Just Blown Away!

My original idea with this entry had been to expand from the FSA report comment from my last blog into the benefits of organic farming for developing countries and then explaining the philosophy of biodynamic farming. But I got sidetracked by my research, hence the delay in publishing this entry – my apologies for making you all wait so long…

I will still start with the benefits of organic farming in developing countries because I think it’s not only important but also very interesting – plus it leads onto the next step…

There were 2 articles written shortly after the FSA report was published (The Telegraph – Organic is more than small potatoes, The BBC – The vegetable gardeners of Havana), both discussed how organic farming techniques can make a significant improvement to product yields in areas of subsistence farming areas. The main idea is that poor farmers can’t afford to buy chemical fertilisers or pesticides to help their yields. In Cuba’s case, the sudden oil shortage made those products unavailable plus there was no petrol for the tractors! Hence by turning to organic farming techniques they can cheaply and naturally enrich their soil and protect their crops to then become more productive. The added benefit is that they also help with employment as organic farming is more labour intensive.

The other comment in these articles that caught my eye was:

“Going organic will also pay long-term dividends, for it builds up soil where conventional farming often depletes it, and stores more water in the ground in what will be an increasingly thirsty world.”

This, along with something I heard about the amount of soil which is being eroded away every year due to conventional farming methods, lead me to question the issue of soil quality and regular farming techniques. During my research I came across a lot of information, including an article on the Australian ABC Science website which talks about how nearly 25% of land around the world is in bad shape and getting worse.

The study describes a decline in the quality of soil and vegetation that the land can’t recover from on its own and land degradation can have severe economic and environmental consequences. Their findings reveal that 24% of land worldwide is degraded because of things people are doing. Worst off were African countries south of the equator, Southeast Asia and south China. One and a half billion people currently live in degraded areas. As soils decline, people reach a point where they can’t grow enough food to feed themselves. They move on, leaving the dead land behind.

This problem can be prevented by helping these people to practice more sustainable forms of agriculture, such as choosing appropriate crops, maintaining them correctly, and reducing erosion are all strategies that can help people survive, says one government specialist.

Another interesting website explains Soil Erosion – Causes & Effects where they write:

“Soil erosion is one form of soil degradation along with soil compaction, low organic matter, loss of soil structure, poor internal drainage, salinisation, and soil acidity problems. These other forms of soil degradation, serious in themselves, usually contribute to accelerated soil erosion.

Soil erosion may be a slow process that continues relatively unnoticed, or it may occur at an alarming rate causing serious loss of topsoil. The loss of soil from farmland may be reflected in reduced crop production potential, lower surface water quality and damaged drainage networks.”

Tillage and cropping practices which lower soil organic matter levels, cause poor soil structure and contribute to increases in soil erodibility. Excess tillage can contribute to soil structure breakdown and increased erosion.

Many exposed subsurface soils on eroded sites tend to be more erodible than the original soils were, because of their poorer structure and lower organic matter. The lower nutrient levels often associated with subsoils contribute to lower crop yields and generally poorer crop cover, which in turn provides less crop protection for the soil.

Certain conservation measures can reduce soil erosion by both water and wind. Tillage and cropping practices, as well a land management practices, directly affect the overall soil erosion problem and solutions on a farm.

Soil quality, structure, stability and texture can be affected by the loss of soil. The breakdown of aggregates and the removal of smaller particles or entire layers of soil or organic matter can weaken the structure and even change the texture. Textural changes can in turn affect the water-holding capacity of the soil, making it more susceptible to extreme conditions such as drought.

Generally, soils with faster infiltration rates, higher levels of organic matter and improved soil structure have a greater resistance to erosion.

The most effective vegetative cover for protection should include an adequate network of living windbreaks combined with good tillage, residue management, and crop selection.”

Another website describes the 6 components of Soil Quality Management as:

1. Enhance organic matter – adding new organic matter every year is perhaps the most important way to improve and maintain soil quality. Regular additions of organic matter improve soil structure, enhance water and nutrient holding capacity, protect soil from erosion and compaction, and support a healthy community of soil organisms.
2. Avoid excessive tillage – Tillage can break up soil structure, speed the decomposition and loss of organic matter, increase the threat of erosion, destroy the habitat of helpful organisms, and cause compaction. Reducing tillage minimizes the loss of organic matter and protects the soil surface with plant residue.
3. Manage pests and nutrients efficiently – Efficient pest and nutrient management means applying only the necessary chemicals, at the right time and place to get the job done; and taking advantage of non-chemical approaches to pest and nutrient management such as crop rotations, cover crops, and manure management.
4. Prevent soil compaction – Compaction reduces the amount of air, water, and space available to roots and soil organisms.
5. Keep the ground covered – Bare soil is susceptible to wind and water erosion, and to drying and crusting. Ground cover protects soil, provides habitats for larger soil organisms, such as insects and earthworms, and can improve water availability.
6. Diversify cropping systems – Diversity is beneficial for several reasons. Each plant contributes a unique root structure and type of residue to the soil. A diversity of soil organisms can help control pest populations, and a diversity of cultural practices can reduce weed and disease pressures.

This is where organic farming has such great benefits. According to Wikipedia “Organic farming methods combine scientific knowledge of ecology and modern technology with traditional farming practices based on naturally occurring biological processes. While conventional agriculture uses synthetic pesticides and water-soluble synthetically purified fertilizers, organic farmers are restricted by regulations to using natural pesticides and fertilizers. The principal methods of organic farming include crop rotation, green manures and compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation.”

So it must help prevent soil degradation and erosion! Doesn’t all that information just blow you away? Or not, if you go organic J