Is Organic Farming / Natural Farming practical?

organic-farming

#1

With a sudden interest in organic produce the world over, a lot of farmers in India are resorting to organic farming. Organic products currently extend beyond fresh fruits & vegetables to food grains and even cotton. A number of people call themselves organic farming experts and there are local certifying agencies now as well. In addition, a large number of farm inputs now flood the market claiming to be effective organic plant nutrition or pest controllers, while there is another section which vouches for farm based solutions such as cow urine!

If you have been in anyway associated with organic farming, what are your opinions on:

(1) how practical is organic farming?
(2) is it for small farms alone or extensible to large farms?
(3) can higher yields be produced by organic farming over conventional methods?
(4) are the farm inputs in the market really effective?


#2

Namasthe,

                Good topic. My impressions based on farming experiences.

(1) How practical is organic farming?

Depends on how you look at organic farming. To most people, especially the ones outside the farming world, it means farming without applying chemical inputs and instead using the organic inputs available in the market. This is actually using the modern chemical farming model, striking out the chemical inputs in the equation and replacing them with the organic inputs available in the market. Well, I can assure you that this kind of organic farming with an NPK mentality is a sure shot recipe for disaster. Frankly the term ‘Organic’  these days serves more towards glamoursing farming and it’s products on the shelf than being of help to the farmers. I would prefer to cite another type of organic farming, i.e. - natural farming. This farming draws inspiration from nature, is sustainable and eco friendly and is done with minimum interference from the farmer. Here the role of the farmer would be that of a catalyst in aiding nature and plant growth. This type of farming is practical and cost effective. The expenditure incurred on natural farming would only be about 30-40% of that chemical farming, since there are no artificial inputs and all the inputs are prepared in-house. The only major cost would be the cost of labour. Once the farmer has good understanding of the different aspects of his farm, natural farming can be practical and effective.

(2) Is it for small farms alone or extensible to large farms?

Large or small holding, the underlying principles behind natural farming will be the same. Of course, smaller farms will have the advantage of being easier to manage, but that does not in anyway mean it cannot be applied to larger farms. Larger farms have their advantages of economies of large scale operation, branding etc. The methods of application, strategy and implementation needs to be altered to meet the requirements of larger farms.

(3) Can higher yields be produced by organic farming over conventional methods?

In short term crops like vegetables, paddy, banana etc natural farming has yielded crops comparable to that of chemical farming with more consistency and quality. Natural farming has quicker results on short-term crops. In the long –term crops, I have seen natural farming produce upto 85-90 % of the crop on conventional methods, again with much higher quality and considerably lower costs. To get to this level it takes 3-5 years of ground –work along with lots of patience, dedication and perseverance.

Before going to organic/inorganic comparisons, it is essential that one has deeper understanding of the whole picture.

Left to nature, soil has the inherent capacity to manufacture nutrients and provide them to the plants it supports. Continuous chemical application for years has destroyed the balance of the soil, leaving it depleted. Chemical application, apart from depleting the soil and causing it’s degeneration also destroys the most important ‘live’ part of soil- the micro-organisms. It is these micro organisms that generate and supply nutrition to the soil, thereby enriching he soil; they also convert the nutrients into forms that can be readily absorbed by plants. Once this in-built feeding system has been disturbed, and the plants are used artificial nutrition, it takes a good 3-5 years to restore the system and get the plants off this dependency habit. Plants are creatures of habit as much as humans are. If you disbelieve me, kindly try this, have 2 potted plants placed in the open sun. Water Plant A daily and Plant B once in 3 days. After a month, cut-off the water for plant A, within a day or two it will wilt, whereas plant B will remain unaffected for 3 days.

The same applies to plants and soils which are given frequent doses of artificial nutrients, the moment they are cut-off, the plant may face difficulty in adjusting to the new conditions. This is why the 3-5 year period for converted organic farms to attain productivity. But, very few farmers have the staying power to withstand this. Within a couple of years their productivity goes low, they suffer losses and the revert back to chemical farming. The practical thing would be for the farmer to convert 1/10th or 1/5th of his holding to natural farming. For those who try to farm in fresh/dry/ neglected soils, it will easier, however restoring the soil still remains the important task.

 
In long term crops, I have observed that after a period of 3-5 Years, natural farming yields about 85-90% yield of chemical farming, this 85-90 % in relation to the volume or quantity only. The quality, (parameters like the taste, aroma, nutrition, anti-oxidant count etc) will be much superior to the chemical farmed one. Also the yield from natural farming remains fairly consistent; there won’t be fluctuations in yield as there is in chemical farming. The yields projected by chem. Farming are difficult or next to impossible to achieve on consistent basis. For e.g. – The figures projected under chemical fed modern agriculture for paddy crop is 1250 kg per acre, for arecunaut 1250 kg per acre. This figure is the highest crop achieved once in 3-4 years, this IS NOT the standard crop for 3 years. So to assume that these figures are achievable each and every year is a myth. Can anyone achieve this yield on trot for 5 years? NO

I have personally known cases where natural faming in paddy yields 1000-1250 KG per year, the average of 4 years would be about 900-KG/acre. Likewise I know an arecunaut farmer who turned organic 5 years ago. Earlier the he used to extract a maximum of 1250 kg per acre. After turning organic his yield dropped to 300kg, subsequently went upto 500 kg. Now in the 5th year he gets 1000 kg per acre with minimum inputs

Apart from this the cost of production incurred in natural farming  would  only be roughly 30-40% of that of chemical farming and it consumes only roughly 25% of the water that chem. Farming does.  Chemical farming comes with a lot of hidden costs that are not obvious to people. For instance the aspects of depletion and restoration of soil. It is very difficult to assess the cost of these. Let us examine this on a primary level – It has been openly acknowledged by scientists that chemical farming soils need constant correction of Ph levels in the soil. There is no escaping this. Take the case of land under chemical cultivation of cash crops, every 2 years one tonne of lime/per acre is recommended to correct the pH balance of the Soil and maintain production levels. The cost o this as of today can be taken as 1000 kgs @ Rs20/- per kg every 2-3 years which works out to 6000-10000 Rs per year per acre. Has this cost of restoration been included in the cost of production? Similarly, micro-organism multiplication, constant chemical and pesticide application results in depletion of micro-organisms and imbalances in the soil. The recommendations from the chemical agri consultants are to culture the micro-organisms in your soil multiply it and put it back to soil? These costs of foolishness are never taken into account in arriving at the cost of production.

(4)Are the farm inputs in the market really effective?

Avoid them at all costs. I am not saying all inputs in the market are bad, of course there are good ones, but they come at a price; and at the price they come at, they are not value for money, especially branded inputs available in the market. Suppose you buy a branded input worth Rs.100/- , the value it may give to your farm cannot be beyond Rs.35/-, always remember the manufacturer will make a 100 – 200% profit and apart from that the freight charges and tax. Would you choose  to buy your raw material paying a premium and allow it to eat into your profits  or would you like to source it locally, that is have it in-house? Always prepare your own inputs; never think of buying anything, especially branded stuff.

Sorry, long post.


#3

cowherd, fantastic analysis, very practical, thank you and repping you.
I have some (many actually) questions for you, let me know what you think.

[quote="cowherd"]
(1) How practical is organic farming?

…This is actually using the modern chemical farming model, striking out the chemical inputs in the equation and replacing them with the organic inputs available in the market. Well, I can assure you that this kind of organic farming with an NPK mentality is a sure shot recipe for disaster… This type of farming is practical and cost effective. The expenditure incurred on natural farming would only be about 30-40% of that chemical farming, since there are no artificial inputs and all the inputs are prepared in-house. The only major cost would be the cost of labour. Once the farmer has good understanding of the different aspects of his farm, natural farming can be practical and effective.[/quote]

Most cultivated crops extract large amounts of nutrients from the soil as per conventional wisdom. How would natural farming supply such large quantities of plant nutrition - especially when soils in any area generally are not self sufficient in all nutrients? To supply the same quantity of nutrients, the volume of natural manures to be used will be gigantic and uneconomical, isn’t it?

quote Is it for small farms alone or extensible to large farms?

Large or small holding, the underlying principles behind natural farming will be the same. Of course, smaller farms will have the advantage of being easier to manage, but that does not in anyway mean it cannot be applied to larger farms. Larger farms have their advantages of economies of large scale operation, branding etc. The methods of application, strategy and implementation needs to be altered to meet the requirements of larger farms. [/quote]

Again, this is in reference to the ability to produce the farm inputs to sustain a large farm. If the dependency is on farm yard manure etc., a large scale operation would mean a large number of farm animals and intensive maintenance? I am not sure of how many animals are needed per acre, but was reading Mr. Palekar was going to develop a technology that allows a cow to support 100 acres of land and find it hard to visualize!

quote Can higher yields be produced by organic farming over conventional methods?

In short term crops like vegetables, paddy, banana etc natural farming has yielded crops comparable to that of chemical farming with more consistency and quality. Natural farming has quicker results on short-term crops. In the long –term crops, I have seen natural farming produce upto 85-90 % of the crop on conventional methods, again with much higher quality and considerably lower costs. To get to this level it takes 3-5 years of ground –work along with lots of patience, dedication and perseverance.


Left to nature, soil has the inherent capacity to manufacture nutrients and provide them to the plants it supports… Chemical application, apart from depleting the soil and causing it’s degeneration also destroys the most important ‘live’ part of soil- the micro-organisms. It is these micro organisms that generate and supply nutrition to the soil, thereby enriching the soil; …the plants are used artificial nutrition, it takes a good 3-5 years to restore the system and get the plants off this dependency habit. Plants are creatures of habit as much as humans are. If you disbelieve me, kindly try this, have 2 potted plants placed in the open sun. Water Plant A daily and Plant B once in 3 days. After a month, cut-off the water for plant A, within a day or two it will wilt, whereas plant B will remain unaffected for 3 days.
 
In long term crops, I have observed that after a period of 3-5 Years, natural farming yields about 85-90% …

Apart from this the cost of production incurred in natural farming  would  only be roughly 30-40% of that of chemical farming and it consumes only roughly 25% of the water that chem. Farming does.  … land under chemical cultivation of cash crops, every 2 years one tonne of lime/per acre is recommended to correct the pH balance of the Soil and maintain production levels. [/quote]

I have read this 3-5 year time span a few times before. I know certification needs at least 3 years of non chemical usage, but would this time span result in such microbial balance that can sustain crops to high yields? In that case, shouldn’t traditionally unfertilized lands consistently yield higher? Also unlike in your two pots example, the plants in the field are going to be a new generation each season and should logically have no adaptation for the hardening you refer to.

Secondly, it is so difficult to control pests and diseases such as aphids, thrips, viruses or mildews even in a kitchen garden without use of chemicals. How would these be arrested on a large scale? Would not one such attack wipe away the whole field? I had personally tried neem extracts a long while back with very limited success.

Third, why does natural farming need less water? Also, addition of organic manures is also supposed to make soils acidic; why do you say the pH restoration is not necessary for organic farming?

Fourth, how is higher quality (taste, aroma etc.) achieved when the nutrient constituents available to the plant are just the same and only the sources differ? Is this difference perceivable or is recorded?

Fifth, one of the key constraints in farming now is high labour cost. How can increased labour and reduced inputs lead to an overall lower cost of production?

quote Are the farm inputs in the market really effective?

Avoid them at all costs. …they are not value for money, … Would you choose  to buy your raw material paying a premium and allow it to eat into your profits  or would you like to source it locally, that is have it in-house? Always prepare your own inputs; never think of buying anything, especially branded stuff.[/quote]

Is it possible to prepare all inputs - nutrients, insecticides, fungicides etc. by oneself? Any examples? are you referring to neem extract etc.? Do you believe the ayurvedic solutions/temple washouts/cow urine/neem extracts etc. are effective? Also does this mean all non-natural solutions such as weedicides, plant growth regulators etc. are no more to be used?

Many questions. Again, the purpose of this topic is to pool the collective knowledge it would be great if you can continue to post your experiences and any pictures too. Thanks.


#4

My dear friend,

                    I’ll take your questions one by one and try my best to answer them. Be warned that the intense natural- farmer in me surfaces every now and then, and I may come across as pretty aggressive! If you can bear with that, I’ll go on.

Before coming to your questions, I feel it’s necessary to add this observation about organic/natural farming

The hardest task in organic/natural farming is not with the farming, soils or plants, it is with the mind-set of the people involved in the farming, years of mental conditioning based on NPK farming makes them difficult folks to change or convince.

This theory is pure bunk. This is a very western way of thinking. ‘Whatever you extract from the soil has to put back’. This is a promotional tactic used typically by a chemical fertilizer sales man to put the fear in your mind so that you keep running to him for rounds of fertilizer regularly.
Assume this to be true; now as per this if a plant produces 10kg of yield it would have extracted that 10 Kg from the soil and the soil would be poorer by 10 kg Now think of the mango tree in he forest or in some yard where it’s neglected and left to nature. If the tree produces 200Kg of mangoes and 200Kg of fresh shoots and leaves every year it must eat up close to 400 Kg of soil? If that is the case forest and hill soils would be eaten up in no time, every year there must be gaping holes of earth being eaten away from near the root zones! The earth would shrink at rapid rate!

So what gives plants the energy to grow and yield? Photosynthesis, that’s where they draw their energy from.Plants in their natural state draw 95% of their nourishment from the atmosphere and the remaining 5% from the soil. Yielding plants would deplete the soil of some nutrition, but in very negligible quantities. And this depletion is temporary, as there is lot of ‘give and take’ happening in nature. Give it time, whatever was borrowed will be repaid. With nature, the principle can be philosophical, ‘nothing is lost or nothing is gained, things merely change form’.

Van Helmont, was one of the first scientists to publicly lay this false-theory to rest. Here’s the summary of his famous experiment.  He planted a willow sapling in a container that contained 200 pounds of soil. Over this the plant was given nothing but water. After about 5 years or so the sapling grew to a small tree that was 169 pounds in weight, and soil in the pot was 199 pounds and 14 ounces. 2 ounces of soil was lost. So the 169 pound tree came from 2 pounds soil. Further, more experiments from Helmont revealed that on an average it took 1kg of nutrients from the soil to produce 1300Kg plant growth.

Tests conducted on Indian paddy confirmed this fact
Fields showed the following results, for every hectare of
Paddy grown, 5 tonnes of rice (10-13 tonnes of paddy, including husk, bio-mass etc) was extracted, and only 9Kgs of nutrients was used up  to achieve this.


#5

Continuing with my answer – Now, it’s clear that the quantity of nutrients lost from the soil is miniscule in comparison to the output gained by the plant, by way or shoots, leaves and crop Hence, realistically, replenishing the soil after harvest is not as hard as it’s made out to be. A part of the bio-mass of the plant ( plant parts, stem, straw , husk etc in short term crops, and leaves dead shoots , fallen shoots twigs etc in long term crop) if returned to the soil will be enough to replenish it. To get an understanding of this system, observe nature’s ways of maintaing soil fertility. A practical demonstration of this happens in the forest soils.

When soil fertility is being discussed, remember it is the top 9 inches of he soil that’s being referred to. This is also known as the top-soil. The top soil is comprised of portions of organic carbon, humus, nutrients and apart from all this, micro-organuisms.This is the portion of soil from where the roots derive it’s nutrients from. Scientists themselves marvel at the intricacies of soil are unable to fully understand or  explain the
amazing system that’s there in the soil.

To give you layman’s outline of this – The soil, its existence, health, fertility all depends on the Micro-organisms that exist on it. The role played by he micro-organisms in maintaing soil and plant health is varied and vast. Their activity counter-balances the soil. They convert plant waste and vegetable matter to nutrients in the soil. The help convert the nutrients into forms that can absorb by plants and help the roots absorb them. There are vast amount of minerals on the lower layers of soil. Earthworms eat the lower layers of soil and send their castings upwards, these minerals also can get to the top layer of soil by capillary action, the micro organisms help the plant absorb these minerals. There is a two-way traffic system between soil and plants; as per this micro-organisms not only supply nutrients from soil to plant, they also bring the excess back from plants to soil after the plants are done within them. Any nutrients that the plant has absorbed during the growth stage are returned to the soil when a leaf yellows and dies. There may be temporary shortage and borrowing of elements here and here, but on a longer run they get balanced, provided this system in nature is not tampered with.

Unfortunately, the operations  practised in modern chemical farming go on to destroy each and every step of the naturally sustainable fertilizing systems of soil. This completely arrests replenishment of soils, and this is why chemically cultivated top-soils show nutritional deficiencies. Chemical fertilizer kills the micro-organisms in the soil, chemical weeding results in no plant bio mass in the soil. Even if some part of leaves and plat are put to he soil, it will be difficult for he micro-organism to break-them down and convert the to nutrients because of he chemical content in them. So also with earth-worms that get killed, so here’s no rotation of soil.

Modern chemical farming destroys every stage of natural system and completely arrests all forms of replenishment. The self-sustain fertilizing system of soil is rendered useless. All these hamper the ability of the several agents in soil that put back the nutrition. This is why cultivated top soils show severe deficiency of nutrients, because there are only withdrawals from the soil and hardly any deposits in any form. And not to mention the most vital micr-organisms are eliminated in large numbers.

There is no need to dump tones of organic fertilizer / cow dung on the soil (this is only a hangover from the NPK thinking, where one calculates the quantity of nitrogen etc supplied and tries to math it with cow-dung) There is an easier way out. Basic simple practices like leaving mulch on the soil,sustaining the micro-organisms, and feeding  them with veg/matter bio-mass. This will ensure that MO volume Increases and they themselves will take care of the nutrition in the soil.


#6

Thanks once again, this is really useful insight. I am not questioning your logic, but would certainly like to incite the aggressive natural farmer into further discussion.  :stuck_out_tongue:

You say the input and output get balanced in nature. While this seems plausible in a natural setting like in a forest as you say, isn’t the situation vastly different in cropping? In a forest, all the vegetative matter produced gets back to the soil, whereas in a crop, the output (which is a significant part) is taken away from the field and never given back to the soil. Whatever mulches or manures we apply are just a fraction of what we take away. How would the balance still be restored in a cropping situation?

Further, you are questioning the basic principles of known science, where plants take C, H, O from the atmosphere and all other nutrients come straight from the soil. While C, H, O form a significant part of the biomass produced, if the other elements such as N, P, K are not replenished (and continuously taken away as grain and fodder for example), it appears logical there has to some way to supply these back to the soil.

You say these come from the natural soil reservoir - facilitated by earthworms, microbes etc. The question would be whether this is substantial to support the high yielding crops we now cultivate. How would you explain soils natively deficient in some minerals? For example, if the soil has no potassium producing minerals, how can earthworms or microbes generate these for productive farming? If this were possible, every bit of soil (barring say saline, sodic soils etc.) should be equally nutritive and productive?

I see you note you do some natural farming. Would you mind sharing your first hand experience with some supporting pictures? Again, this is productive discussion and I am sure is of interest to many.

Further, if anyone else would like to add information or experiences on organic/natural farming, please feel free.


#7

My pleasure to be incited :slight_smile:

[quote]You say the input and output get balanced in nature. While this seems plausible in a natural setting like in a forest as you say, isn’t the situation vastly different in cropping? In a forest, all the vegetative matter produced gets back to the soil, whereas in a crop, the output (which is a significant part) is taken away from the field and never given back to the soil. Whatever mulches or manures we apply are just a fraction of what we take away. How would the balance still be restored in a cropping situation?
[/quote]

Mate, you have missed the point made in my 2nd post, citing Van Helmont’s experiment. I repeat, crop and vegetative growth of plants take only a tiny fraction of their weight from the soil. It takes only extremely small quantities of the contents from the soil, to produce a much higher amount and quantity of crop.  IN other words the entire mass of the crop and vegetative growth need not be put back to the soil to compensate for the nutrients drawn. Forget the crop, even a small portion say 20% of the foliage, or even the weeds in the area, slashed down and given back to the soil is sufficient to replenish it. In the experiments that I’ve mentioned, in one, it took only 2 ounces of soil to produce 169 pounds of plant growth, and in the other with paddy it took only about 9kgs of soil to produce 10-13 tonnes of paddy This is typically from  the cropping/field situation that you talk about. Now how much 2 ounces against the  189 pounds or 9 kgs against the 10-13 tonnes?

Here, I would like to draw your attention to an experiment conducted by Shri.Subhash Palekar, and his  findings. The plants used, banana, sugarcane and grapes, were all taken out from the cropping fields. These plants along with the crop were pulled out of the soil, and the soil cleaned off the roots. Now the weight of the whole plant with the leaves, stem, crop and roots was taken and recorded. Then they were put in dry cement plastered surface and made to dry-out in sunlight. When they were completely dried, their mass were taken and recorded. It was found that on an average the plants lost 78% of their weight, on drying. Now what does this tell you? That 78% of the plant mass is made up of water. The remaining 22% o the bio-mass was taken and burnt. The smoke emitted along with the flames liberated the organic carbon absorbed by the plant from the carbon dioxide into the air. That is the energy drawn by photosynthesis. Only about 1.5 to 2.5% of the mass remained when the left-over ashes were weighed. Goes to show that plant absorb only 1.5-2.5% of their nutrients from the soil, rest are absorbed from the atmosphere, sunlight and water.

[quote]Further, you are questioning the basic principles of known science, where plants take C, H, O from the atmosphere and all other nutrients come straight from the soil. While C, H, O form a significant part of the biomass produced, if the other elements such as N, P, K are not replenished (and continuously taken away as grain and fodder for example), it appears logical there has to some way to supply these back to the soil.
[/quote]

Frankly, I have no qualms questioning certain principles of science, for the simple reason that there are so many things on earth that science cannot explain. Using science as a medium for guidance, and seeking knowledge is fine but to have blind-faith in it is simply not wisdom.Science is not by any means the be-all and end-all or last word on earth. Confining one’s thinking to the limits decided by science, would result only in restricting one’s horizons.

However, in this particular case I have not questioned the findings of science. I’ll explain why.

What does the known science of agronomy say on plant nutrition?

This is what it has to say -

Plants extract their nutrient from two sources – the atmosphere and the soil. Here again, leaves produce more that 95% of the plant’s constitutive nutrition where as roots in spite of their big tangled mass and hard labour produce less than 5% of it’s nutrition. Another equally important observation is that the plants feed quantitatively from the atmosphere and qualitatively from the soil. There are 34 elements necessary fro plant growth; they are divided into two groups – 1) those derived from the atmosphere 2) those derived from the soil.

Here are their details of the elements constituting the plant.

I. ELEMENTS DERIVED FROM ATMOSPHERE.
Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen These 4 vital elements
represent 92-98% of a plants dry weight

II. ELEMENTS FROM THE SOIL

12 vital elements – phosphorous, boron, calcium, magnesium, sulpher, iron, manganese, molybdenum, copper, zinc, potassium and chlorine.

18 Secondary micro-nutrients – (the role of some of which science is not fully able to explain yet)
Lithium, sodium, rubidium, cesium, fluorine, silicon, selenium, cobalt, iodine, strontium, barium, aluminum, vanadium, tin, nickel, chromium, beryllium and bromine

All these elements from soil, that is 12 vital elements plus the 18 secondary elements together, represent only 2-5% of a plant’s dry weight.

Now isn’t this what  have saying throughout my posts and with the examples I had given?

I have not questioned this  basic principle of agronomy as I felt it was consistent with the experiment of Helmonte, the experiment on pady, the experiments of Palekar as wel as what I see on practical basis in my farm.

My Dear friend, now you have questioned the basic principle of known science without realising so! Modern chemical farming with it’s propaganda has created an illusion that plants take 50% of their nutrition from the soil and hence it’s an absolute must to apply heavy doese of fertilizer to grow plants. Here what I have qustioned is the distortion of  the basic principle of science. The '5% absorption  from the soil ’ has been conviently ingored and instead an impression of ‘50% absorption’ has been given.

Hmm let’s for a moment go to the replenishment done using NPK. When you buy a complex fertiser say 18:18:18  it means you get only 54% content on that bag, remaing 46% is filler,that  you pay for without realizing. The normal dosage for a plant would be 250 grams each. When you apply 250 grams to this plant , on paper each plant should get 45 grams of N , 45 grams of P and 45 grams of K. At least 50% of this is lost due to oxidation and dissolution.So approximately 22.5 grams go near a plant, out of which , the most a plant would have draw into the roots is 11.25 grams.So if the application is a 100kg per acre the real absorption by the plant would come to only 13.5 kilos. So here the fertilization can is only 13.5% effective. Now does fertlising appear to be as ‘heavy’ as it sounds? The famer just assumes he has applied 100 kg and feels satisfied!

In nature’s language, there are no good or bad soils. It’s only a question on how much effort is required to improve a soil. Even degenerated soils can be recuerated.With green cover and micro-organisms barren soils can be regenerated to productive soils

Yes, indeed, there is a huge unlimited reservoir of minerals and nutrients in the soil. Again, you have over-looked another point that I had made in my previous post. I.e. - Deficiencies in the
Soil are limited to top 9-12 inches of soil. Yes, the only the top soil shows deficiencies( that too when the natural system in place is broken). After the top-soil, the deeper you go in the soil the more the nutrient mineral, content will be. You don’t have to take my word on this! Go to any trained geologist and he’ll tell you as much. Geologist, world-over have confirmed that the mineral and nutrient content increase, the deeper you go into the soil. You can even verify this from your yard/farm. Collect soil samples, of the top soil, the soil from 12 inches down, 24 inches down and send them to reliable lab. You will see that the content of minerals -calcium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, magnesium, ferrous, sodium etc will be highest as you go deeper in the soil. This is the abundant natural reservoir that was talking about.Another thing that has to pointed out is  that the content of organic carbon and humus will be the highest in the top-soil and keeps decreasing as you go deeper. So the humus and he micro-organisms in the top soil have to work to get the minerals absorbed by the roots.There is this mechanism in soil to bring the minerals on the lower levels to the upper level where it can be absorbed by plants. No,earthworms don’t manufacture soil, but they do eat up soil from the lowest levels come-up and go-down. This ensures circulation of the soils, the earthworm after eating the soils below comes up and leaves it’s castings on the top. This ensures minerals reach the top soil.

Yes ,all soils can be improved. But that does no mean all of them can yield equally. There are so many other factors that determine crop apart from soil. No matter by how much you improve coastal/beach soil you still can’t grow cardamom in that! This is because each plant requires certain conditions -like altitude, humidity etc.Often in the same hill, in the same area, growing the same crop, different areas yield differently. Northern slope may yield more that the southern slope. There are so many other factors like lie of the land, slope aspect, sunlight, wind, etc that determine yield.

Patience pal, I will give you some pics, if you can wait! I am not an arm-chair farmer, whatever bit I share with you comes from hands-on experiences in the field that have made me think and discuss

More than my pics, real farm visits would help you more. There are many accomplished natural-farmers like Shri.Bhaskar Save, Subhash Palekar, Jayant Barve that you should get in touch with. They will be able to give much more than I do.

always with the farmer

Best regards.


#8

Hello cowherd,

Good info, all the more valuable coming from a ‘pull-up-your-sleeves-and-get-your-hands-dirty’ farmer! You convince me organic/natural farming is indeed practical - well, almost. I will await the pics, and will meanwhile attempt to stretch your patience further. In addition, it would be nice if you could add your introduction in the http://farmnest.com/forum/general-discussion/the-farmer-introductions/ topic.

Here are a few follow on questions.

[ol]
[li] Are you suggesting almost any soil, even if deficient, can regenerate itself with natural farming? [/li]
[li] My understanding is earthworms and microbes are active and mine in the top soil alone. Do you disagree that the churning is limited even if he lower layers have adequate nutrients?[/li]
[li] When you say Nitrogen is taken by plants from the atmosphere, I assume you are referring to the leguminous plants that indirectly do that by symbiosis with Rhizobia; and in most other plants, it comes from the soil as well.
I do agree that the nutrient absorption from soil is only a part of total plant nutrient needs, though I can not comment on the percentage offhand. However do you not agree that plants fail to reach full potential even if micrograms of a micronutrient are unavailable. Do you support chemical fertilization for correcting such deficiencies, or believe these will be automatically taken care of by nature?[/li]
[li] In your experience, did you see crops yield better quality and 85-90% yields where fertilizers and pesticides have not been traditionally been used - such as in the North East India and some of the ‘less developed’ countries?[/li]
[li] My question remains on how pests and diseases are managed without use of chemicals - as I said even a kitchen garden can sometimes not be saved from complete devastation. What realistic alternatives do you suggest will work?[/li]
[li] My question remains on how natural farming requires less water.[/li][/ol]

Also, can you detail how exactly you have applied these principles in practice? I believe that would be helpful to a lot of other practitioners.

Thanks for your practical answers and your time. I would like to get these perspectives before all of us and would certainly look forward to visiting some of these farms.

Best regards.


#9

Here is the perspective of Dr. J.S. Kanwar, former prof & Head, PAU and currently Advisor, Organic Agriculture, ITS Ltd. Dr. Kanwar suggests organic production is the way to go.

farmnest.com/forum/farming-news- … her-earth/


#10

Hello Chandra,

            Here are the pics that you have been wanting. I mainly grow coffee, along with pepper.Don’t think the photos of a farm tell the whole story, nothing like taking a walk in the farm and looking around.








#11

The pics tell a lot already if not all the story! Thanks for posting pics - it is a heavenly farm I see.

Are you open to letting anyone into your farm nest?  :wink:


#12

[font=courier]This is purely natural farming, 100% organic.

Of course you are welcome to visit my farm[/font]


#13

[font=courier]Hi Chandra,

                Moving on to our discussion; I’ll take your questions one by one, will be easier to explain.[/font]

[font=courier]Yes, absolutely. In fact, most of the principles of natural farming are aimed at the soil; the reasoning being if the soils are restored and maintained healthy, automatically the plants and the crops in them  will also be healthy.[/font]

[font=courier]The role that earthworms play in soil conditioning and fertility is underrated. The contributions of earthworms go unnoticed because they are not seen at work (most of them are night crawlers) and their influence on the soil-systems have not been carefully understood.[/font]

[font=courier]The activity of the earthworms is not limited to the top soil alone. Before proceeding on this, would like to engage you in an observation. Look for cow-dung droppings outdoors, could be anywhere,in the yard, or in the streets. If you lift any dropping that’s a few hours old and examine the underneath, you will invariably find at least 2 holes. These holes will be seen on the soil surface below the dung as well as the bottom surface of the dung. One is that of the beetle-bug and the other is that of the earthworm. Both burrow their way up from the deep soil; enter the dung and then return. This happens even in the hardest surfaces. I have seen this even in semi-paved surfaces and broken concrete surfaces. The traces of the burrowed mud can be seen the dung. This demonstrates that earthworms operate below the top soil too.

Earthworms can be dormant and can remain deep in the soil. When soil conditions and environs are conducive they can travel their way up even from 15 feet and under. In soils with fair amount of mulching there will a minimum of 4-5 earthworms in a squarefoot.This translates to 1, 75,000- 2, 00,000 earthworms per acre. Round it to 2 lakhs.No every worm digs 2 holes every day.  It starts from the deep soil, eats it’s way up, deposits the casting on the top sail and digs it’s way back into the deep soil. Now this means that there are 4 lakh holes in an acre! Can you imagine the aeration, water retention etc that happens because of these 4 lakh tunnels? Now during rainy season all the water collects in these holes and it’s deposited deep into the soil by gravitational force. After rain, during summer all the water stores slowly comes up by capillary action, when it comes up it brings up the mineral and nutrient elements in the lower layers of soil to the root zone. Studies have shown that earthworms improve the water absorption of soil upto 35 times. In another study, Soil in a field with 100 earthworms per square yard, 2 inches of water (a very heavy rainfall) could be absorbed by the soil in 12 minutes. The same soil without earthworms took over 12 hours to absorb that much water… Now this is the physical side of the earthworm action. Let’s not forget the chemical/biological side of it. Soil passed through the earthworm intestines works magic. The castings formed are granule like, do not dissolve in water and are easily absorbed by plants. Castings contain 5 times more nitrogen, 7 times more phosphate, 11 times more potash, 2 times calcium and 4 times more magnesium than regular soil. In addition to this beneficial bacteria and micro organisms are 13 times more in castings. These include decomposing bacteria, symbiotic and asymbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria, fungus, actiniomycetes, azotobactor, azospirillium etc proving that earthworm intestines are amazing bio-reactors. This apart, earthworms actually eat the bad microbes (fungi, bacteria, etc.)too
Tests have shown that crops grown in earthworm-inhabited soil increased yields from 25% to over 300% than in earthworm-free soil.( K.P. Barley, Advances in Agronomy, vol. 13, 1961, p. 262-264) In another study in America, Soil samples from a field not fertilized for 5 years but with an active earthworm population was analyzed. Based on the reported analyses it was found that 100 tons of earthworm castings will contain 4 lbs. of nitrate nitrogen, 30 lbs. of phosphorus, 73 lbs. of potassium, 90 lbs. of magnesium, 500 lbs. of calcium. That is the equivalent to a
4-69-86 fertilizer and 3/4 ton of limestone worth $34.15 per acre with no fee for spreading or transportation.]

Now isn’t the old saying  ‘the earthworms are  the farmer’s best friends’ true?![/font]


#14

It is true that 95% inputs for the plants come for atmosphere and 5% from soil, but why so much dependency on this 5%? How is this explained? Typically if this 5% is not there in the soil, the complete crop fails?

Regards,
Nandan


#15

Welcome to another natural farmer!
I believe any nutrient that is unavailable becomes the limiting factor - each nutrient has a role to play in plant metabolism and lack of any - even the tiny amount of a micronutrient - prevents proper growth and expression.

What has been your experience with natural farming?

cowherd - interesting perspective on earthworms, I look forward to your responses on the remaining questions. Thank you.


#16

My experience with natural farming…

I was earlier into IT field, and recently left full time job and now 50% is into farming and 50% in IT consultancy. I have 9.25 acres of land in Palakkad,Kerala and bought this land 2 years back. Since April I live close to the farm. I have mainly coconuts,banana,some mango trees, some vegetables…trying to do paddy this time.

It is too early for me to comment on my experience…But since last 2 years I have been doing natural farming and at least some of the coconut trees started yielding good. Since I was not present in the farm, even proper mulching with coconut husks,leaves were not done, it was partial…But I didn’t apply any kind of manure, not even compost…Now the whole farm has good amount of mulching with grass and I can see the land becoming fertile. Banana also is yielding good if the grass is controlled by cutting and mulched at proper time. I did paddy last time, but I think lacked experience in doing no-till paddy, hopefully in couple of years can master on this. My blog where I keep a brief on my experience can be accessed.

farming-experiments.blogspot.com/

Regards,
Nandan


#17

[quote]3.When you say Nitrogen is taken by plants from the atmosphere, I assume you are referring to the leguminous plants that indirectly do that by symbiosis with Rhizobia; and in most other plants, it comes from the soil as well.
I do agree that the nutrient absorption from soil is only a part of total plant nutrient needs, though I can not comment on the percentage offhand. However do you not agree that plants fail to reach full potential even if micrograms of a micronutrient are unavailable. Do you support chemical fertilization for correcting such deficiencies, or believe these will be automatically taken care of by nature?[/quote]

[font=courier]Here,I was referring to nature’s methods of nitrogen management.This amazing system is not normally obvious. When scientists attempted to study and interpret it scientifically they understood that Mother Nature was the supreme scientist and creator combined! This system is called the Nitrogen –cycle by scientists, practically every biology, botany, and agriculture text book will have simplified diagram form of it, for easy understanding.

The atmosphere with it’s 78-79% nitrogen content is the boundless nitrogen source. Nitrogen enters the earth and it’s living beings only from here. Nitrogen can enter the living world (plants and animals) only through microbial action. In fact it is estimated that 85-90% of nitrogen entering earth and soil comes through microbial mediation. The only exception to this, or shall we say the remaining 10-15% of the soil nitrogen, comes through lightening and rain. This happens when atmospheric nitrogen get absorbed and dissolved into the rain drops/water/clouds with the aid of lightening, and gets deposited into the earth along with rain-shower and lightening. Other than this nitrogen gets fixed in the soil only biologically/microbially.The Symbiotic Rhizobia that you mentioned happens to one o the many ways through which nitrogen is fixed microbialy.Then , of course when dead plant and animal matter decays, it releases nitrogen back to the soil, but this nitrogen has been absorbed by them through the sources mentioned above. Then there’s this there is an artificial, man made process (Industrial fixation), let me be clear, I was not referring to this artificial process here!

Again, the first stage of the process in Nitrogen getting fixed in the soil in the form of Ammonia.Then you have certain microbes converting the ammonia into nitrite. Then another se of microbes convert the nitrite to nitrate and then only it gets absorbed by the plants. This system of nature is so efficient in terms of energy as well as utilization, there’s no wastage or leaching out. The beauty of this system is you don’t even have to understand or learn it, you can just trust nature blindly and get it right!

So here’s it in a nutshell. N in the atmosphere reaches he soil through, rainwater, lightening and by biological fixation.

Plants can be classifieds as monocot and dicot.

The rhyzobium bacteria are situated in the root nodules of leguminous dicot plants absorb nitrogen from the air and deposit it near the root zones of plants as ammonia, in exchange for carbohydrates or energy from the roots. Since they work in symbiosis with the hoots they are called symbiotic bacteria.

In the case of monocot crops they don’t have bacterial colonies in the root nodes like dicots. Instead they rely on a different bacterial species that functions independently, absorbs atmospheric N and deposits ammonia near their roots in the soil. Since these bacteria do not work in association with roots like rhyzobium, they are known as asymbiotic (or is it non-symbiotic, I forget!). They function independently and are seen near monocot plants including grasses and several plants that are considered weeds!Azotobactor, Azospirilluim fall into his category.

Besides these, other bacteria are also known to fix N to he soil. Blue green algae, azola, anabena algae, frankia (symbiotic with monocots), acromobactor, aerobactor, granulabactor, radiobactor, pseudomonas, decomposer fungus, actinomycetes etc.

All the above only convert N to ammonia. And deposit in the soil. Then come the Nitrosomanas and the Nitrobactor. The Nitrosomanas converts the ammonia into nitrite.Then the Nitrobactor converts the nitrite into nitrate. Only in the nitrate form can the plants absorb N.

Now this is the case with Nitrogen. Since you have mentioned nutrients, I am touching the other elements too, very briefly.

It is exactly the same with other elements too. Most other elements present in the soil cannot be absorbed by plants as they are. Microbial action helps plants assimilate them or convert them into forms that can be absorbed by them. For e.g. - elements like phosphorous, sulphur, selenium are turned to phosphate, sulphate and seleniates by microbes for plant absorption. Other elements like iron, manganese, molybdenum, borax, copper etc need to chelated, converted in form for plant absorption. Of the 32 elements at least 20 elements are absorbed by plants only after microbial chelation.

So it simply having these elements in the soil does not count, unless the soil has he microbes to make it work on plants. This is why sometimes soil-test reports are not even worth the value of the paper they are written on!

Farmers and scientists have to get rid the false-notion that plants have a direct mineral diet. It is simply not so, plants absorb only that part of the minerals and elements that has been coverted into simpler structures and  simpler forms by microbes.

Yes, you are right deficiencies of micro-grams of a particular element can result in a plant not fulfilling it’s potential. However, when you say deficiency, I would not consider it a defeciency of the soil. I would consider it some flaw in the  system, where the elements which are in abundance in the lower levels are not reaching the top soil. Basically a tampered system; could be because of several factors soil erosion, sun scorching or excessively chemical led soils. Correction by the chemical method is not a permanent solution; it will be temporary and will come back.The permanent solution would be restore the soil  and it’s other microbial and macrobial elements and make the system complete gain.

Modern chemical farming is never good at permanent solutions.Consider this cruel joke it plays on the farmer – asks him to fortify his soil with chemicals, resulting in acidity in the soil, decline in microbial life, thereby decrease in availability of nutrients in the soil. Then the plants show lack of nutritional elements and  they are administered with stronger doses of chemicals and sprays. Then they try to make up for the damage, and how? By doing more damage, applying more chemicals.Each time he applies another dose of chemical to compensate for the lack of nutrition, he ends up destroying whatever’ s left of the in built system in soil for fertility.On top of this the modern farming advises the farmer to undo the damage by liming the soil and then culture the soil microbes multiply them i the lab and then put them back to the soil, all at his cost!

Think about your gold jewellery. Suppose you wanted to get it polished. The guy who polishes used an extremely strong solution resulting in your gold wearing-off and thinning considerably.He then agrees to rebuild the gold, using extra gold and labour at your cost, how would you react? Some you may go grab a gun and shoot him, some of you may manhandle him, some may hand him over to the cops. Even the mildest of you may ask him to get lost, so that you will never have to see him again. Now, why should this be any different when someone does the same to your soil? :slight_smile:
After all, your soil is much more valuable than gold, for it feeds you, your family and your nation.

regards,
cowherd[/font]


#18

Thanks cowherd.
What are your thoughts on:

[quote]4. In your experience, did you see crops yield better quality and 85-90% yields where fertilizers and pesticides have not been traditionally been used - such as in the North East India and some of the ‘less developed’ countries?

  1. My question remains on how pests and diseases are managed without use of chemicals - as I said even a kitchen garden can sometimes not be saved from complete devastation. What realistic alternatives do you suggest will work?

  2. My question remains on how natural farming requires less water.[/quote]


#19

[quote]4. In your experience, did you see crops yield better quality and 85-90% yields where fertilizers and pesticides have not been traditionally been used - such as in the North East India and some of the ‘less developed’ countries?
[/quote]
[font=courier][/font]

When it comes to quality, the truth remains that chemically grown crop can never match naturally grown. It is impossible to attain the quality of naturally farmed crops by chemical aided farming.

The industrial revolution called for mass-production, pointing that  the increase in the number units produced will decrease the cost of production per unit. Here the focus was only on quantity, with total disregard to quality. The same was carried on to agriculture in the form of chemical farming. Here the cheapest calorie produced is definitely not the healthy, safe or tasty calorie. But that didn’t matter till the consumer never distinguished between a good healthy calorie and cheap unsafe calorie,assuming all calories to be the same! In reality it is not the proper fruit/vegetable/food that chemical farming produces, it is something that is made to resemble fruit/vegetable/food with the aid of urea and other chemicals.

It is interesting to see what Masanobu Fukuoka and Sir Albert Howard have said in this regard.Fukuoka called commercial vegetables a watery chemical concoction of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash with little help from the seed. He thought  they were not products of nature but man made synthetic in the shape of fruit, vegetable or egg. To quote Sir Albert Howard  -“Artificial manures lead inevitably to artificial nutrition, artificial food, artificial animals and finally to artificial men and women”

Naturally grown crop has any day superior. It has thinner outer skin and hence larger content/percentage of fruit or crop. Any nutritional analysis in the lab will say more. It will have more nutrition, anti-oxidants than chemical crop; also no pesticide, chemical residues. This is as far as the lab goes.They have higher aroma, taste and are easier on the stomach than chemical crops.

Have found my naturally grown crop to be vastly superior to chemical crop, by lab tests and otherwise.My fruit/bean percentage to husk is higher; caffeine content is 25% more than that of chemical coffee. Also each bean is at least 10-20% heavier, not to mention the other parameters like richer  taste, flavour, aroma, shelf life etc.

Chandra, please treat yourself to some naturally grown stuff, fruit, vegetable, rice/grains, or whatever… Feel it, touch it ,smell it, hold it in your tongue for a while, taste it. See how your your sensory organs feel about it, see how your body accepts it.This ought to tell you more than any nutritional/lab test can.


#20

Very insightful. The artificial men and women bit is hilarious!  :wink:

Coming from a natural farmer, the superiority of natural products in action is certainly very convincing. I am tempted not just to touch, feel and taste but to grow some ‘real’ food as well! Thanks and look forward to the rest.