Free range but not organic

Organic farmers reckon the British countryside could be restored by cattle herds grazing like the bison of the American plains.

Graham Harvey, a farmer who used to advise the BBC on agricultural storylines in The Archers, said the countryside is being destroyed by industrial scale farms that concentrate on monoculture fields of wheat and animals in massive sheds.

Organic matter in soils has been reduced by continuous use of fertilisers and pesticides.

Instead he said that more of Britain could return to grazing animals as this returns fertility to grassland and retains the countryside.

He suggested a US method ‘mob grazing’, based on how wild bison graze the American plains, is the best way to ensure productivity.

Using electric fences, farmers split their pastures into a large number of small paddocks. Putting their cattle into each paddock in turn, they graze it off quickly before moving the herd to the next. . .

That sounds like rotational grazing which is common practice in New Zealand.

Free-range is the norm for sheep, beef, dairy and deer here.

But farms don’t have to be organic to look after the soil and they’re better if they’re not organic if you want improved productivity.

Hat tip: Tim Worstall.

17 Responses to Free range but not organic

  1. robertguyton says:

    The ‘grazing like bison’ idea is interesting and it seems such a regime does build soil. Our rotational grazing system is not the same at all, as it has cows grazing ‘fresh’ ryegrass down hard, not mixes of perennial grasses and broadleafed weeds in various states of maturity that were trampled into the ground, along with the substantial bison manures, to create soil. They may sound similar, but they are not. It’s all in the management, which is quite different. Some New Zealand farmers, employing a sabbatical system, are doing this.


  2. Andrei says:

    British countryside could be restored by cattle herds grazing like the bison of the American plains.

    Historically of course after the Americn civil war the cattle barons developed great cattle herds grazing like the bison of the American plains Fortunes were made (and legends born).

    But the bubble burst in the 1880s, better quality beef could be produced more cheaply by more intensive farming and that era was marked by range wars as the cattle barons tried to hold off the upstarts who farmed in the newer more productive ways.

    The great herds were butchered and transformed into tallow about all they were good for, while the overall wealth of the USA grew .and some great literature found its genesis along with some dire potboilers


  3. TraceyS says:

    Farming takes organic matter away from the land no matter which system is deployed. What else is a beast going off to the works?

    That’s life. Even organic farmers are imperfect so stop trying to draw more of a distinction than is real.


  4. Gravedodger says:

    Of course “free range” will improve soils, just check out sheep camps on extensive grazing pastures but the “rotational” systems tend to spread the nutrient and organic outcomes more evenly so all the ground is exposed to benefit rather than two meter thistles around the “camps”.
    Nice to have but will it pay the bills.
    After farming cropping soils at Waipara in the 70s where I moved from burning stubble to discing it in for a winter crop with a bit of nitrogen soil quality had improved markedly after a decade.


  5. robertguyton says:

    “But farms don’t have to be organic to look after the soil and they’re better if they’re not organic if you want improved productivity.”
    It’s Ele who’s “trying to draw more of a distinction than is real.”
    Are you chastising her?


  6. Mr E says:

    Grazing ‘like bison’ requires extensive management. Such techniques can result in low profits per hectare relative to intensive systems.
    In terms of building up organic matter. Here is my understanding. Generally what is good for grass growth is good for organic matter build up. That includes regular grazing and fertiliser (NPKS). Generally the more you eat the more it grows. What is good for grass growth is good for grass roots and bugs and organic matter.
    I would expect that most extensive pastoral systems would be better for organic matter than most cereal cropping systems. But I would consider most intensive New Zealand pastoral systems to be marketly better again.


  7. robertguyton says:

    Mr E! What a pleasant surprise.
    Bison grazing across perennial-grass prairies seems a sustainable system (aside from greedy”Buffalo Bill”-type human intervention), but could the same be said of our intensive farming systems? It’s not just the grasslands that have to be considered. Think too of the rivers and aquifers, swamps and lagoons.


  8. TraceyS says:

    Oh what a lot of well-digested silage Robert! Sorry, I don’t have time for a fuller answer.


  9. Mr E says:

    Pleasant surprise… Indeed.
    Are extensive cattle systems systainable? I know of one such farm farm that does not meet ‘levels’ proposed by a council. Of course we need a definition of sustainability and some measures and reference levels. Some councils are defining some extensive cattle systems as environmentally unsustainable.
    Lets consider the wider definition of sustainablilty. The one that includes people and community, seemingly forgotten by many environmentalists. Are extensive cattle systems sustainable for those aspects? I would expect if you replaced intensive systems for extensive the answer would be absolutely not. Our current population or forecast population is simply not capable of less. That is of course considering our current global polotical regimes.


  10. robertguyton says:

    I don’t believe “people and community” are forgotten by environmentalists. I do recognize though, that people of your ilk, believe that to be the case. It seems to me to be one of those things that hampers genuine discussion. It’s the same with the supposed claim by environmentalists that the environment is “forgotten” by farmers. You know that’s not true, but some people believe it to be the case. Those sorts of predeterminations are impediments to success.


  11. Mr E says:

    My Ilk? And what might that be Robert? Have you predetermined me?

    You appear to have twisted my comment. You left out the words “seemingly” and “many”. In my experience not all environmentalists have forgotten people and community. I would be criticising myself (as a self appointed environmentalist) to say such things. And I have not made predetermination, it is comment relating to my historical experience with environmental cohorts. The word “seemingly” was put there for that reason.

    I have been in a room of people where the question was asked “what does sustainability mean to you”. I was one of the last to answer and the only one to mention financial returns, people and community (amongst other things). Most focused on water if not the environment. And that experience has echoed in my life. Particularly in the last 5 years. To many folks the word sustainability has connotations of the environment. I don’t see it that way. I see equal weight put on other factors.

    ES councillors who are supposed to weigh up ‘how much benefit for what cost’. I wonder if the quoted farmer above has weighed up ‘how much benefit for what cost’?


  12. robertguyton says:

    Your ilk, Mr E, are those who consider as you do, that the wider definition of sustainablilty is “one that includes people and community” and that that definition is “seemingly forgotten by many environmentalists.”
    You shouldn’t be offended at being grouped with those of a like-mind to you.
    The environmentalists I speak most often with are acutely aware that “sustainability” includes people and community and to that end work hard to have others understand that projects like lignite mining and oil extraction are not sustainable because they will impact seriously on people and community in the future, as the climate becomes more and more unstable as a result of the release of presently sequestered carbon into the atmosphere.


  13. Paranormal says:

    There you go RG – release of a gas in minute proportions into the environment, that data shows has no affect on the environment, predetermines the outcome of certain types of projects in your view.

    How does that not fit nicely into the group that Mr E refers to?


  14. TraceyS says:

    Why, I wonder, are you so certain of your last statement relating Carbon Dioxide to climate stability?

    For you must be very sure to suggest that this relationship should prevent projects that meet here-and-now needs of people.


  15. Mr E says:

    Are these the same environmentalists that cry foul when coal mine job losses are threatened? The kind of environmentalist that wants no cake but still to eat it?

    I would rather not enter the emission debate other to recognise paranormals view and ask myself the question; “Coal might hurt us in the future but no coal will definitely hurt us in the present. What is the worst evil?”

    Emission discussions are way off topic. I think that soap box does not need to appear in every blog.

    Rest assured Robert, I have listened to and read much of the science and debate as well as participated in research. Regurgitating the regurgitated might cause me to regurge. I still obstain from a view, until a clear pathway is obvious.


  16. robertguyton says:

    Yes. And mining Southland’s lignite does not “meet the here and now needs of people”.


  17. TraceyS says:

    But what makes you so sure of the carbon dioxide – heating – climate instability cascade of effects when the leaked 2012 draft IPCC report suggests that the last piece (ie. heating – climate instability) is not reliable? Put aside for a moment the issue of polar ice reduction and sea-level changes. Does global temperature rise lead to a more unstable climate? Yes or no.


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