When I’ve thought about small scale grain cropping in the past, I thought of long skirts, plaited hair, and a whole lot of winnowing, threshing, and hard work. Somehow, I always thought this stuff was either the province of the seriously self sufficient, or the seriously delusional.
Nowadays I wonder why the heck in Australia we don’t grow more grains and pulses on a small scale. It would seem to me that grain production is one of those things we’ve whole-heartedly outsourced to industrial agribusiness without a second glance. And I think I want it back.
Growing up, my experience with grain cropping was your standard non-farmer suburban perception: precision farming using extremely large machines to do something extremely technical, in order to produce something extremely processed.
Since having met Col Seis and seen his pasture cropping setup, however, I began to see that there’s another way to approach growing grains. Pasture cropping sows crops (like oats, rye, wheat) into perennial pastures. The crop is raised and then harvested, leaving the stubble standing in pasture, with no bare ground or tillage involved.
That pasture is then grazed within a holistic management style regime with sheep, which suppresses the pasture plants growth while increasing their root mass, species diversity and creating impressive amounts of topsoil. And that regime is followed by another crop.
So no bare ground, happy pasture, happy sheep, and regenerative grain production. That all sounds very good.
Not that Col is the only one doing regenerative cropping. Victorian farmer Robert Ruwoldt has just been named Australian Farmer of the Year for his work in direct seed, zero-till cropping techniques. There’s many others too, including the notable Wes Jackson of the Land Institute.
But back my personal small-scale cropping concerns. What about the skirts and the plaits? Can the associated toil of threshing, winnowing etc be avoided somehow, in order to make small-scale grain production actually attractive?
How do we get around that bit without a massive combine harvester, those great big machines that harvest all industrial-scale grains?
Hmm. Well, given my research thus far, there are options. There’s all manner of funky mini walk-behind combine harvesters coming out of vietnam, china and india, which cater to their particular small-scale farmers. Just how much they cost and how available they are, is a matter for further research I guess. But they are there.
Or, you could go the old-school route, or the old-school-meets-new-school route, which is to say the techniques being trialled by the farm hack style experimental grain growing community.
These farm hacks are happening all over, in Australia and the USA and beyond, by small-time farmers trying out new ways of doing old skills.
Grain production, and it’s future, are worth getting involved in on an ideological level if nothing else. Because the growing of grains, and the accessibility and distribution of those grains, ties into seed sovereignty bigtime. And the importance of keeping heritage grain varieties viable and un-patented can’t be understated.
Some resources I’ve been looking through:
Small scale grain and pulse production – community blog of small-time experimenters, farm-hackers, and heritage grain growers.
Home Grown Small Grains: Grow, Harvest, and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More – book by Sarah Pitzer
Small Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers – book by Gene Logsdon
All Flesh Is Grass: Pleasures & Promises Of Pasture Farming – book by Gene Logsdon (a grain book and a holistic management style grazing book, both by the one guy. He should come to Gulgong and visit Col Seis’s pasture cropping setup, i think!)
King of Kamut (pdf) – a really good article from Acres USA on successful, organic cropping of ancient dryland grains
Pasture cropping resources:
Pasture Cropping course – we’re running this with Col Seis at his ground-breaking farm farm near Gulgong NSW in mid October this year. It will be amazing.
Soil Decision Making – great article by the fab Cam Wilson on Col Seis’s pasture cropping results from a soil perspective
I also have seen notices that Nick Romanowski (venerated Australian aquaculture expert) occasionally runs grains and grasses workshops but I don’t have any details of any workshops upcoming. Bear with me.
And lastly, here’s an amazing example of 1900’s grain harvesting. It’s a very old thresher / seed cleaner that’s currently for sale at Glen Innes, NSW. The story is that it was in a shed, but the shed blew off. So now it’s sitting in a field. Anyone up for it? It’s going for a song…
I’d love to hear from anyone out there experimenting with or successfully doing small scale regenerative grain cropping, especially in Australia? Got any tips to share on the stages between growing and eating? Any stories, resource links or even flying rumors would be great to add to the brew…
(small caveat on the above text – I do know that there is a significant portion of the world’s population that are completely down with small-scale grain raising, but i haven’t discussed this issue with many of them personally. Yet.
I’ve read plenty of books, and watched plenty of footage, but it’s the hands-on advice of successful, energy efficient, small-scale grain raising within the available labor force (read: just me and my friends) of a small developed country farming enterprise that I’m hoping for here… many thanks)