Joel Salatin on the biomass accumulation acceleration phase
Sustainable agriculture has no single figurehead—nor does this defiant, disparate movement have a center—but if it wants an able spokesperson, Joel Salatin would be a safe bet. He’s a professional contrarian, a knowledgeable agricultural apostate who not only practices what he preaches but has the rare capacity to explain it to others. While his summers are devoted to farming, his winters are spent literally barnstorming the country—from grange hall to farm to classroom—as he expounds on the joys of grass farming.
The science of it is simple enough. Grass is a solar collector. It uses photosynthesis to transform the sun’s rays into chlorophyll. When cows eat grass, they convert this energy into protein and fat.
Field grass grows in three phases. The first, which Salatin refers to as the “diaper phase,” is typified by slow development. This is followed by a massive growth spurt, what he calls a “virulent, vibrant teenage phase,” as grass converts solar energy into chlorophyll. From there grass goes into senescence, or in Salatin’s words, “the nursing home phase.” If the grass can be kept in that highly productive middle stage, where it continually captures solar energy and turns that into biomass, it will produce in abundance, but how would you maintain this herbaceous fountain of youth in a perpetual state of production, or what Salatin calls the “biomass accumulation acceleration phase”? Salatin does it with steel rods and wire. He places them in a line that bisects the field, with each rod twenty feet apart. Then he attaches a length of wire from rod to rod. When he gets to the end, he wraps the wire around a battery cell that is continuously charged by a small solar panel. By flipping a switch he suddenly has a portable electric fence. When Salatin removes the fence closest to the cows, they cross into fresh new pasture and graze. Their manure is left behind to fertilize the soil.