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Brady Forrest

Tech Evangelist, O'Reilly Radar

TEDCRED 50+

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Can biodynamic farms scale?

I am struck by the system that Dan describes in his talk:
A fish farmer says "We farm extensively, not intensively. This is an ecological network. The flamingos eat the shrimp. The shrimp eat the phytoplankton. So the pinker the belly, the better the system."

It's reminiscent of the biodynamic farm that Michael Pollan describes in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. The cows eat the grass, the chickens eat the worms from cow patties, the grass grows from the nitrogen-rich chicken droppings.

These systems are both beautiful in their simplicity, but are they scalable?

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    Feb 17 2011: Yes, it is possible! I've seen and lived it!!

    I grew up spending a lot of time on a large ranch on the Pampas, where the main activities were cattle rearing and agriculture, but integrated were a large number of other activities including pigs, hens/turkeys/ducks, milk-cows, vegetables, fruit trees, and even the protection (and culling) of wildlife that included pheasants, ducks, geese hares, foxes, ostriches and deer (and the occasional puma).

    A lot of human-cultural activities were related to this including things like hunting, gathering, jam-making from the fruit, horsemanship, products made with leather and feathers, food processing (salami, ham, dried fruit, etc.), etc.

    It took a lot of work and know-how to maintain the balance of such a complex system in such a way that was sustainable in the long term.

    The problem is that this model stopped being economically viable, by the 1990's most estancias (ranches) in our region had switched over to being dedicated almost exclusively to soybeans which requires a lot less workers and makes a lot more money. Much of the free range cattle moved (and is still moving) into feedlots. Many cultural traditions are being abandoned.

    It is possible to switch large areas of Argentina back to a balanced sustainable model as much of the know-how is still there, but it is being lost at an increasingly rapid rate, and more importantly : the economic incentive is not there.

    Can we find the right incentives to bring back this balanced approach to farming in a large scale?

    I donĀ“t know, but if somebody finds the incentives, I do know that it can be done.

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