Archives for December 2013

An Example of For-Profit Conservation: Propagating Wild American Ginseng

The name ginseng may conjure up many ideas varying from person to person. While most of us have seen the name on energy drinks next to other “energy” supplements such as guarana and B vitamins, few people may realize exactly how much controversy surrounds the plant. Ginseng is thought to give its users a temporary boost or alertness. This effect is questionable, but some things about ginseng can be verified: it often sells for over $300 a pound, and Asian markets have an almost endless demand for it.ginseng

Unfortunately, wild American ginseng, the most profitable variety, has been extensively over-harvested, and cultivated American ginseng is not nearly as treasured by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. Buyers can easily tell the difference between wild and cultivated ginseng, as the wild roots are gnarled and forked, often shaped like a man. The cultivated roots are smooth and fat, almost like carrots.

“The Chinese believe that the slower growing wild roots, which are harvested at an older age, absorb more curative power from the forest floor (Persons, 1994). Scientific laboratory tests are not used to determine the value of ginseng roots in China.”
Virginia Cooperative Extension

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Alternative Forest Enterprises: Wild Gourmet Mushrooms

Forest management for Rural System extends well beyond just logging. With the guidance of prescriptive software, forestry on Rural System properties would seek to stabilize profits in the long term, while using the forest in as many beneficial ways as possible. One possible enterprise would be to cultivate wild mushrooms in favorable natural conditions on the property, which usually include old, shady trees.

The Warren Wilson forestry program has a shiitake mushroom project to help pay for their forest management plans.

The Warren Wilson College forestry program has a shiitake mushroom project for student education, and as additional profit for the program.

Mushrooms can provide many benefits to the land, other species, and property owners. Gourmet mushrooms attract high prices which could potentially be a source of profit for property owners. [Read more…]

Increased Crop System Diversity: an Alternative to Prolific Pesticide Use

While doing the research for the GMO series I stumbled across a fascinating, long-term study closer to the scale of Rural System. The authors hypothesized that diverse, 3 and 4-year crop rotation systems would provide ecosystem services, “that would supplement, and eventually displace, synthetic external inputs used to maintain crop productivity.” Upon examining their results, I would say that not only does this seem to be the case, but such systems would likely create jobs as well. Diverse crop rotations, if effective at suppressing weed populations, would be an attractive alternative to GM crops designed to withstand intensive herbicide application. The results of this study would also be particularly interesting to organic farmers, who are already limited in their selection of pest control methods.

crop rotation diversity

Aerial view of Marsden Farm study, Boone IA. Crop abbreviations: m = maize, sb = soybean, g = small grain, a = alfalfa.
Provided thanks to a Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

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GMOs Demystified- Part 4: Biological Patents

Rural System, above all else, is an approach to land management that emphasizes reasonableness in making management decisions. “How much profit can be made?” is balanced with “How long will profit be made?” “What’s good for humans?” is balanced with “What is good for the ecosystem?” All management decisions are made according to the most recent scientific knowledge on the topic.

The debate over genetically modified food has been extensive and multi-faceted. Like many sensationalized issues, it can be difficult to sort out truth from bias. The series of posts before you is a guide to GMOs based on available science rather than uninformed opinion. Our fourth question: should biotech companies be able to patent genetic sequences?

Biological Patents [Read more…]

The 3F’s of Manure Management

Chicken cartoonFor many centuries, animals and crops were produced and consumed within the same farm unit. Livestock manure, used as fertilizer and fuel, contributed to the self-sufficiency of most farms. However, in the 20th┬ácentury, many farms began focusing on either livestock or crops as opposed to both. Also during this time, advances in manure-handling, treatment and disposal techniques were developed with the intention of storing and diluting the highly-concentrated nutrients before releasing it into the environment. Many current manure management techniques such as lagoon storage are only temporary relief for a long range problem. Livestock manure remains a major cause of water pollution and the difficulties of animal manure management represent significant challenges to farmers, planners, scientists and regulatory agencies of the 21st┬ácentury. However, animal manure has high energy yield and profit potential if used as fertilizer, fuel, and feed. A combination of two or more of these topics may economize farm management and contribute to environmental quality. These topics are: [Read more…]