From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Last week’s discussion about making hay the simple, old fashioned way led me on to grandiose thoughts. Sounds crazy but the logic is all there. We have 40 million acres of lawns in this country. We spend $30 billion on lawn care. We annually irrigate our lawns with seven billion gallons of water and thirty million tons of fertilizer. That’s enough to make an awful lot of hay for an awful lot of livestock and chickens. An acre of regular hay makes three to eight tons or more per acre and I imagine lawn hay, fertilized and irrigated so preciously would produce in the middle of that range. Bluegrass and white clover cut short as they are in lawns, would dry out quickly, could be raked and sucked up with air bags for dry hay, or packed in bags as silage. Instead, we are taking this forage, some 200 million tons of what could be the best hay ever and the only feed the animals would need and for which the manpower and the machinery needed is already in place, and throwing most of it away.
Okay, so you wouldn’t want to use herbicides and pesticides on those lawns, or only a little, but so? If you are getting a good price for your good hay, or feeding it yourself to your own livestock, who needs all those “cides”? Money in the pocket makes dandelions on the lawn almost invisible.
Quite a national conversation would erupt over which grasses and legumes are best for lawn farms. A legume is necessary because it adds nitrogen to the soil and protein to the diet. In my area, bluegrass and white clover would be my choice. You’d never have to replant them. In my climate this combination can be mowed from the middle of April right up into November. Other areas, like in the south, might use legumes that grow nearly all year around.
Of course, should the future be peopled by lawn farmers who were truly enlightened, lawns could be sowed to alfalfa, or ladino clover, or crimson clover, producing nearly 400 million tons of hay— of a quality that would require no grain feeding in addition at all.
Every home with a lawn becomes a potential farm. The more the population increases, the more the number of farms increase. The last differences between rural farm and urban farm disappear. If lawn farmers didn’t want to feed their crop themselves, they could always sell it to a neighbor or to trucking businesses with regularly scheduled stops in every neighborhood. If Saudi Arabia started buying their hay from our lawn farms, we would no longer have to listen to nonsense about how the American farmer must gear up to feed the world. I might at least afford to buy a new lawnmower.
So what’s to stop such a doable thing from happening? I was going to say opposition would come from the usual bullheadedness that resists all change it can’t see any profit in it. But I can’t see anybody losing any money on this deal. Lawn farming means more money for everyone. Even big industrial grain farms won’t bitch too much because as they face the end of their era, they will realize they have a fortune in land to sell to lawn farmers who want to buy land in small amounts. Lawn farm equipment will soar in demand and manufacturers will make more money selling little tractors than big ones. Scientists and agri-suppliers will have vast new markets for their services opening up, supplying lawn farms with improved forages and forage equipment. It will be a bonanza for makers of lawn games and pastime. Only lawn farming allows the use of land for both food production and recreation at the same time.
Lawn farms could double-crop mushrooms and hay. Or fish worms and hay. I keep trying to figure out a way to grow hay or pasture in a field of solar panels. Whatever, the trick will be to think small. If you only have to cut and dry and airbag a third of an acre of lawn grasses every week, you should be able to do it in two days, greatly increasing your chances of getting the hay in without rain on it. Farms so signed and designed to get most of the hay in the barn without rain opens the day when farming will finally become profitable.