Category Archives: Soil

The Hydroponic Threat to Organic Food

Counterpunch – Jun 26, 2019 – DAVE CHAPMAN

Real Organic Demonstration photo: linley_dixon.

In the last 7 years there has been a quiet redefinition taking place in the USDA National Organic Program that oversees organic standards. Large scale industrial producers have insinuated themselves into organic certification to transform what the green and white label stands for.

Original organic was based on a simple equation:

Healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy animals = healthy planet.

This equation leaves out the discussion of WHY these things are true, but it is a good roadmap for what organic agriculture is all about. The first given is always “healthy soil.” As we look deeper, we cannot study these parts separately, because plants and animals are integral parts of healthy soil system. No plants means no healthy soil. The same is true with animals. Soil and plants coevolved for 350 million years, and neither can be healthy in isolation from the other. The dance between plants, microbial life, and animal life in the soil is necessary for all.

Western soil science got started with the work of Justus von Liebig (1803-1873). From Liebig’s perspective, soil was a passive storage bin for plant nutrients. However, in Charles Darwin’s 1881 book The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, these ideas were challenged by a vision of the soil as a living ecosystem. But Liebig’s viewpoint dominated Western soil science until the 1980’s when the role of organisms in soil formation became better understood. Liebig himself even turned away from his “storage bin” paradigm in the later part of his life, but our agricultural sciences continued to follow his earlier writings.

If we take away plants, soil can no longer be living. Plants provide the energy via photosynthesis for all animal and microbial life in the soil. These photosynthates are provided first as root exudates that feed the fungi and bacteria in exchange for which they gain the minerals that in turn feed the plants. The visible life forms are as important as the invisible microbial community. Soil animals go from burrowing woodchucks and gophers to snails, slugs and elongate animals such as earthworms, flatworms, nematodes, soil mites, springtails, ants, termites, beetles and flies. All of these species together create a community that is often called the soil food web.

Organic farming is based on protecting and enhancing this web of life. By cultivating the diversity of life, we create a stable ecosystem in the soil. Diseases or pestilence are symptoms of a loss of balance. So the organic farmer’s first job is to enhance the diversity of life in the soil community. This is done by providing materials and techniques to help build a soil carbon sponge.

Conventional agriculture is based on a very different strategy of control and simplification. By making systems that are as simple as possible, it becomes easy to control the inputs and outputs. The inputs are processed offsite to provide plant available nutrients. “Soil” becomes a device for holding roots. It is thus easier to make these systems replicable, much like the model of a McDonald’s restaurant. McDonald’s simplifies their systems as much as possible to serve the same hamburger to every customer around the world. In such a system the expertise is contained in the corporate staff who design the processes and provides the raw materials. The problem is a loss of nutrition in the final product. McDonald’s serves lots of calories that soothe customers’ cravings, but they fail at providing a healthy diet. The end result is the phenomena of customers who are simultaneously malnourished and obese.

Similarly, in a conventional agriculture system, the yields are high per acre, but, as Vandana Shiva has said, the yield of health per acre is low. As it turns out, we are part of that co-evolution of soil and plants and animals. Human nutritional needs are complex and beyond our full understanding at this point. But organic farmers believe that by embracing those natural systems, we can feed ourselves well, even if we never fully understand why.

As Einstein once said, there is a simplicity that comes before complexity that is worthless, but there is a simplicity beyond complexity that is priceless.

These simplified conventional systems have been promoted by an industry that profits by selling remedies to the unintended consequences of such crude simplicity. Their high yields are unsustainable without the liberal use of poisons. Plants grown in a soil devoid of biological complexity are very vulnerable to disease and insect attack. And of course, the more we use such poisons, the less healthy the soil becomes, so more pesticides are needed, and on and on.

In livestock production, the epitome of conventional agriculture is a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) where animals are isolated from the land. Their food is grown far from where they live, so their manure is lost to the production system. There is no honoring of Albert Howard’s Law Of Return.

In vegetables and berries, the epitome of conventional agriculture is hydroponic production. Hydroponics is a system that relies entirely upon processed inputs to feed the plants. The old organic adage is, “Feed the soil, not the plant.” The guiding principle of conventional agriculture is: “Feed the plant, not the soil.” Obviously, hydroponic production is the most extreme example of this philosophy.

The practices of organic farming are ancient, but not all traditional farming systems could be called organic by the definition of such pioneers as Albert Howard. Some traditional agriculture was not sustainable and ultimately led to the downfall of civilizations. But organic principles have been practiced in the intensive farming of southeast Asia for over 4000 years. They were learned by Howard in India and subsequently taught in the West. Since then, soil science has confirmed Howard’s ideas to an astonishing degree. Every day we learn more and more about how soil communities function and about why such a system need not depend on pesticides to thrive. Every day we learn more about the connections between the soil microbiome and our own microbiome.

From this logic we derive a conclusion that is important to remember: that the absence of pesticides in a successful organic system is the result of how we farm, not the definition of it.

The organic movement has long believed that food grown in a healthy soil is the foundation of human health. In recent years it has become clear that agriculture is also deeply involved in the climate crisis, both as the problem and as the solution. Conventional agriculture contributes directly to the destruction of the living soil, leading to the spread of deserts and the warming of the planet. We have the skills and understanding to farm without chemicals in a way that will build a soil carbon sponge that can cool our warming planet. Our impediment to achieving this is social and political, not technical.

The inclusion of hydroponics in organic certification is thus not an example of innovation and improvement. It is an example of conquest and colonization. It is simply a hostile takeover of organic by economic forces. It has been widely resisted by the organic community, but the USDA continues to embrace hydroponics as organic just as they embrace CAFOs as organic. Their redefinition of organic is in opposition to the law and to international norms. The US once again becomes the rogue nation throwing away our mutual future so somebody can make a buck.

At this time, huge quantities of hydroponic berries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and greens are being marketed as “Certified Organic” in partnership with the USDA. And there is no way of identifying what is hydroponic in the organic label.

The Real Organic Project was created to challenge this process. Our efforts include the creation of an add-on label so that real organic farmers and eaters might be able to find one another in a deceptive marketplace.

To learn more, please visit us at realorganicproject.org.

SOURCE

Organic Farming Curbs the Spread of Foodborne Pathogens – New Study

Sustainable Pulse – Apr 19, 2019

Organic farming promotes natural resistance to common food-borne human pathogens, according to a study that evaluates the benefit of soil organisms. By protecting valuable species of dung beetles and soil bacteria, organic farming systems naturally act to clean up and decompose potentially pathogen-bearing animal feces.

Source: beyondpesticides.org/

While these natural systems suppress pathogens on organic farms, coventional chemical-intensive farms are left with higher levels of fecal residues and are therefore significantly more likely to yield produce carrying such foodborne pathogens as E. coli. The authors emphasize that curbing the spread of common foodborne pathogens could save thousands of lives and prevent millions of illnesses each year.

The study, “Organic farming promotes biotic resistance to foodborne human pathogens,” published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, compares dung beetle populations, soil bacteria diversity, and feces removal rates on 70 organic and conventional broccoli farm fields across the west coast of the U.S. In addition to studying field conditions, authors conducted additional microcosm studies to directly test the effects of dung beetles and soil microbes on the suppression of introduced E. coli.

Results from field analyses show that organic management practices lead to greater biodiversity among dung beetles and soil microbes, which translate to higher rates of feces removal. Microcosm results confirm that by removing fecal matter, the beetles and microbes retained by organic management reduce potential E. coli contamination. These new findings add to the list of ecosystem services unique to organic farms, further bolstering the case for organic as not only an ecological but an economical solution to global food production.

In the context of recently reviewed insect declines worldwide, this study also serves as a warning of yet another key ecosystem service that will certainly be lost unless a major agricultural transformation to organic systems is mobilized. Dung beetles, whose actions in soils not only protect against pathogens, but also unlock critical nutrients, are in decline. The impacts of dung beetles on soil fertility are vital to the sustainability of farms and pastures used to maintain livestock. By burying and processing feces on cattle farms, dung beetles introduce 80% more nitrogen into the soil than would otherwise remain. By increasing soil organic matter, dung beetles simultaneously increase water infiltration, thus stabilizing farms and heavily grazed areas against erosion, flooding, and drought.

Findings from the present study highlight the need for dung beetle diversity in addition to abundance, since some dung beetles bury feces more effectively than others. Notably, researchers find that the commonly introduced species O. nuchicornis, which tends to dominate over other species and reduce overall diversity, is less effective at burying feces, with consequences for both E. coli contamination and soil fertility. Similarly, previous work attests to the importance of soil microbial diversity for maintaining ecosystem services. The key to healthy produce and fertile soils, across the board, is diversity.

Due to agrochemical use, that precious diversity is in decline. Monitoring in Europe, according to the 2019 review of insect declines, shows the greatest terrestrial loss of insect biodiversity on record to date: more than 60% of documented dung beetle species are in decline. Soil microbial diversity, too, is threatened by continued application of pesticides in industrialized agriculture. Highly toxic gases known as “soil fumigants” are used on a wide range of high-value crops to control nematodes, fungi, bacteria, insects, and weeds. Soil fumigants wipe out entire soil communities, thus necessitating the use of other chemicals  to provide the fertility and pest control services that soil  organisms provide. In addition to fumigating soil, which intentionally kills all  living things in the soil, other chemical-intensive practices also threaten soil  life. Glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide, is also an antibiotic. Glyphosate-tolerant plants release glyphosate into the soil, where it has a continued impact on soil microbial diversity.

Beyond Pesticides holds the position that these patterns carry a lesson. Insects and microbes that act to control crop pests and fertilize the soil reduce the need for pesticide and chemical fertilizer use. Reliance on chemical controls creates a vicious treadmill: pesticide use kills natural agents of pest control, thus creating a demand for more pesticide use, which kills more of the beneficial organisms, and so on.

Join Beyond Pesticides in getting off the toxic treadmill and instead working to build a sustainable food system based on natural control systems. Be a model for your community by creating a pesticide-free zone in your home yard, neighborhood, or even jurisdiction. Add your pesticide free zone to the map by taking our Pesticide Free Zones Survey. Show your neighbors and beyond that a world free of pesticides is both desirable and achievable.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

SOURCE

Biosludged feature film launched at Biosludged.com and BrighteonFilms.com – watch it now

Natural News – November 28, 2018 by: Mike Adams

Two years in the making, the film that’s sure to send shock waves through the “environmentalism” movement has now been launched. The feature documentary Biosludged is available to watch now at Biosludged.com or BrighteonFilms.com.

This powerful, hard-hitting documentary features EPA whistleblower and scientist Dr. David Lewis, author of Science For Sale – How the US Government Uses Powerful Corporations and Leading Universities to Support Government Policies, Silence Top Scientists, Jeopardize Our Health, and Protect Corporate Profits.

Biosludged reveals how the EPA is committing science fraud to allow the ongoing poisoning of our world with toxic sewage sludge that’s being spread on food crops. The criminality and fraud of what’s exposed in this film is truly mind-blowing.

The film also features many other scientists, researchers and citizen activists who are all working to shine the light on the grotesque practice of cities spreading toxic sewage sludge on farms, crop lands, city parks and forests.

Watch the full film at this link now.

SOURCE

From Bankrupt Dairy Farm to Profit: How Compost Saved a Dairy Farm 200K Per Year.

Raleigh Latham – Vimeo Notes: Saturday, April 21, 2018

Vimeo  (12 min) – Australian dairy farmers

I got a chance to interview Elaine Ingham back in January, and she went over one of her most remarkable stories…helping Dairy Farmers on the brink of collapse and suicide flip their operations from bankruptcy to being profitable within a year.

By composting their manure, they were able to save 200K a YEAR on inputs, reverse an environmental hazard(gross manure lagoons), and restore their soil beyond what was seen in generations. While the neighbors could only graze their cows once a season, the ranchers and dairies who used compost were able to graze their cows once every 10 days. What’s extra interesting was hearing how this spread from 3 farmers to 175 within 3 years!

I feel like this is so powerful because it’s simple, scalable, and scientific. Monitor the biology, create the right compost and compost teas, and any landscape can be restored to full productivity, regardless of scale, or damage.

Junk Planet: Is Earth the Largest Garbage Dump in the Universe?

February 22nd, 2018

Commentary on pollution of our air, ocean, water, soil, antibiotic,  GMO,  nano-particles, space junk, military waste.

As noted by Baher Kamal in his commentary on this study: ‘Though some forms of pollution have been reduced as technologies and management strategies have advanced, approximately 19 million premature deaths are estimated to occur annually as a result of the way societies use natural resources and impact the environment to support production and consumption.’ See ‘Desperate Need to Halt “World’s Largest Killer” – Pollution’ and ‘Once Upon a Time a Planet… First part. Pollution, the world’s largest killer’.

And that is just the cost in human lives.

So what are the main types of pollution and where do they end up?

Source

Documentary: In Search of Balance (5 min preview) “ It’s All Connected “

An exploration of a new paradigm of health, science, and medicine, based on the interconnections between us and nature.

At a genetic level, humans are literally connected to the rest of the natural world through our DNA. But today’s highly processed foods, pesticide based mono-culture farming methods, increasing urbanization, obsession with technology and destruction of the natural environment distance us further and further from the world we co-evolved with. We are out of balance with nature and the reductionist philosophy of modern western medicine, once immensely powerful, seems inadequate to answer today’s challenges.

Video link (5 min)

Documentary web site