Happy earth liberation day! Redefining Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

Apr 23, 2021

Regenerative indigenous agriculture is not about being against anything, but rather in favor of, in support of life and thriving ecosystems, in support of the earth living systems. According to experts "33% of the Earth's soils are already degraded and over 90% could become degraded by 2050 (FAO and ITPS, 2015; IPBES, 2018)." Soil has been so significantly degraded that it threatens the ability of humanity to feed itself on a global scale.

To shift the system at scale and regenerate those ecosystems we must first stop plowing, tilling, draining, and abusing the land with monocultures and toxic inputs. Parallel to that, we must rapidly restore abused land. Salvatierra Farm is one example of how this is happening within a larger strategy to re-design the poultry industry.

Salvatierra Farm works to move forward a regenerative poultry production model with the capacity to cause significant shifts in this industry sector. Regenerative poultry in short means, that the land's original ecosystem is regenerated, chickens are placed in their natural habitat (jungle-like conditions), perennial native crops are restored as part of the process, soil biology and its amazing carbon cycling characteristics are restored, water no longer carries the soil down to the ditches, the streams, rivers, and oceans, ownership and control shifts to community-based systems, nutritional integrity is restored.

In a recent interview, I was asked the million-dollar question "can regenerative poultry supply the world at 10 billion people.?" here is the quick back of the envelope answer.

In the US we consume an average of 20 chickens a year each and 250 eggs per person. If we focus on the chickens and if we average world per capita consumption at 10 chickens per person a year (factoring in the large discrepancy in access between countries) this would mean 100 billion chickens.

One of the regenerative poultry production units being built at Salvatierra Farm takes up 1.5 acres, supports 1,500 bird flocks, and up to 6,000 birds per year. In warmer climates, a total of 8,000 broilers can be produced per production unit. The system restores critical ecological functions of the landscape. For the sake of calculating the high-level potential, let's stick with the more difficult growing conditions here in MN where we freeze half the year and production is more limited.

At 6,000 chickens per production unit, it would take 25 million acres divided into 1.5-acre production units to produce all of the world's chicken demand at 10 billion people. At 6 production units per farm, it would take 4.2 million small 9-acre farm operations. But not only that, the same space would produce an understory of hazelnuts and elderberries and an overstory of oaks, chestnuts, butternuts, sugar maple, basswood, cycling massive amounts of carbon back into the soil and all kinds of biological structures and living systems. Restored soil hydrology means water will not run off carrying the precious soil down the rivers. Water is retained, spread, soaked into the aquifers for use in towns and cities, trout and other valuable creeks would be restored, the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone would enjoy a tremendous relief, new economic opportunities would arise for rural communities, most of the hazelnuts produced as perennial crops would be able to be used to supplement poultry protein and provide a higher nutritional quality feed. This would reduce the need for large-scale compacting equipment and also replace a significant portion of monoculture soybeans with perennial oil and high-protein meal-producing nuts. Not to mention agritourism and many other economic opportunities that a beautified regenerated landscape offers to the world.

In Minnesota, we have just around 25 million acres under agriculture cultivation. Most of it under degenerative corn and bean rotations, large-scale tillage, massive toxic inputs, and ground tiling. According to experts, on top of degenerating our landscape, this industry generates about 75 cents of value for every $1 dollar we invest in it. No wonder we have to subsidize the heck out of conventional agriculture to keep it alive.

In short, MN alone could supply all of the chicken the world needs when it reaches 10 billion inhabitants, and in the process generate massive ecosystem benefits and economic returns. But we are not proposing that MN does this, there is no need and it is not advisable either, we don't want chicken from MN shipped to Africa and Asia, it would defeat the whole idea of regeneration in the first place. So if we were to take a leadership role, and in the next decade we supplied 5% of the total eggs and broilers in the country, we would still be global leaders in regenerative agriculture, and the amount of land that would be needed to deploy such a magnificent agriculture competitive advantage would barely show up after a handful of zoomed out clicks on google maps.

Salvatierra Farm here in Northfield is geared to be positioned as the premier hands-on training, monitoring, and further development of the regenerative poultry system that can achieve this lofty goal. The farm is paired with a virtual regenerative poultry training platform www.regenpoultry.com currently being launched in English, followed by Spanish, and then followed by up to 8 other languages for global reach.

To achieve these large-scale changes, we can use current technology and machinery available from conventional operations. But regenerative agriculture means more people, more animals, more natural systems, and less and less artificial stuff.


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