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The Sunshine Farm Research Program

The Sunshine Farm Research Program is a 10-year project—its last field season was 2001. We are collecting comprehensive data on the energy, materials, and labor going into 50 acres of conventional crops plus 100 acres of prairie pasture grazed by cattle. The Sunshine Farm's goal is to calculate the amount of productive capacity a sustainable farm must devote to its own fuel and fertility. An extensive final report with computer database and energy budgets will provide crucial data to other sustainable agriculture researchers. It will also be a benchmark against which eventually we can compare our own Natural Systems Agriculture. With this information, a more effective national policy could be formulated for the transition of agriculture to renewable energy.

For further insights into the Sunshine Farm Research Project, please read the following articles:

Bender, M.H. (2003). Animal production and farm size in Holmes County, Ohio, and U.S. agriculture. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, in press. [Posted 10/15/02

Bender, Martin, "Energy in Agriculture and Society: Insights from the Sunshine Farm." March 2001. [Posted 04/05/01]

Bender, Martin, "An economic comparison of traditional and conventional agricultural systems at a county level." American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, In Press, Spring 2001. The appendices, which appear here, provide detailed calculation of various numerical values reported in this paper. [Posted 12/15/00]

Bender, Martin, "Comparison of nutrient return and plant uptake in agricultural systems." Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, Vol. 15(4) 2000.
In traditional agricultural systems such as the Sunshine Farm that rely on internally generated manure and crop residues for soil fertility, large marketed exports lead to unsustainable deficiencies in phosphorus and sometimes potassium. Return of human excreta would offset only a small fraction of these deficiencies. [Posted 02/13/01]

Bender, Martin, "Potential conservation of biomass in the production of synthetic organics." Resources Conservation & Recycling 30 (2000) 49-58.
Ethanol produced fro crops raised our awareness that the potential national demand for biofuels could divert much cropland from food production. Likewise, the use of crop biomass in the renewable production of synthetic organics such as plastics, fibers, rubber and asphalt could also divert considerable land from food production, contrary to the current perception that feedstock consumption for synthetic organics is negligible.

Bender, Martin, "Economic feasibility review for community-scale farmer cooperatives for biodiesel." Bioresource Technology 70:81-87 (1999).
The cost of producing biodiesel fuel from oilseeds, animal fats, or waste grease is 2-3 times the current of pre-tax diesel in the US and Europe. Thus, while the energy balance for producing biodiesel is positive, it would currently require government subsidies to compete with diesel.

Bender, Martin, "The 150-Acre Sunshine Farm at The Land Institute." A paper presented at The Ecology of Our Landscape: The Botany of Where We Live, a 1996 symposium sponsored by The Botanical Research Institute of Texas and Texas Christian University. [Posted 03/05/01]

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