Thursday, September 30, 2010

100 bushels from infertile sand?

A reading from the Book of Smith:

"The late Freeman Thorpe of Hubert, Minnesota, after some years of experimentation and actually measuring the acorns from test trees, was confident that the Minnesota black oak would average 100 bushels of acorns per year on sandy land of low fertility - land that would make not more than 30 bushels of corn. He also thought that he could harvest the nuts as cheaply as he could harvest corn. Perhaps Colonel Thorpe was overenthusiastic. He was a man with a flame in him (editor's note: I like Col. Thorpe already!), and he loved his trees. However, we can cut his production estimate in two and double the cost of harvesting and still have a sound business proposition and astonishing production for chance seedlings trees."

A few notes. Black oak, Quercus velutina, doesn't actually grow in Hubbard, MN.  Black oak is an alternative common name used for northern pin oak, Q. ellipsoidallis, which does indeed grow in Hubbard and does well on sandy soils.

My travels today took me fairly close to Hubbard.  I took a picture (which technical glitches are preventing me from posting tonight but which I'll post tomorrow) of a field of corn next to an oak woodlot.  The corn, the result of 8000 years of breeding, tons of synthetic fertilization and pesticide applications, barrels of fossil fuels and in that part of the world oftentimes center pivot irrigation, probably yields 150-170 bushels/acre.  The farmer would be going broke were it not for per bushel subsidy payments that bridge the gap between his production costs and the price he gets at the elevator (and which perversely encourage him to grow ever more corn further depressing the price).

Meanwhile acorns are raining down in the woods unharvested - and could provide income for the farmer and healthier food for people and livestock.

Plant that same field with oaks that have been selected and bred and you could easily get 150 bushels per acre.  And with about a jillion lakes within casting distance of the farm I think the farmer could figure out more enjoyable, less stressful was of filling his summer days while his oaks grow like mad instead of cultivating corn and beans all day.

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