Beautiful and Abundant

Publisher Bryan Welch on philosophy, farming and building the world we want.

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Biodiversity and Land Productivity

11/24/2008 3:34:05 PM

Tags: biodiversity, biofuels, bioenergy, land productivity, David Tilman, Scientific American, prairie

Cows in Tallgrass
   PHOTO BY BRYAN WELCH

Most North American farms of the 21st century are, comparatively speaking, biological wastelands. Plowed, fertilized and cultivated from property-line to property-line, much of the Great Plains has been stripped of its wildlife. Walk through a soybean field anywhere in the Midwest, then take the same sort of stroll through a native prairie in the same region (if you can find one). The contrast is shocking. The prairie, especially the dominant “tallgrass” prairie, is among the world’s most fecund environments. Dozens of species thrive in a thick carpet of plants growing unbelievably fast. In three months I have watched an acre of my undisturbed pasture grow six tons of grass. One acre, three months, six tons.

Ecologist David Tilman has been studying the productivity of the prairie at Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Natural History Area for more than a decade. He has compared the productivity of the land planted in a natural mixture of several species with the same land planted with only one highly useful species. In the December 2006 issue of Scientific American he reported that the diverse natural prairie produced 238 percent more “bioenergy” than the same land planted in one species. Furthermore, the diverse, natural prairie stores two-thirds of its productivity underground, making a native grassland naturally carbon-negative, no matter what the tops of the plants are used for. The soybean field produces a lot of food, but it produces comparatively little life, for what that’s worth.

 



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Post a comment below.

 

Sally Trice_1
2/11/2009 7:00:24 PM
Was just re-reading an article in the Aug/Sept 2007 Mother Earth News called "Plant an Edible Forest Garden", and it came to mind to mention a very neat tree-digging device that I've learned about. It requires no large machinery so can be used in tight spaces (such as my back yard) or in an area with sensitive vegetation nearby. It's called the TBF Tree Digging system and can be seen at the following link: http://www.tripplebrookfarm.com/

Bryan
12/4/2008 10:52:25 AM
Unfortunate, but not surprising. The agricultural establishment still doesn't understand the value of natural prairie. In many ways, industrial agricultural sees nature as an adversary rather than an ally.

buzardluck_2
12/4/2008 10:47:48 AM
I own 100 acres in Missouri, two thirds native woods and one third pasture. I wanted to convert the pasture to native prairie. I contacted the Missouri Conservation Commission for assistance. There is a program that pays a modest amount per acre to establish prairie. This would be possible for me to do. However it comes with strings attached. The land must not be sold for ten years. That was a deal breaker. No one can predict what their economic needs will be in the future and no one needs a cloud on their title if needing to sell. Unfortunately I do not have the funds to establish prairie without assistance. So I am limited to establishing a small part to prairie each year. In addition I was willing to sacrifice a small income of about $5,000 a year in the sale of seed and hay in order to establish the prairie. So it appears that Missouri policy is it's own worst enemy for the improvement of wildlife and carbon sequestration. Unfortunate.







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