Resilient farmers don’t care how many degrees you have. They know that highly educated people often get lost in theories and concepts which are divorced from reality. Stuck on a college campus or in a lab, researchers can come up with some pretty useless ideas. Impractical researchers or government agents pushing a new theory are humored but mostly ignored. Most farmers in Neshoba County, Mississippi, have never heard of carbon sequestration or climate smart agriculture. Yet they have done more than most to pull carbon out of the air and combat climate change.
How have they done it? They switched from row crops to pasture and trees. Fifty years ago, Neshoba had three cotton gins and most of the county was planted in row crops. The soil was being mined for nutrients and losing organic matter. Today their are no row crops in the county. Nearly all land in Neshoba County is in grasslands or forest. Forests pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in roots and wood. Properly managed grasslands can have higher levels of carbon in the soil than even forests. Combining grasslands and woodlands, known as silvopasture, is the best way to remove carbon from the air and increase soil fertility.
Temperate ecosystems with enough rain are naturally combinations of grasslands and woods. Trees gradually take over pastures until they trees get mature and produce enough tinder to support a fire which thins out the trees to create pasture again. It’s the adaptive cycle of all nature: a fast growing r phase, followed by a slow growing “climax” community or K phase, the the release or omega phase exemplified by fire, and then the alpha or reorganization phase where a new system, better adapted that its parent, begins.
All living systems are open, so Neshoba county farmers were partially reacting to external stimuli when they moved to pasture and trees. Mechanical cotton pickers and lack of labor put small cotton farmers out of business. Pine trees were bringing lots of money and little need for labor. The flatter ground of other counties made row crops easier and cheaper to grow elsewhere So row crops disappeared and trees took over.
Lately the price of pine logs has dropped so much that most farmers aren’t replanting pine. They are planting hardwoods or converting their land to pasture and increasing their beef herds. Some are increasing vegetable, milk and meat production for local markets. But they aren’t going back to row crops.
Row crops spew greenhouse gases from their smoking tractors and methane and nitrous oxide from fields. Pastures and forest pull in those gases and clean up our atmosphere.
The farmers of Neshoba County may not know a lot about greenhouse gases and carbon sequestration, but they are countering the impact of modern industrial agriculture.
Trees and pasture are the Neshoba way to permaculture and food production which doesn’t destroy our atmosphere.
More details on permaculture and climate click on the following links: