largely unaware of the style of
dairy farming in the 2nd.

Kindest regards, Owen

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