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Intelligent Farming Can Reduce the Need for Pesticides and Fertilisers: Research

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on October 29th, 2012

“Figure 3. Multiple indicators of cropping system performance” from Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health

From “A Simple Fix for Farming” by Mark Bittman:

It’s becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States.

[…]

Read the full article by Mark Bittman on the NY Times Opinionator blog, or check out the research paper, published on plos one:

“Results of our study indicate that more diverse cropping systems can use small amounts of synthetic agrichemical inputs as powerful tools with which to tune, rather than drive, agroecosystem performance, while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems.”  Davis AS, Hill JD, Chase CA, Johanns AM, Liebman M (2012) Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health. PLoS ONE 7(10): e47149. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047149


Food Economies without Fossil Fuels: Animation

Posted in Tools, Visions by Kate Archdeacon on September 17th, 2012

Source: Sustainable Food Trust


Screen grab from the animation by Marija Jacimovic & Benoit Detalle

>> Driving food economies without fossil fuels

A short animation by Marija Jacimovic based upon Michael Pollan’s talk “Food Rules” given at the RSA. Not only are we going to have to learn to drive an industrial economy without fossil fuels, we’re going to have to learn to create a lot of food without using them. Here are some of Michael’s snippets of sense on the matter.

>>Watch the animation on the Sustainable Food Trust website.


Chemical Free Farming

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on June 29th, 2010

Source: The Ecologist


From “Malawi reaps the reward of returning to age-old, chemical-free farming” by Molly Stevenson:

Mr Kanjanga is a farmer from Ntcheu District in Phambala, Malawi. In 1975, having seen the deteriorating effect that the application of chemical fertilisers was having on his crops, he decided to return to the composting techniques he had seen used by his father in the 1930s. His crops started to improve so significantly that he decided to set up the Lipangwe Organic Manure Demonstration Farm (LOMADEF) in 1980 so as to share his learning with fellow farmers. He decided that the most effective way to make sure that the learning reached as many people as possible would be to train community members to act as Agricultural Advisors in their communities. LOMADEF set about carefully selecting Agricultural Advisors on the basis of their innovative approach to farming, training them in sustainable farming techniques and in communication and facilitation skills so they can pass on their learning to fellow farmers.

Eveline Msngwa, an Agricultural Advisor from Bwese village, has been working with LOMADEF for ten years. The land that she and her husband Charles own is a textbook in sustainable farming practices. In one corner of the field are three heaps of harvested maize. The first heap was planted using only chemical fertilisers, the second using a basal compost top dressed with chemical fertiliser and the third using basal compost and liquid manure. ‘As you can see each heap is more or less the same size. Our fellow farmers can clearly see that there is little to gain in using chemical fertiliser. In fact when you use chemical fertiliser you effectively make a loss because you spend more money on the crop!’

There are also a variety of crops in their field. Eveline and Charles have planted nitrogen-fixing crops such as soya, groundnuts, pigeon peas and cowpeas that replenish lost nutrients in the soil. And, instead of simply growing maize as their staple crop they are now growing cassava and sweet potatoes. As a result they are less vulnerable to crop failure and have a variety of produce to sell at the market. ‘We have made 20,000 kwa (£185) from the sale of the cassava and the sweet potato crops. We are going to invest this profit in cultivating the additional land that we have. We have also already bought goats with some of the profits and have been using the manure in maize production. We were the first family in our village to do this.’

Just as Eveline and Charles’ successes serve as an example to their fellow farmers, so LOMADEF’s efforts have helped to pave the way towards a new approach to farming at a national level. After a number of years of promoting subsidised fertiliser and hybrid seeds as the best way to increase harvests, the Malawian Ministry of Agriculture, prompted by a rise in global fertiliser prices, decided that it was time to look into different ways forward. They therefore decided to hold a national composting launch at LOMADEF and a range of government officials, NGOs, businesses and farmers made their way out to the remote farm to watch demonstrations on a range of different composting techniques.

As a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture remarked in a speech at the launch, LOMADEF has demonstrated that ‘there is a need for an intensification of soil fertility management activities especially manure-making, conservation agriculture, and agro-forestry if we are going to have a hunger free nation.’

Read the full article by Molly Stevenson.