Thursday, January 20, 2011

What to do with the back 40

Bluestem Farm back 40
I mentioned in a previous post that we lease our back 40 to neighbors for conventional farming.  I've never been excited about the chemicals and bare ground, but we haven't yet decided what else to do there.  Besides, it currently provides the "seed" money for Katherine's college fund!  Check out the aerial view of our farm at this LINK.

In the running are a few (expensive) ideas.

1.  I've always dreamed of a prairie restoration here.  The cost of seed, and rented equipment to get it started is significant, not to mention the lost income.  The prairie could be grazed as part of my beef operation, but that would mean replacing 4,000 feet of decrepit, overgrown fence.  I'm looking into grants or assistance for this sort of work.  A partnership with KU or the Kansas Biological Survey might make for a good options, too.

2.  Scott's dream is to convert the land to organic grain production.  It takes seven years chemical-free to certify crop ground as organic.  (We're not likely to pay for the certification, but we'd still follow this guideline.)  Our lawn tractor is severely under-sized for a job like this, not to mention the many farm implements that it would take to plant, harvest, clean seed, and mill into flour.  That said, I think Scott's right about a market for local, organic flour.
Strip Cropping Photo credit

3.  Possibly the wisest use of the crop land would be some kind of strip cropping polyculture.  Grazing crops like grass and alfalfa could be grown in a mosaic with fruit and nut trees, grains, and veggies.  This too requires quite an investment, but may offer the best long-range return while still providing a diverse habitat for native wildlife.

Clearly I have some reading to do.  The neighbors have already fertilized and tilled the ground for next year's crop, so any major decisions will wait a year or two.  In the mean time, I think I'll beg back an acre for some experimental wheat and oat crops.  This will let us get our feet wet without disrupting our income.

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