Forage farming is the use of land to sustain both humans and animals simultaneously, whether it is for profit or sustenance. There are two driving forces behind forage farming that dictate how it is implemented and to what extent. If the driving force behind forage farming is sustenance, a much smaller scale is used and the implementation is highly individualized. With the intent of scaling out, however, comes the need for a larger scale and more industrialization behind the main methodology (Millar and Connell, 2). The focus for each situation, however, is still maintaining both crops and animals on the same land with minimal maintenance because the species grown and ranched are selected so as to be naturally found in the surrounding environment or similar regions. Thus, forage farming addresses a broad scope of problems, but focuses in on sustainable agricultural methods for multiple levels of need.
There are three main premises behind forage farming to encourage participation. The most important is the scope for cultural influence into the plan. Forage farming is not a specific plan insomuch as it is more of an outline for locals to use as they see fit. Not only does this allow for flexibility in a variety of farming situations, it encourages easy integration into society for a sustainable future. (NGO, 1) On the note of sustainability, scaling out with forage farming (described in the implementation section) encourages a slow transition from small-scale, sustainable methods to more industrial methods. Since this transition can be made gradual, it is a viable solution, economically as well, to be worked into the industrial farming system thereby increasing the lifespan of the plan. Finally, the timescale is such that small-scale farms allow for the sustenance of families and/or communities, but as the distribution systems are implemented and are worked into society, the farms are growing at such a rate that they will be able to use forage farming in an effective manner (NGO, 1). It should also be noted that the growth of the number of people fed (approximately 50 the first year rising to 1000 over years, depending on land available) using the scaling out method is of great interest to areas with steady population growth or areas of moderate population density (Millar and Connell, 4). “Scaling out is more than increasing adoption of proven technologies. It is a process of enabling farmers in different locations to identify their problems, trial a range of options and make informed decisions about improving their livelihoods” (Millar and Connell, 12).
In addition to these premises, it is important to understand why the implementation of forage farming would be more effective than industrial farming. The goal of our forages farms, if the culture and society of a particular area permit, will be to slowly reach industrial status in order to maintain sustainability throughout the process (see how it will be implemented below). Forage farming nurtures sustainability while being very efficient and grows and evolves over time to incorporate many techniques that farmers will learn through the scaling out system. Forages farms will not take the place of current industrial farming or even seek to revolutionize such. Instead, forage farms will give areas lacking distribution systems or industrial agriculture a chance to reach the pace of the competitive global market in a more sustainable fashion than starting and industrial farm from scratch. The key point of these farms is that they are highly flexible- not every forage farm needs to become industrialized. The term forage denotes the searching of food for the pure purpose of sustenance, whether it be for animals or humans (Oxford English Dictionary). As such, there is not minimum nor maximum to how much a forage farm must produce.
Forage farming is most successful where land is arable, but people don't have regular access to areas in which they can purchase the food they need (Millar and Connell, 5). The idea behind the implementation is that each area in which the plan is placed can add culture and incorporate tradition with minimal disruption to existing societal structure. Case studies have shown that forage farming is most successful in areas that already have farming systems implemented; but, when combined with scaling out, forage farming can become sustainable in areas that have little existing agriculture (NGO, 1).
Before implementation can begin, several things must be determined. The first question addresses the ownership of the farm: will the farm be community oriented or highly individual? This determines the scope of the farm and lays the foundation for the available input. Secondly, what kind of scale do the owners want to aim for? The implementation of forage farming varies depending on the desired outcome of the individual farm whether it be for the sustenance of one family, scaling out to industrial production, or scaling out to surrounding communities. Finally, what will the focus of this farm be, meat or crops? While the original idea behind forage farming was to support both, some cultures or areas may only need or want one of these options. It is highly recommended that, for the purpose of future sustainability, farmers start out with crops and integrate animals in over time (approximately five years). In many cases, the area of available land may also limit a farmer's choices.
After these preliminary questions have been answered, implementation breaks off based upon the intended scale of the forage farm. For sustenance farming, the additional question of the farmer's intentions is asked in reference to cooperatives, the community and how willing the individual would be to integrate into such at a later date. Native crops are furthermore chosen. If he wishes to integrate more into the community or cooperative, crops are chosen to increase diversity among the society in order to ensure the correct ratio of various food crops. A five year plan is then introduced in which the farmer learns about the land he is sowing, gets a feel for what technologies he needs and, if desired, begins the incorporation of animals into his farm. This step by step process allows for maximum sustainability.
If the goal of the farm is to become more industrialized or take part in scaling out, the process of developing the farm itself is the same, but there are a few external things that need to be taken care of. Scaling out, similar to the idea behind cluster communities, revolves around the idea that a series of farms start out from one hub that spreads out via growth in the farm itself and the forming of smaller daughter farms around the main hub. As such, it is necessary that for such scaling out, three things need to be determined: an entry point (somewhere with some form of agriculture already has been implemented), a form of management, and specific indicators of success for the particular area. The key aspects behind scaling out are that the farms (including the main hub) are essentially small sustenance farms working together in a cooperative-like manner and farmers from the hub become ambassadors to the daughter farms, teaching new farmers key techniques behind farming the land under the conditions of this more sustainable method of farming. By adopting the mentor-student relationship, there is a significant cultural element in this plan, making it more likely to be adopted by the society. The idea of starting out small and working up to a larger scale contrasts with today’s framing in that in the proposed plan, when farms reach industrial status they continue to utilize sustainable methods.
As aforementioned, crops are chosen on a community by community basis prioritizing crops that most naturally occur in the given environment. The aim is to use crops that are culturally relevant and when absolutely needed use a genetically modified crop to ensure the nutrition of the community. An example of such is the idea behind golden rice. Rice is prominent in many cultures, but golden rice has been modified to assist in lessening Vitamin A deficiency among other things. As the specifics on culture and region are determined and by using the classification system developed by our agricultural flowchart, we can find crops suitable for almost every situation. The flow chart created for rural areas has specific questions with regard to land arability and purchasing power of the people, thereby allowing us to see not only which solutions are suitable for a particular area, but also which crops should also be prioritized in farming practices.
One case study from Millar and Connell yielded this data, detailing the impact a forage farm can have over a short time span (Millar and Connel, 6):
After five years, new provinces in Laos were beginning to implement the system and 6 times as many villages were involved. It is this rapid, yet sustainable growth that is key to creating industrial scale agriculture that remains eco-friendly and efficient into the future.
The cost of implementation varies greatly with the area in question and the potential size of the farm. As agriculture requires a nontrivial input cost, the price of water, machinery and labor must be taken into account. An initial cost for equipment will be incurred, but because sustainability will form a key part of this framework, many costs are one-time only. We say many because the greatest lump sum incurred is that of the initial purchase, maintenance and repairs also need to be taken into consideration, but are relatively low compared to the potential income created. Organizations currently involved in funding include Forages and Livestock Systems Project, International Institute for Rural Reconstruction and National Agriculture and Forestry Extension Service (NGO, 1).
Five years to Sustainability
The implementation of this solution is on the short term scale, as it takes 5-6 years for a farm to reach sustainability (Millar and Connell, 10). After sustainability is reached, however, the farms evolve and grow feeding people for an indefinite amount of time. A farm can reach industrial status after approximately 10-15 years if land availability permits (NGO, 1).
Looking Forward- Considerations to be Made
The modern implementation of forage farming is relatively new and as such there are few case studies from which to gain knowledge. Those case studies which do exist show great success in forage farming, but some assert that it could be too early to tell if it will be an effective in the long term (50+ years). These studies, conducted primarily in South East Asia where the idea originated, show tremendous increase in the amount of participants and food production of the course of the initial five years, but further study past this stage is lacking (Millar and Connell). Those who argue that it is two early to quantify the effectiveness of forage farming are primarily international organizations looking to have solid evidence of success prior to investing money into the system (NGO).
Millar, J. & Connell, John. Strategies for scaling out impacts from agricultural systems change: the case of forages and livestock production in Laos. Retrieved from http://www.springerlink.com/content/9t63gt7u82kq1764
NGO, Commission for Sustainable Development NGO Steering Committee. (2008). Scaling up sustainable agriculture initiatives. Retrieved from http://csdngo.igc.org/agriculture/agr_scalingup.htm