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Can small acre properties be profitable?

Posted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 12:01 pm
by novaris
I was raised on a 100 acre irrigated dairy farm in the 60's and 70's. At the time it was barely possible to make an income for a small family and it seems to me that it is far worse today.

My question revolves around the viability of using NSF to improve a 100-200 acre property and to have it capable of profitable production. My wife and I would love to heal a patch of land for our own satisfaction but also to act as an example for other farms in the area and perhaps form part of a natural health center.

What do others think? Can small acreage be profitable? What would be practical from the point of view of livestock or crops etc?

David

Posted: Wed Jan 28, 2009 7:59 am
by duane
David

Let me say straight out...I am NOT a farmer. So I cannot give advice on what land size is profitable and what is not. There are too many factors governing that determinant.

But I found this piece in Holistic Management International Newsletter dated January/February 09 No123 http://www.holisticmanagement.org/n7/Pr ... ee_07.html that said

Smaller is beautiful

We have been told for years get big or get out.
This is the modern view with efficiency as its
driver. But, it begs the question: Efficiency for
whom? When we look at any living system, the
first thing we want is diversity. Smaller field size
will give more diversity from the border. Smaller
field size will allow different crops to be grown
instead of a large field of monoculture. By
splitting a square field into four you double the
borders. Borders allow for insects to live, birds to
nest, all increasing diversity. Livestock must be
part of the farms of the future as we all
understand the importance of the animals’
gut in recycling and animal impact.


It fits the permaculture model. I believe that the real solution lies in in a diversity of aligned practices that need to be mainstreamed.

So it a perfect world the best of permaculture, wholistic Management and natural sequence farming would give us some sustainable options to our current system of chemical monocultured argriculture and farming.

And from the same newsletter:

Creating Synergy

It was easy at this stage to see Holistic
Management as the better tool. Permaculture,
as we understood it, had not served us well.
However, as we gained experience we learned that
the two frameworks complemented, rather than
competed with, each other. It was important to
select what was most effective from both systems,
and not reject out-of-hand one or the other. So
began a six-year process of integrating the two
frameworks to create an even more holistic
management

Posted: Wed Jan 28, 2009 2:15 pm
by novaris
Let me say straight out...I am NOT a farmer. So I cannot give advice on what land size is profitable and what is not. There are too many factors governing that determinant.
I understand what you are saying... Advice is probably too strong, more like I am interested in others ideas, preferably based on experience. In the end of course I alone are responsible for any actions I may take :)

Thanks for the link to holistic management I have started to have a look at their Australian website. And thanks for the tremendous effort you put into helping others on the forum.

Posted: Wed Jan 28, 2009 9:34 pm
by duane
Thank you David.

It would be good to hear from real farmers who are doing it well on small acreages.

Posted: Thu Jan 29, 2009 10:57 am
by ColinJEly
David
Whilst I am not a farmer myself can I say it depends on what branch of farming you are interested in. I have met a few people who were running commercial herb farms on just an acre or two.
Also if you could look into the future and see what the next big 'wonder animal' was going to be,think Ostrich, Alpaca, Emu, Crocodile etc, then all you would need is a few acres for some breeding stock and there you are!
:)
Cheers
Col.

Posted: Thu Jan 29, 2009 11:19 am
by novaris
ColinJEly wrote:Also if you could look into the future and see what the next big 'wonder animal' was going to be,think Ostrich, Alpaca, Emu, Crocodile etc, then all you would need is a few acres for some breeding stock and there you are!
Be nice wouldn't it, for my part seems that by the time I hear about it it's too late :roll:
At the moment we are considering various livestock mixes and even some farm tourism possibilities. It's all just thought vapor at the moment but perhaps it will condense into a real plan :D

Posted: Thu Jan 29, 2009 5:03 pm
by Beli Mawr
David, I'm a part time farmer on about 100 acres running a small breeding herd of cattle. I would hate to be trying to live off the income from the herd, but it is certainly our aim to operate at a profit ie: input costs < net income and we are well on the way after 6 years of ownership.

That said, the farm is very much a lifestyle choice and my wife and I draw immense pleasure in watching our land improve, calving in Spring and most of all being regarded as whackos by the 80 yo batchelor farmers next door. Immensely profitable in a non tangible sense.

Posted: Thu Jan 29, 2009 5:51 pm
by novaris
Beli Mawr wrote:David, I'm a part time farmer on about 100 acres running a small breeding herd of cattle. I would hate to be trying to live off the income from the herd, but it is certainly our aim to operate at a profit ie: input costs < net income and we are well on the way after 6 years of ownership.

Hi BM, thanks for your input. What type of cattle? Is your profit from breeding or other uses?
That said, the farm is very much a lifestyle choice and my wife and I draw immense pleasure in watching our land improve, calving in Spring and most of all being regarded as whackos by the 80 yo batchelor farmers next door. Immensely profitable in a non tangible sense.
Lifestyle choice is much of what we are considering, healing the land is energizing, and it is important for us that what results in an enjoyable lifestyle is also an asset providing income or capital gain.

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2009 9:27 am
by jenni
hi there we farm 350 acres and have done for last 4 years. i'm not quite sure what point i'm making here but anyway-we started with no money and still have no money. we have had 3 yrs of well below average rainfall. we have not managed our grazing well and have tried to traditionally grow crops on slopes of increasing fragility in attempts to create quick cash.my husband and i work off farm nearly full time. we have now put an end to these practices and am looking very positively at a goal not yet of making a profit but not making a loss! i believe small farming can be profitable but i am only just starting to realise where the real 'value' and 'profit' lies and the true 'cost' of inputs.i read recently in a permaculture text book that "slow is sane".i wish i'd read it 4 years ago.

Posted: Sat Jan 31, 2009 2:39 pm
by novaris
Hi jenni, thanks for the input. Your experience reflects why I am hoping that process and experiences can be discussed. Thanks to duane I have been starting to look at holistic management, it certainly seems interesting. I particularly like their approach regarding the way they use questions to analyze the processes and decisions. I am familiar with permaculture but have never really been a practitioner I am also friends with people that have been involved in bio-dynamics. But after reading Peters books I really gelled with his work and feel it is important that if possible my wife and I try to contribute to healing some land.

Posted: Mon Feb 02, 2009 7:11 am
by Angela Helleren
Novaris - I'm not a farmer but years ago my grandparents farmed less than 100 acres in the hot red earth near Gawler in Sth Aust. Their main bread and butter money was from almonds and roses, but they also had turkey's, a small number of pigs, chooks a couple of horses and a few cattle. Nana used to breed silky terriers and Pa kept/trained a few greyhounds for himself and others. Never wealthy but I guess viability is subject to ones needs. They never kept all their eggs in one basket! :wink:

My brother and his wife farm 100 acres in northern Victoria with cattle, chooks, a couple of horses & breed border collies, but both have employment off the farm as well. They love the variety, the lifestyle and a few extra comforts.

My grandparents never took a holiday and my brother and his wife generally can't get away together for more than a few days when a good neighbour is able to help them out feeding the animals.

Posted: Mon Feb 02, 2009 2:42 pm
by novaris
Angela Helleren wrote:They never kept all their eggs in one basket!
I suspect it is like bio-diversity, more than one income stream leading to less risk of complete failure.
My grandparents never took a holiday and my brother and his wife generally can't get away together for more than a few days when a good neighbour is able to help them out feeding the animals.
This was the problem my folks had one two week break in ten years :(

I guess it is like any business somehow you have to develop profitable products and effective systems, so you can let others work for and with you. You need to run the business not be the business.

Posted: Thu Feb 05, 2009 2:15 pm
by Beli Mawr
Hi BM, thanks for your input. What type of cattle? Is your profit from breeding or other uses?

Hi Novaris,

We run around 30 Angus cows and a bull, turning off around 15 steers and keeping the best 2 or 3 heifers as replacements.

We spend nothing on weed control (other than the mulcher and the tractor to run it), have never bought super (chook manure and lime) and in a bad year have to call the vet out once. The aim is to improve the carrying capacity to around 40 head, without flogging the land, increasing the diversity of trees and minimising the use of bought in inputs.

Posted: Thu Feb 05, 2009 3:23 pm
by novaris
Beli Mawr wrote:We run around 30 Angus cows and a bull, turning off around 15 steers and keeping the best 2 or 3 heifers as replacements.

We spend nothing on weed control (other than the mulcher and the tractor to run it), have never bought super (chook manure and lime) and in a bad year have to call the vet out once. The aim is to improve the carrying capacity to around 40 head, without flogging the land, increasing the diversity of trees and minimising the use of bought in inputs.
BM have you ever looked at holistic management? I am intrigued by their idea of dense herds of cattle. If I understand it correctly they analyze the recovery rate of pasture then run large herds over the pasture for a short time and then move them on again. The process duplicates the natural herd behavior. Cattle would form herds for protection, as soon as they had soiled and trampled a patch they would move to fresh pasture. Being migratory they would not return for some time often not till the next year.
With HM the manager would not move the herd back over a region until adequate time had passed for the pasture to recover. Apparently the trampling mulches and adds organic matter into the soil as well as being a natural stimulant to pasture growth. In this way they are generating much higher yields, it is sustainable and even breaks the parasite cycles. I still need to study it more but it seems to have promise.

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 3:29 pm
by Beli Mawr
BM have you ever looked at holistic management?


Indeed I have. You sound as though you've read Alan Savoury's Book "Holistic Managment - A New Framework for Decision Making." I think Alan's observations and recommendations are entirely consistent with Peter's views, particuarly with reference to the effect of hard hoofed animals on the soil.

Issues for us preventing (no - delaying shall we say), running the farm as we'd like are the never ending job of fencing, installation of watering points and the fact that there are never enough hours in a day - particularly as a part timer.