Ever heard of the scales of permanence? According to KwaZulu-Natal farmer and microbiologist Morgan Brand it is a mental checklist through which you should go when thinking about land and agriculture.
It’s a step-by-step way of understanding exactly where you are farming and how to set up a farm where you are. Each farm will be unique and has to be looked at in its own context.
Brand breaks down the nine steps he took when he set up his small farm. Every farm will have its own unique questions and answers to consider, and it is important to take time to go through these steps before you jump straight in.
“The first point you got to think about is your climate,” says Brand. “And more than just the temperature, winds and rainfall, you look at the social economic status of your area.”
He suggests collecting all your questions related to climate, think about them and brainstorm ways to answer those questions.
Brand’s second point to ponder is the geography of your farm. He says you should ask the land what it can do.
“Obviously land doesn’t speak to you,” he laughs. “And it won’t speak to you unless you are really observant. Then you may think it’s speaking to you because you’re able to read it.”
He means that you should analyse the land: everything from its shape to its aspects and gradients.
3. Water systems
You need to think about water systems, how they appear on your farm from climate factors, and how they move on your land. This will fit in with the knowledge you gain from considering the geography of your land in the second point.
“With water you look at how it naturally moves around: where is it going, how is it doing it, where is it being destructive?” says Brand. “Understanding how it’s going to cause you trouble is important.”
When you know that you can manipulate it, find the best places for storage and the most effective irrigation techniques to consider.
“Now [that] we understand our climate, our geography and our water, we need to know where we can drive and how to move around most efficiently,” says Brand.
Farming involves transporting a lot of things around the system. You want to know where you should avoid messing up the land with heavy machinery, and also how to have an efficient transport process. You should use this thought process to guide where you build your paths.
5. Fruits, forestry, livestock
With the first four steps done, it’s time to think about with what you want to farm that can be supported on your land.
“If you followed the steps then you have a fundamental grasp of what you can put [in] and where…” says Brand. “So, that’s what you start using.”
You need to consider which structures will be needed on your farm for your type of farming first. Then you can go about finding spaces to place them and materials to build the structures. Every type of farming will need different buildings, either for housing, storing or post-production processes. And putting these structures in strategic places along your paths would be beneficial for efficiency.
Fencing is expensive, warns Brand. If you don’t need to put up fences, count yourself lucky. For those who do need to put up fences, there are different materials to consider. Also be prepared for a struggle.
“Depending on what your soil type is, [you] will [know] whether or not you need to make compost and how much compost you need to make,” says Brand.
Composting is an essential part of probably every system, according to Brand.
Not every part of your farm will have the same type of soil, so it is important to know with what you are working.
After evaluating all of the previous questions, now you need to sit back and ask yourself if everything is going to work out financially. A farm is a business, after all, and it needs to make financial sense if you want to farm successfully.
“If you want to be that person who changes the world, you need to be a successful farmer first,” says Brand. “By that I mean a businessman – you need to make money to be able to survive to that point in time where you can actually change the world.”
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