Paris, 2016, and Our Farms

Jan. 14 2016
From the Farm

Recalling, please, that all Agriculture is Local and (as you already know) that farmers/stockmen have much to distract them, the message that came to us in the Flint Hills from the conference in Paris about our atmosphere can be summed up thus: We Need Carbon Sequestration.


This is not the first time that Paris has had a bearing on the Agricultural Community.

Go back to 1919 and

“How you gonna keep ‘em

Down on the farm

After they’ve seen Paree?”

and of course the departure from American farms since then has been significant. Will Carbon Sequestration have greater success?


At the heart of it is the fact that coal and petroleum are intensely organic. When they are consumed, the concentrated carbon they contain is released. Our grass, our crops, and our trees too are organic, but when we consume them, we leave their root systems behind. Occasionally we will want to get rid of tree roots so we can re-establish grass or produce more ground to till, but the roots of native grasses in the Flint Hills can be found deeper than the plants are high. We know that if grassland is not used as pasture, it will not remain as grassland so we burn it from time to time to clear out the brush and kill off the young trees, and when our sheep graze it, we try to leave no less than half of the top half. While we are pretty sure that there is more of the vegetable matter of a grass plant below the surface of the soil than above, we don’t know how much of a mature tree is in its roots. By and large, though, we feel we are sequestering pretty well.

The glaciers did not get here, which means that generally we have fewer arable acres than native pasture: glaciers carried in and distributed topsoil, but ours had to be created by the geology of the earth and the seas that covered it, by bison, and by fire. Arable land is where we raise annual crops, crops that have roots, of course—corn, wheat, oats, soybeans, grain sorghum—but we are obliged after harvest to till the land without removing the roots, and alfalfa, also raised on arable soil, a wonderful feed for livestock, can last for five years or more and deepen its roots even through clay.


I suspect that while farmers hereabouts do sell their surplus crop production into a market—we sell our native grass hay to a neighbor when we have enough—the real cash crop is livestock. And livestock, in a grass-based economy, are the means of harvest, often, weather permitting, for more than six months of the year. Our sheep are fed alfalfa on the native grass every day, these days, and baled prairie hay down in a draw out of the wind. It spreads the manure around. If our fence budget permitted, we would run them onto our tilled ground to pick up the plants generated from oat seed that blew out of the combine, and on weeds—and to spread their manure around.

We are told that a significant part of the creation of the Prairie was the bison concentrating their manure and trampling the grass and one way or another we all try to manage our livestock to emulate them. After all, why leave ruminants locked in a yard when they can be out on crop land or the grassland? If all this leaves you with the impression that livestock fencing can be an indicator of a good, environmentally concerned farmer, in Kansas or anywhere, you’re close to the mark. I hope the folks in Paris could see that.

Copyright Jerry Wigglesworth, 2016