Dear Dr. Trotter and Sanetters:
A pertinent article (p. 5, research reviews) appeared in the Summer 1998
Information Bulletin of the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
I'll summarize the summary: "Across-the-fence" comparison of organic
and conventional orchards in California. For weed control organic used hand
and mechanical cultivation, conventional used mechanical cultivation
and herbicides. Organic block turned under an annual cover crop as
well as some compost.
Results: Water holding capicity was HIGHER [emphasis mine] in the
conventional plot. "Clean cultivation may have reduced or negated
the positive effects of cover crops and composting by accelerating
oxidation of organic matter. The absence of any measurable
improvement in bulk density, water holding capacity, infiltration
rate or microbial activity in the organic plot supports the idea that
clean cultivation can nullify potential gains from organic matter
inputs." (quoted from the article)
My comments: The main threats to sustainable agriculture in this
country are still the same threats to sus ag around the world since
the beginning of agriculture: soil erosion; loss of soil fertility;
and political, social and economic factors that favor the removal of
small farmers from the land (remember the Dust Bowl? How about
Carthage? The Roman Empire? The Cedars of Lebanon? Ancient Crete?
The Enclosures Movement in England?) And of those I consider soil
erosion numero uno, since it is the hardest to remedy. Modern
technology has certainly accelerated our rapaciousness, but PLEASE
don't overlook the fact that we despoiled large areas of arable land
with no help from herbicides or the internal cumbustion engine. We
were perfectly capable (thank you!) of doing the damage with horses,
mules, fire, oxen, sticks, goats, sheep, etc. (They're all just
tools and may be used for better or worse depending on the user.)
One remedy? I propose an almost certainly unpopular one: tinker
with technology. In this case, I mean better herbicides (I think there's
good, safe ones on the market now, but why shouldn't we always be
working towards even safer ones with lower or no environmental
persistence?) and no-till systems. Steam maybe. Pelargonic acid.
Vinegar. Just better chemicals.
Some herbicide-based, no-till systems have the potential (shoot, not
just the potential--it's happening; see Steve Groff's website) to
increase organic matter (with all the attendant benefits), increase
biological activity, decrease erosion below zero (we're BUILDING soil
This is where we should be focusing. I don't care if the method is
certifiably organic or not. I DO care that we don't let the pull of
the marketplace premiums for organic or the adherence to organic
dogma blind us to the absolute necessity of keeping the soil in place
and improving it.
Nature does not plow.
"He is the greatest patriot who stops the most gullies." Patrick
Guy K. Ames, private citzen and would-be patriot
Donald Trotter wrote:
> I have a topic for discussing that has me perplexed, which of course is not
> all that difficult. Is it no-till vs organic or "Can't we all just get
> along". Dale take the electrodes off of that seed and step back from the
> table. I think your insights on this topic would be valuable to all of us.
> I for one do not use conservation and chemical in the same thought. But
> then I've been accused of only having one thought. So here it is.............
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