logo
Greencompletely.com
"Go green without going into the red."
Custom Search

Welcome, let's see if we can find what you are looking for. First Visit?

Free Tips

Green Savings Calculators

Population Centers

Our Videos

Opinion and Editorial

Personal Choices

Contact Us

.

Donate

.

Home > Resource Conservation > Soil > Misconceptions In Landscaping And Agriculture

Resource Conservation: Soil: Misconceptions In Landscaping And Agriculture.

soil pics.
Writing the section on soils proved to challenge our concepts about soils and how plants grow in them. We invite you to challenge your own notions of what soil and agriculture is.

 

Overview:

History paints the picture of what we think of as agriculture. This mosaic tells us of ancient farmers plowing the ground with beasts of burden, casting seed by hand, and growing crops to feed the population. In the fall, there is a happy ending with the harvest.
     100 years ago, the fuel powered tractor came onto the scene and farming could now be mechanized. This eventually meant that the farmer could plow the ground every year, plant the seed and get a harvest all with machines.
     OK. History lesson is over! Our point is, that even if there is 10,000 years of history about farming, does not mean that it has been done right. We challenge you to come down this rabbit hole with us so we can try to grow things on real fact not fiction.
Open the sections below to bring the issues into clear view.
  • Soil Depletion
  • "Feed The World"
  • Feedlots Must Be More Efficient Than Pasture.
  • Kill Them All
  • I Need To Water (Every Day)
  • "It Won't Work Here Because ..."
  • Food Is Food

Soil Depletion:

One area we have struggled with in writing the "Soil Conservation" section of the web site is the idea that soils get depleted or "played out".

     It is quite natural to assume that if you pull a ton of produce off a piece of land, the land must have lost a ton of material. Right? Technically it did at that moment in time.  Let us take a look at what makes up this produce.

     Water: The produce will be anywhere from 12.5% (Wheat) to 92% (Watermelon) water. This water either falls from the sky (rain), a mist or comes from a sprinkler head. Water can be replenished in the soil naturally over a year. Therefore, we do not count water as depletion.
     Carbon: Carbon is the backbone of many molecules in plants and is about 45% of the dry  weight of a plant. In photosynthesis, a plant uses the carbon in the air to make sugar molecules (C6H12O6). Therefore, sugars made by plants only use the air and water (CO2 and H2O). These sugars provide the energy in the rest of the plant to make other molecules containing carbon. Therefore, carbon is not depleted from the soil.
     N, P, K: Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. This is about 2.5% of the dry weight of a plant. More than 70% of the air is N2 but the air is not the only place a plant gets these elements. As we know, plant roots put out (exudes) substances (sugars) that bacteria and fungus like to eat. When they eat the sugars they provide water and nitrogen bearing molecules to the plant root. This exchange also provides molecules that have phosphorous and potassium. Therefore, as long as the soil food web is mining these elements in the soil in a form the plant can use, the plant will always have enough N,P and K.
     Iron, Magnesium, Zinc and lots of other elements and micro nutrients: There actually is a big list of elements and micronutrients that plants need to take up in the soil. This makes up another few percent of the plant. The same argument applies. These things come into the plant from an exchange with the soil food web. Therefore, if there is enough of a healthy soil food web, it will mine everything it needs.
     That makes us wonder if there is any depletion of nutrients and elements in a soil that contains a high amount of organic matter. As best as we can determine, as long as there is dirt, water, air and a healthy soil food web, plants have 1,000s of years worth of nutrients in any soil. Some people even plant corn into corn and get good yields from that.
How does farmland really get depleted?
Let us be clear: Tilling and applying inorganic chemicals to the soil actually depletes the soil. Why? Because those things kill the soil food web. As we have stated over and over, healthy plants require a healthy soil food web. One may argue "people have been tilling the land for the last 10,000 years, they can not be wrong". Yes, they can.
     First, the premise of the argument is wrong. In the last 10,000 years people have plowed the ground once. It is very hard to do the back breaking job of tilling the soil with beasts of burden. So, few farmers would plow every year. Second, the difference has only occurred in the last 100 years with the advent of the tractor. With this machine, and a little fuel, a farmer can plow the land easily and can do it every year.
     Plowing makes bacteria dominate the soil while killing the fungus and destroying the soil structure. Using inorganic chemicals (fertilizer, pesticide) make the soil an undesirable place for other members of the soil food web to live (worms, insects). Without those members of the web, there is less water in the soil making the soil even more hostile to many other members of the soil food web. Therefore, the depletion of the soil food web depletes the ability of the soil to support plants in the long term.

Can the farmlands be rehabilitated?
     Yes! It can be done several ways.
  • Abandon the property.
  • Large organic dump.
  • No-till Cash/Cover crops.
  • Pasture Livestock.
     Abandonment It may take 30 to 1,000 years for a soil food web to recover on it's own. It would depend on rain, animal grazing, terrain and many other considerations.
    Organic Dump Some farmers dump large amounts of organic matter on their fields. It can be in the form of composed manure, blood meal/bone, wood chips, molasses and anything else that is organic. This helps create and feed a healthy soil food web in the first year. However, this is a lot of work.
     No-till done right (without inorganic chemicals and the use of cover crops), can make any farm land recover in 3 to 10 years. Farmers may notice a little less bushel/acre yield in the first few years but they are not spending money on chemicals. Also, the land could be farmed every year (and should be in this system). This system is easy, just grow the nutrients and then grow the cash crop.
     Pasture Livestock made famous by Joel Salatin and Polyface farms is a method of livestock husbandry utilizing a paddock shift system. This system puts cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys on a pasture. Each day the herd (or flock) is moved into the next paddock. The cows put down manure and mow, the chickens follow the cows and spread the cow manure and put down their own. Then the turkeys follow them doing the same thing. 40 years ago Polyface farms had the worst land in the county. Now, they have the best and they have not seeded or fertilized the land in 35 years. Given that, it is possible to plant crops on the most degraded land, 3 to 5 years after starting paddock shift livestock.

"Feed The World":

Feed The United States:
When we see a child in person or on the TV that is hungry, most of us want to do something about it. We might give money to a charity or send aid of some kind somewhere. We may even go as far as telling our farmers that they are not growing enough food to feed this hungry nation. Do they really need to do that?
     No, in this country, much more food is grown than is being eaten by people. It is estimated that enough food comes to the retail and consumer level in the United States to feed everyone about 3,800 calories a day. The average person needs about 2,000 to 2,200 a day. That is a difference of about 1,700 calories. Where do all those calories go? Waste and the waist, a little of both.
     Waste: It is estimated that of the 3,800 calories available, about 1,250 calories is wasted at the retail and consumer level. No study gave an estimate of farm waste but 326 million acres were planted and 309 million (6% difference) acres were harvested. And some things we found hinted at about 10% waste at the processing plants. Therefore, It is our guess that 4,400 calories were produced for human consumption in this country (for a total waste of 1,850 calories).
     The Waist: What is left is 2,550 calories consumed per capita by people in the US. Clearly that is 450 calories a day more than the 2,100 calories the average person needs. Some will consume less than the 2,100 and some will consume much more.
     The Rabbit hole goes deeper: There are other wastes in the meat production industry. Our best guess, is that of the 4,400 calories a day produced, 1,000 calories is meat (beef, pork, poultry and fish, about 1 pound). Cows are best fed grass all their lives (grass fed/ grass finished) and it is better to feed a pig a variety of things. However, a cow is put on a feed lot at some point in their life and fed grain till harvested (grass fed/ grain finished). We estimate that 50% of a cows harvest weight is from grain feed and hormones. We assume the same for a pigs harvest weight. It is said that there is a 6:1 ratio of beef fed to beef production (using grain). For pork, it is said to be 4 lb of feed per lb. of pork produced. If corn (90%) is the feed at 600 calories per pound for meat at 1,000 calories a pound there is a difference in the ratios. So from a calorie perspective the 6:1 becomes 3.6:1 and the 4:1 becomes 2.4:1. We assume 280 of the calories are from beef and 250 calories are from pork. That means that 265 calories of meat require 800 calories of grain. On the farm we estimate about 12% waste (planted vs. harvested). Let's look at the total per capita of grown food. That is 4,135 + 800 + 100 = 5,035 calories grown in the US per person.
      And Deeper still: This almost does not even seem worth mentioning but let us look at the amount of corn grown for energy. The estimate we see is that another 2,500 calories of corn per person is grown to be converted into ethanol. We will not add that into our estimate of calories grown.
    CRP: And, on top of all of that, the federal government has a conservation program which pays (subsidies) farmers not to grow crops on their land. This is a program that has been around for about 30 years and has taken more than 50 million acres of farmland out of production. The farmer still owns the land, they just do not grow anything on it.

Therefore, we estimate that 210% to 250% more food is grown in the U.S. that what is needed.  
Feed The World:
When we see a child in person or on the TV that is hungry, most of us want to do something about it. We might give money to a charity or send aid of some kind somewhere. We may even go as far as thinking the people in the country are not knowledgeable about how to grow food. Some of us may believe people in other nations lack the skill and equipment to produce enough food to feed the population. Or maybe a terrible drought (usually man caused) has created food scarcity. Some of us may even believe these populations are lazy.
     Since we are the most generous people in the world we pack up our extra food and water and send it. For a disaster, war or famine that is a reasonable short term solution. If the population is being controlled through food, sending food usually feeds the oppressors. We create solutions here and bring them to foreign villages thinking we are doing good. These good intentions can sometimes pave the path to hell.
     Here is the big news, the people are smart enough and have enough tools to feed themselves. If done right, the crops will be resistant to drought. These people are not lazy but they may be looking for solutions to the conventional way of doing things that are solved locally. Most often the best thing we can do is send 1 person with a shovel, pocket knife and at least 1 working ear. That person should be knowledgeable on how plants grow (look at the 5 things), animal husbandry (paddock shift) and how water is harvested (look at "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands" by Brad Lancaster).

    What is needed for a country to feed themselves?
  • Enough land mass to grow food.
  • Less than 100% of population are full time farmers.
  • Enough water for healthy plants and animals.
     Enough land mass to grow food: On our page "Benefits of growing ..." we make some calculations and use 150 cal/sq. ft as a production estimate for annual plant matter. Assuming a person needs 2,100 calories per day, what is the minimum amount of land required to feed that person plant matter? That is 0.117 acres minimum per person to grow annual plants. If we account for waste, a little livestock and trees; we round that number to 0.14 acres of land per person. That land mass does not have to be land set aside for agriculture. It could even be land in cities or suburbs (we estimate 25% to 40%). So, for 1 million people, you need about 140,000 acres or 219 sq. miles. Example: Zambia (one of the hungriest countries) has a population of 14.5 million people. Therefore, Zambia needs to be growing food on about 3,170 square miles (2 million acres) of land. Zambia is 0.291 million square miles, therefore, about 1.1% of the total land mass needs to be growing food to support the population.
     Less than 100% of the population need to be farmers: There is a famous farmer in Zvishavane, Zimbabwe named Zephaniah Phiri who owns a 7.4 acre farm. He and his 6 children worked the land. His farm could feed about 50 people for an entire year. So That averages out to 1 out of 7 people (14%) with not much more than shovels.
     Enough water for healthy plants and animals: Mr Phiri's land gets about 22 inches of rain a year. However, there have been many successful "Greening the Desert" projects in the middle east in areas that get as little as 3 in. of rain a year. There are few nations that have less (such as Qatar). The land in these hyper arid regions need a lot of care (and mulch) and the population needs to consider getting most of the food from trees, not row crops.

Feedlots Must Be More Efficient Than Pasture:

Feedlots must be more efficient then pasture to feed livestock or else they would not have been doing it for decades. Right? Let us take a quick look.
     There are many efficiencies to explore here. Let us make a list and try to analyze them.
  • Land Use:
  • Cost:
  • Time:
  • Environment:
Let's start with a few facts and figures. There are 93 billion pounds of livestock produced in the US (2012). That is from processing, 8.6 billion chickens, 33.2 million cattle, 112 million hogs, about 240 million Turkey and a few million lamb.

Land Use:
   Industrial:
     Land for feed: Currently about 105 million acres of land is used every year to grow feed gains (90% corn). We assume that is on a rotation every other year for a total of 210 million acres. We also assume there needs to be 300,000 acres to grow the seed for the feed grains. We further assume that 20% of the feed is exported or used for pet food (so we will discount that land).  That is a total of 168.2 million acres to grow food for U.S. livestock.
     Cow Housing: We estimate about 250,000 acres for the 33.2 million cows on feed lots and manure lagoons. We assume 55.8 million cow/calf, dairy and stocker cows at 100 cow days per acre pastures. That is 204 million acres. This gives a total of 204.3 million acres. 
     Hog Housing: For hogs there are about 120 million animals. Assuming all hogs are farrowed and finished in concentrated areas that is 3 million acres for housing and lagoons. 
     Chicken, Turkey and Lamb Housing: For concentrated chicken houses it is about 50 acres per 100,000 chicken for housing (1 acre for the chickens and 49 for the mortality and litter). That means we need 4.3 million acres for 8.6 billion chickens. We assume double the land for turkeys. That means we need 240,000 acres to house Turkeys. And we just say 1 million acres for 2 million lamb.
     Total: Total land use for industrial farming of the US supply of livestock is: 381.1 million acres

Let us now compare that to Paddock shift, no-till.

    Paddock Shift and No-Till:
     Land for Feed: If the feed is grown using a no-till  practice, we assume 40% less land right off the bat. We can do that by assuming no rotation (even corn) using no-till. The actual estimates for no-till might be even better but we will use 40% for now.
     Paddock Shift Model: Here, we look at the model of Polyface Farms owned by Joel Salatin to feed and house the same set of livestock from above. This method would be considered a "paddock shift" with added efficiency. The method relies on moving animals around on pasture land. The efficiencies Joel has added is that poultry follow cow and pig on the pasture. He has thrown in more efficiencies but we will use that for now. These methods create no moonscapes, manure lagoons or smell.
     Cows with Chickens: With Joel's method, he finishes the cows on pasture (no gain feed used). When followed by chickens 3 days later, the chicken feed requirement is reduced by 30% or more. Joel tends to get 400 cow days per acre (but we will use 365 for ease of calculation). Each cow is followed by 4 chickens (broilers) with 4 flocks a year. Therefore, the entire U.S. Herd of cattle and 1.42 billion chickens can be housed on 89 million acres and the required land to grow feed for the chickens is about 1.5 million acres.
     Pigs with Chickens: It looks like Joel pastures 20 hog per acre 2 times in a year (240 days). This is 50 pigs on 1/2 an acre per day for a 10 day rotation. That is 40 hog a year per acre. Assume we follow the pigs on pasture with 2 chickens and have 3 flocks a year. For the 120 million hog herd in the US we also grow 180 million chicken. Our housing estimate is 3 million acres and feed grown on 12.1 million acres.
     Lambs with Turkeys: Let us just assume 1 million acres for housing and feed of a few million lamb and 20 million turkey.
     Poultry Left: That leaves 7 billion chickens and 200 million turkeys. We could suggest growing more herbivores (cows or sheep) but let us just assume more pasturing of chickens. Let us assume that chicken get a 15% reduction of feed needed just from bugs found on pasture and 10% for turkey. To avoid moonscapes and smell we assume 2,500 sq. ft. per chicken for 4 flocks a year. For Turkey we give them 5,000 sq. ft. for 2 flocks a year. Total housing for chicken and turkey would be 111.5 million acres. The feed for chickens would be grown on 8.7 million acres and for turkeys would be 0.53 million acres.  
     Total: The total land use for paddock shift, animal synergy with no-till feed crop is: 227.3 million acres.

     Total Comparison: From a land use perspective, doing a paddock shift grazing with no-till feed method uses about 40% less land than the concentrated feeding (feedlot) method. That is a savings of 153.8 million acres.

     Special Note: Some industrial breeds of animals are "freaks of nature". Both calculations use the same number of animals when there would probably be a difference in food pound yield per animal for industrial vs. paddock shift methods.

Cost:
Before we talk about the straight forward costs, let us take a second to talk about subsidies. From 1995 to 2012 40% of all the farms took 292.5 billion dollars in subsidies. That is an average of 17 billion a year for 17 years the federal government gave in disaster relief, crop insurance, CRP and Commodity subsidies. Just looking at the subsidies for corn ($84.4 billion), CRP ($38.9 billion), dairy ($5.3 billion) and livestock ($4.1 billion) that together is $7.8 billion a year (on average). It is difficult to tell how much of all of that is directly attributable to farms involved in producing livestock and the feed for that livestock. It is also difficult to tell how much of those subsidies are for industrial vs. no-till with paddock shift. We will assume all the subsidies go to industrial farm operations and it is about $3 billion a year spread throughout feed farms, livestock farms and land conservation on those farms. According to our calculations that is about $0.002 on subsidies for feed per pound and $0.016 per pound of meat produced in the US. However, the subsidies are not spread evenly amongst all producers. Therefore, for the main producers, we estimate $0.01 per pound of feed and $0.05 per pound of meat subsidy.
Cost: continued
Industrial vs. Paddock Shift:
      Cows: As best as we can figure, a feedlot system will see about $625 more in expenses per cow than a Paddock Shift. This is very difficult to estimate but we gave it a shot. This is broken down in feed ($500), vaccines ($25), manure management ($50), treatment of illness ($25), hormone injection ($5) and early mortality ($20). This gets the cow to 1,300 pounds. For the paddock shift farmer (grass fed/finished), transportation has to be arranged to get the cattle to harvest. Those cattle have to be processed by a FDA approved facility. Transportation and processing may add $500 to $1,500 more cost per cow than one that is at the feedlot.
     Pork: Surprisingly, we get about the same amount of land use and roughly the same amount of feed use for both. The paddock shift feed would probably be less pounds per pig but the feedlot pig feed would have a volume discount. Where the big differences are creating buildings to house pigs for an industrial setting. These buildings need huge amounts of electricity to operate the fans, lights and pumps. There is more energy and water used for industrial pork production moving the manure around. Also, if a disease occurs, all the pigs in a building will get that disease. The effect of a full scale slaughter can make a big difference in calculated costs (look at PED). There is another cost. Many farmers do not want to raise pigs. Therefore, even if paddock shift was determined to be the best way to raise pastured pigs, farmers are still needed to raise them. So our best guess is that farmers doing paddock shift hogs spend $100 less per hog to get them to harvest weight. The problem again is transportation and processing. Big industrial farms have all the means of production concentrated together.
     Lamb: We really did not do much research on lamb housing, feed and harvest costs. We may research that in the future but all we can suggest is for these animals to be followed by turkeys in paddock shift to lower feed costs for both.
     Poultry: That leaves the costs for 8.6 billion chickens and 240 million Turkey. We estimate chickens that follow cows and pigs have a 50% reduction in feed cost vs. regular chickens. For poultry that does not follow an animal, paddock shift can still save 20% to 25% feed. In a big feed house, the chickens are not "regular" they are freaks with large breasts that can barely walk because of their weight. Antibiotics have to constantly be fed to them in water and still there is about a 20% mortality rate. It is not fair to do a per chicken estimate of savings since the "feedlot" chickens are a different breed than regular breeds. So, our best guess is that there is a 50% savings raising chickens that follow cows and pigs on a paddock shift. For chickens and turkeys that do not follow an animal we guess a 40% savings.

Time:
For most livestock, the amount of time to a harvest and the amount harvested per animal are considered together to talk about time efficiencies. These are considerations of breeding and hormone injections not of industrial vs. paddock shift. However, the paddock shift farmer would tend not to inject hormones or raise breeds with high mortality. Some of these decisions not only effect the time to grow but also the quality and nutritional value of the product grown.
     Cows: We assume if a cow does not receive the growth hormone it will take an extra 70 to 90 days to finish the cow. That means the cow gets finished 10% faster with hormones. With dairy cows, there are other things injected for milk production. We choose at this time not to research the time factors.
     Hog: We did not find any difference.
     Lamb: Did no research.
     Turkey and Chicken: We did not find a difference in time but found a difference in animal weight. Even with the high mortality rate (>20%), industrially produced poultry is potentially 35% to 40% more meat per bird. There is no hormone given to hens so that they lay more eggs, but in an industrial setting, other things are done to keep the eggs coming all year. 

Environment:
     Environmental arguments in this area are very interesting. We have studied the arguments presented by industrial cattle, pork and poultry producers and have a few comments.
     First, we will back up the claims we make on the Impact page. This page is specifically for assessing environmental impact of land practices (not just agricultural).
     Second, The favorite subjects for doing an environmental analysis are usually greenhouse gasses and pollution. Some studies we see even address things like water use, energy use and the use of wastes from other industries. We look at those things plus a lot more.
     What is common to all the studies we see is that industrial operations have reduced their impact on the environment by a bunch over the last several decades. We want to point out something about that.
     Reducing environmental impact is no substitute for eliminating impact or environmental enhancement.

     Doing Paddock Shift livestock farms while growing feed on No-Till correctly can sequester much more carbon than it generates. It creates no water pollution, less dead animals to dispose, uses less land, less energy and the land will have no erosion issues. Not only that, the land used will have no desertification or depletion issues. Respiratory disease can be eliminated in cattle and disease in general can be greatly reduced in all livestock (and feed production).
     If the supply chains were to get more local (within 200 miles), there can be even more savings in energy use.
     From our perspective, comparing industrial meat production to paddock shift with no-till feed on environmental issues, is not very fair. There are many environmental issues that are not even present with Paddock shift. To say any more would be like beating up a small child.

Kill Them All:

Insects ... Fungus ... Weeds ... Disease. Many of us do not want to see any of these things in our gardens or crops. So, we spray, apply powders, till and spray again and again. You may be near a field or marsh that gets sprayed many times a year.
     The problem: Perception. It is perceived that if a bug is on a plant it will do great harm to the produce. It is thought that the bug came just to eat the healthy plant and its fruit. Likewise, it is perceived that weeds (unwanted plants) come because there is good soil to grab away from the plants you want to grow.
     For a lot of us, we feel that we must do something about it. "Kill them all!!!", becomes our battle cry. We bring out fungicides, insecticides, herbicides to kill everything we do not want on or in our crops. It does not matter if the insecticide kills all insects because we think that there are no good insects. It does not matter if we kill all the plants, we don't need to grow anything there.
     Even the natural forms of killing is killing none the less. People use Neem oil, Diatomatous Earth, BT as natural insecticides. Also, salt, vinegar and other natural chemicals are used to kill plants. The use of these things prevent neighboring land and waterway pollution but does not solve the problems in the garden.
     With this kind of thinking, we eventually create barren growing environments with poor soils and no natural predation. We accept the fact we must keep spending money on chemicals to kill our problems. We have to spend more and more time (and money) getting rid of problems that were easier to solve in earlier years.
The solution: Understanding. First and foremost, to solve any problem in a garden one must strive to learn as much as they can why this problem occurred.
     The answers won't always be obvious. Most of the time, killing everything will not be a reasonable long term solution. As a matter of fact, killing everything is never the solution.
     For Insects: Paul Gautschi (Back to Eden) says that if a plant gets sick it will put out a signal for insects or disease to come take them out. So, usually if you see an infestation, you should look at the plant, not the bug. A lot of the time the infestation can be solved by watering the plant.
     killing all insects means killing the beneficial insects too. Once killed, the bad bugs come back and it takes twice as long for the beneficial ones to come back. This keeps other bug eating animals (birds) away as well.
     For Weeds: Weeds are simply plants you do not want, perhaps growing in places you do not want. One thing is for sure, wherever there is bare ground, a species of plant will want to grow in it. Even in gravel (that has dirt in it). Most of the time, the type of plant tells you information about the growing conditions (sun, water, soil).
     Educating yourself about a few species of local "weeds" will go a long way in understanding what is happening in the soil beneath. With that understanding one may be able to solve soil deficiency problems that weeds would announce. This understanding may also make the "weed" a wanted plant.
     Everything Else: Research and understanding are the best tools a person can have to provide the best environment for desirable plants. You do not need a degree in botany, we simply ask you to keep learning. The rest will take care of itself.

I Need To Water Every Day:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.:


It came from mist, it came from cloud
It came from ground and off my roof
The water I did plant around
Healthy plants are my proof

A brooding wind can blow
And make my nostrils flare
By all accounts and measures
All soil needs structure for air

It Won't Work Here Because ...:

We have seen stories about permaculture, no-till farming and paddock shift grazing working in all kinds of climates, elevations, weed pressure and soil type. People are doing these things in the Middle East, India, Australia and all over the place in the U.S.
      Why do they work all over the place? More people are beginning to understand more universal principles of growing plants and animals with biological (not chemical) methods.
     When educating or learning from people about the more biologically based principles of agriculture, there can be some confusion. When someone states, "It won't work here because ..." what follows is usually a solvable problem. That person is usually raising a well thought out local concern. The people doing the educating need to have answers, not contempt for the person raising the concern. Most times people get caught up in the minutia and ignore the bigger picture. Let's see if we can clear some of that up.

Principles and Methods:
     This is the key to all of the biological means of growing crops. There are 4 main principles to insure organic matter increases in the soil every year while giving us a healthy crop. The Principles are universal and will work anywhere in the world (even much of the land considered inhospitable to plant growth). The methods are just the things people do to achieve the principles.

4 Principles:
  1. Do not disturb the soil.
  2. Cover the ground.
  3. Keep a live root in the ground 24/7.
  4. Grow a diversity of plants.
All of these work in concert together to create healthy soil food web. Following these principles usually means you can infiltrate water and have a crop every year even if you have years of drought. That means a paycheck every year and you get to keep (and generate) your topsoil. In other words, no wind or water erosion, no inputs, no pests and no (or very little) risk.

     In your area, you will have to decide what methods will work to achieve these principles. You can base your methods on your soil type, your precipitation, year round temperatures. You may also need to consider your elevation, slope face direction, % grade of your slopes.
1. Do not disturb the soil. Or disturb it the least possible. This allows the structures and soil food web to stay in place. If the soil is disturbed it can kill a lot of the soil food web and in the process, destroy the nutrients built into the soil for your next crop. The methods used to achieve this is not to till (the crop land or garden). On the cropland just drill the seed in and the crop will come. Or you can broadcast seed. That is also why sheet mulching your yard is more successful than digging up an area to garden, you are not disturbing the structure of your yards soil.
2. Cover the ground. Covering the ground where there are no plants helps to moderate temperature and prevent rain from splashing on current plants. This cover could also help moderate how things (water vapor and gasses) exchange with the atmosphere. If the cover is organic (wood chips, bark, plant residue, etc), it can also provide nutrients to the soil food web. The methods used in gardens is to mulch the ground. On cropland the cover is the dead crops (cover or cash) that came before it. Some farmers call this "armor" some call it "trash". This is not trash.
3. Live root always. A good crop comes from a healthy soil food web. What feeds that web is "exudates" (sugar and stuff) from the root of a live plant. That soil food web is there 365 days a year. To keep it healthy it is a good idea to feed it all year long. A method to keep feeding the soil food web after your main crop is harvested is to plant cover crops. This crop is not one to make money on or to feed you, but to feed the soil food web. Even a cover crop that dies in the winter adds months of live roots in the soil in a year.
4. Plant a diversity. Plants can serve many functions. Some plants specialize in putting Nitrogen into the soil. Some dig up calcium from deep in the soil and put it in a form your crop can use. Some plants have deep roots, some shallow and wide. Some will put enzymes into the soil to prevent pest weeds and bugs. All providing nutrients and structure for your next cash crop roots. A method to achieve the diversity is to have a lot of species in your cover crops and to rotate your cash crop species for the same ground. This confuses and prevents the pest weed and insect species. Many farmers do a 3 to 4 cash crop rotation and can have a crop every year. Success can be achieved with cash crops that are 1/100 of acre to 100,000 acres with no inputs.
Honorable Mention: 5. Incorporate animals. If you follow the 4 principles you will regenerate your top soil. If you add (above ground) animals to the equation, the soil regeneration will be enhanced. Mainly, you want animals to work for you, not against you. Animals can spread seed, fertilize, cover the ground, pollinate, carry water up hill and do a great number more of jobs. Some methods of using animals are to have livestock graze on the cover crop. Bee keeping. Providing habitat to keep other wild animals on your property such as birds, bats, snakes and beneficial insects. Our point here is you should recruit animals to work on your property in jobs that they would naturally do themselves. The benefits they will provide are immense.

Food is Food:

Here we tackle the misconception that all food is the same. That the calorie content is the only indicator of nutrition of food.

More Savings Calculations:

Glossary of Terms:

Stocker: A calf just weaned to late juvenile. That generally is a cow going from 400 lbs to 700 lbs.

Broiler: A chicken grown for meat production, the life span is between 42 and 49 days.

References:

http://www.no-tillfarmer.com/ No-till farmer web site. Good general information. taken 9/5/2015.

http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2015/03/studying-farm-fields-abandoned-500.html#.Vpbwi_krJkg
"Studing a farm field abandoned for 500 years" ,Archeology News Network, taken 1/12/2016

https://www.tfi.org/statistics/statistics-faqs, Statistics FAQ., The Fertilizer Institute. Taken 1/12/2016.

http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/mauisoil/c_nutrients01.aspx Soil Nutrient Managment: Nitrogen, University of Hawaii, taken 1/12/2016

http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/nutrient-management/nitrogen/understanding-nitrogen-in-soils/, Understanding Nitrogen in the soils, University of Minnesota. Taken 1/12/2016.

http://faostat3.fao.org/browse/R/RL/E FAOStat, Land use for the United States, taken 1/24/2016.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1282296/eib121.pdf, Estimated Amount, Value and Calories Of Postharvest Food losses the Retail and Consumer Levels In the United States, Feb, 2014, USDA, Taken 1/24/2016.

https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/47465/pid/47465 United States Meat Industry at a Glance, North American Meat Institute, Taken 1/26/2016

http://www.explorebeef.org/cmdocs/explorebeef/factsheet_modernbeefproduction.pdf Modern Beef Production, Explorebeef.org. Taken 1/26/2016.

http://www.beefusa.org/CMDocs/BeefUSA/Producer%20Ed/Beef%20Cattle%20Information/SUSTAINABILITY%20MANUSCRIPT.pdf Animal Feed Vs. Human Food. BeefUSA.org, Taken 1/26/2016.

http://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/wasde/latest.pdf World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates, Jan 2016, USDA, Taken 1/26/2016.

http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/nigeria-population/ Population of Nigeria, Worldometers, Taken 1/27/2016.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22V4vUtNC8Q The Rain Water Harvester, Muonde Trust, YouTube Video, Taken 1/27/2016 Taken 1/27/2016.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nIcfh2UqV8, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms discusses grass-fed cattle, YouTube Video, Taken 1/28/2016.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/260729/aib786_1_.pdf, The Seed Industry in US Agriculture, 2004, Taken 1/29/2016.

http://research.pork.org/FileLibrary/ResearchDocuments/10-174-Boyd-Camco-final-5-22-12.pdf, 50 year comparison ... The US Swine Heard: 1959 and 2009, Camco, Tanken 1/30/2016.

http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/147/contract-broiler-production-questions-and-answers/#8, Contract Broiler Production, The Poltry Site., Taken 1/30/2016.

http://www.poultryhub.org/nutrition/nutrient-requirements/nutrient-requirements-of-meat-chickens-broilers/ , Nutrient Requirements of Chicken (Broilers), PoltryHub, Taken 1/31/2016.

http://farm.ewg.org/index.php 2012 Farm Subsidy database, Taken 2/2/2016.

https://www.fsa.usda.gov/news-room/news-releases/2015/nr_20150717_rel_0204 CRP for grasslands for grazing, USDA announcement July 2015, Taken 2/2/2016.