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I am new to permaculture but would like to get a better feeling for if and how mid- to large-scale commercial permaculture farms could feed the world. In particular, I am interested in quantitative studies of the following two questions:

  1. How does the biomass produced per unit area compares between permaculture and modern industrial farms?

  2. How does the cost structure of mid-scale permaculture farms compare to modern industrial farms?

If more general studies are hard to get, I am also fine with case studies. So far I have been unable to locate satisfactory studies on these rather central questions. Any pointers are highly appreciated.

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I don't think "mid- to large-scale commercial permaculture farms" exist in big enough numbers to give a meaningful answer, even if they'd been studied. I suspect that because there's no branding or certification of permaculture farms it would be difficult to actually perform those studies (first you'd need a definition to identify eligible farms).

"investigate which aspects of PC may be scalable to commercial farming whilst identifying PC aspects already implemented in commercial (organic) agriculture (OA)"

This article seems to be a useful overview with links to actual studies, but the focus is organic vs chemical farming rather than permaculture. But those are the only quantitative studies I've been able to find

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A back of the envelope approach to this is to ask how many people can a permaculture farmer feed?

And the answer is, "Not many" While permaculture can get outstanding efficiency in terms of calories per acre, it's abysmal at calories per man-year.

Consider: A Saskatchewan farmer typically can farm 16 sections (about 10 thousand acres) of land by himself. At 40 bushels per acre that's 400,000 bushels of wheat. Double that for barley, more yet for oats.

Ok. Not by himself. He's got a couple million dollars worth of equipment to help him.

Permaculture by it's nature uses the synergy that plants creating mutually supporting systems. This doesn't mechanize well.

There are two approaches that are complementary: One is espoused by Shepherd in "Restoration Agriculture" where he mixes tree crops and annuals in rows. Having long rows allows a large amount of mechanization. This does not use the full guild system of permaculture, but it's a lot more manageable.

The second approach is to use time: Longer crop rotations. 6, 8 year long crop rotations with several years in pasture to renew the soil. Shorter and more diverse livestock rotations. E.g. Cow-calf grazing for 2 weeks then steer grazing for 2 weeks. Then sheep, goats or pigs, then chickens or turkeys. (Shepherd is not clear on what to do about coyotes who want lambchops or short ribs for lunch)

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  • The OP was asking for quantitative studies rather than restatement of the problem permaculture is trying to solve, I think. – Móż Feb 8 at 5:21
  • Dear @Sherwood Botsford, I appreciate your perspective on Shepherd, and I am of course aware of the high labour costs of permaculture. The goal of my question was a more quantitative comparison of calories and labour per ha, so any studies on the "outstanding efficiency in terms of calories per acre" would be highly appreciated. – w382903 Feb 9 at 7:16
  • Can't help you there. I don't know of any full hectare permacuture establishments. And if it's not economic, it won't happen, so your search won't change anything even if you do find an answer. – Sherwood Botsford Feb 10 at 19:26

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