The Major Problems Associated with Organic Farming

In spite of all the good things about organically grown crops like drought resistance, higher nutritive value, and increased pest resistance, a lot of farmers still operate by the old-fashioned industrial methods. What are the major drawbacks that are holding back so many farmers from switching over to a clearly better farming method? Let us take a look.

Productivity

Advocates of industrial farming point out to the superior productivity of their method. It is possible to get a much higher crop yield by using massive amounts of chemicals and machinery, working over huge blank fields with a single crop. However, the productivity advantages dwindle over time. You would find a lot of old farmers who remark on how much richer the crops and pastures were in their youth.

Industrial practices thrash the land and diminish the soil life till it can no longer convert the available organic matter to soil fertility. Productivity wanes, and bolstering it by using more chemicals is akin to flogging a dead horse. Since organic farming relies on the life of the soil to build fertility, its benefits are fundamental to its methods. It is possible to scale up the operations if more farmers convert to organic methods.

Cultivation

While industrial farmers sow their crop by directly drilling the seed into soil treated with herbicide, organic farmers depend on cultivation to remove the weeds before they sow. Compared to cultivation, direct drilling does not disrupt the soil structure. It also lowers the risk of the soil being lost to water or wind erosion. This is a valid point if the soil quality is poor.

However, you need to bear in mind that soil that is deadened by chemicals is weakened heavily by the loss of soil life and is incapable of maintaining its integrity even under occasional cultivation. So, if you look at it, it is a circular argument that leads nowhere. If the soil is structurally sound, you can cultivate it regularly without incurring damage, particularly if it is well protected by windbreaks and Keyline conservation measures.

GM crops

Organic farmers do not use genetically engineered or modified food crops, most of which are designed to tolerate herbicides or resist pests. Industrial farmers, however, are free to take advantage of the GM crops as they please. The productivity gains that are usually attributed to genetically modified crops are negligible, especially once you factor in the experience of the farmer, the growing conditions, and the different soil types.

What no one likes to mention is that most of the farmers use these crops only for convenience. There are growing indications that GM crops might be harmful to both the environment and human health. Once they are released on a large scale, it is not possible to undo it.

Time

Organic farming requires a greater level of interaction between the farmer and his crop for purposes of observation, weed control, and timely intervention. It is more labor intensive compared to mechanical/chemical agriculture, and a farmer can produce much more crop by the use of industrial methods than he/she could by completely utilizing organic methods.

Skill

You need a lot of skill to organically grow your crop. However, since professional farming of any kind imparts an observant and close relationship to living things, you would find that the best organic farmers are the ones who have converted from agrichemical farming. Organic farmers do not have handy chemical fixes on their shelf for all their problems. They have to engage in careful observation and understand how to tweak their system to correct the cause of a problem instead of treating the effect.

This is a big issue in the transition period from conventional to fully organic farming when there is a peak in the learning curve and all the transition-related problems. It takes a lot of time to build a healthy farming ecosystem which can cope on its own without the intervention of synthetic aides.

Preventing Plant Diseases in Your Vegetable Garden

Plant diseases can be devastating to farmers. Have you heard about the Great Potato Famine? The disaster, also called the ‘Great Hunger’, hit Ireland between 1845 and 1850. At that time, potato was a staple part of the diet of the average Irishman; it was cheap, easy to grow and gave plenty of calories.

The Great Potato Famine swept through Ireland, leaving more than a million people dead from disease and starvation. It also caused an equal number of people to mass migrate. At the end of it, Ireland’s population had dropped by 20%-25%. That famine was caused by a fungus called Phytophthora infestans, which caused a disease called ‘Potato Blight’.

If you thought those days are over, think again

In recent memory, a popular banana cultivar called Gros Michel was driven to extinction by a plant disease called the Panama disease. Now the most popular variety of Banana in the world, the Cavendish banana is similarly threatened by a disease called the Tropical Disease 4.

Closer to home, the Citrus crop in California is under serious threat from Huanglongbing disease carried by the Asian Citrus phyllid.

This shows that we are not over plant diseases yet. Fruits and vegetables are prey by a number of plant diseases. For example, the tomato plant can be affected by no less than 33 diseases.

Plant diseases cause large losses to farmers and increase prices for consumers. Unfortunately, plant diseases can hit anytime and anywhere. The good news is there is a lot you can do to prevent and mitigate crop diseases. Here are some tips to prevent plant diseases in your garden or farm.

Plant disease resistant variety of fruits and vegetables – The first step in preventing plant diseases is to choose disease resistant varieties of plants. Contact a plant breeder and discuss your problem with him. He may recommend something to you. You can also contact your local plant club or agricultural agent.

Choose the right varieties for your climate – If you are growing sun loving plants like eggplants or tomatoes in a shady or cool climate, get ready to fight plant diseases. The best crops suited to cool climate are green leafy vegetables. So it is very important to select the right crops for your garden.

Grow the crop properly – The best defense against plant diseases is plant vigor. You can achieve it by watering plants regularly, spacing them properly, preparing the soil well and adding organic fertilizers to the soil. Organic fertilizers and compost can boost the plants’ immunity to diseases and increase their resilience in hot weather, when most plant diseases attack plants.

Treating the soil – Allow the soil to warm before you plant the crops. Many fungi are able to attack crops because the crop was planted in cool soil. Fungi grow best in cool, damp environments. Second, water the plants early in the morning so the plants get an opportunity to dry off by the end of the day.

Keep pests away from your crops – Did you know the tomato plant is prey to more than 23 insect pests? If you don’t keep these insects away, they will strip your plants naked. Insects can harm plants in many ways. They can lay eggs on the plants, which hatch and feed on the plants. Other insects suck the sap from plants. Others introduce diseases into host plants, like aphids.

Remove diseased foliage and plants – If you notice a disease affected plant, uproot the plant immediately and burn the foliage. Don’t use the plant for compost or for mulching because the disease will still be present in the plant and if you use it for fertilizer, it will spread to other plants.

Finally, rotate the crops. Don’t grow the same variety of crops on the same plot of land, year after year. Plant diseases and pests build up over time. The best way to disrupt this cycle is to grow a different crop on the land. Some plants also strip nutrients from the soil which causes subsequent generations of that plant to become less vigorous, making them more susceptible to diseases. This shows, there are many things you can do to prevent plant diseases from ravaging your precious plants.

Tackling Nematodes in Your Vegetable Patch

If you have a garden, you know how frustrating to lose a crop after you’ve put countless hours of hard work into your vegetable patch. The culprits can range anywhere from rabbits, birds and insects – creatures we can see – to microscopic pathogens and pests.

If you live in a region where the temperatures are warm and there is quite a bit of humidity, your crops are even more vulnerable to insects and nematodes that are hard to control and get rid of once they infest a crop.

What is a Nematode?

Nematodes are basically unsegmented roundworms and are different from earthworms and other kinds of worms that are segmented or slimy and flattened.

Most of them are beneficial since they feed on the fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms and some of them can even be used for biological control to manage the insect pests. However, there is a class of nematodes that are plant parasites and feed on living plants. They are really detrimental to your garden.

The plant-parasite nematodes are small and can only be seen under a microscope. They have a mouth-spear or stylet which are shaped and function similarly to a hypodermic needle. They puncture the cells of the plant infuse digestive fluids to ingest the fluids from the plant. They can either remain in the root of the plant or enter the plant with a part or whole of their body.

How do they damage your plants?

A plant-parasite nematode damages the root system of the plant and reduces its ability to obtain nutrients and water from the soil. When their numbers start growing, or if there are environmental stressors, you may begin to start seeing symptoms above the ground.

The above ground symptoms of a nematode infestation resemble that of a drought stress or nutrient deficiency. The plants will begin to yellow, wilt and stunt.

How to identify and handle the problem?

Since the visible signs of a nematode infestation resemble so many other problems, a visual inspection alone will not suffice.

You need to call a nematode diagnostic lab to conduct a nematode assay. The best time to test your soil is towards the end of the crop so that you get to see the infestation in full bloom and and prevent the problems in time for the next crop. To deal with the problem, there are a lot of methods:

Bionematicides – These usually contain a fungus that latches on to the nematode eggs. They completely eliminate sting and root-knot nematodes. It is a preventive method and is not very effective if you apply it to the plants after they have been infected.

Soil solarization – This is a process of removing nematodes and other such pests from the soil using heat.

Work on the soil with a rototiller or a hoe to break up all the clods. Remove the roots, sticks and clumps. The soil must be moist, but ensure that it is not wet. Cover the soil with a tarp and leave it on for 4 weeks. Remove it just before you are ready to plant. This way, you let the sunlight go through the plastic and heat up the soil. The heat is held in by the plastic so that it can penetrate and warm up the soil.

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures kills the nematodes, as well as the fungi, insect pests and weeds. The disinfected zone tends to be at least 6 inches deep. Ensure that you do not mix the soil afterwards. That will just reinfest the treated area with nematodes from under.

Organic amendments – You can add organic amendments to the soil in the form of manure, compost, green manure and other materials. They help prevent the nematode damage in a lot of ways.

Organic materials boost the plant’s ability to hold nutrients and water, and it also improves the structure of the soil. Not only does it make for a better environment, it also helps the plant survive the nematodes better. Some organic amendments release gases or chemicals which are harmful to the nematodes.

Getting High Yields from Organic Farming is Possible

Many people are unsure whether organic farming can compete with industrial farming in output. The answer is yes. If you don’t believe us, believe the researchers at UC Berkeley who say so too.

Their study was an overview of more than 100 studies of organic agriculture and conventional agriculture. A review of the data found that organic farming yields were higher than earlier thought.

The study also found that farmers can reduce the gap between organic farming and conventional farming further, by using certain scientific practices.

Another study at the Rodale Institute found organic farming is more sustainable and financially viable than any genetically modified or conventional farming system.

These studies are a slap in the face of those who promote genetically modified crops and high yield conventional crops and those who say organic farming cannot satisfy the world’s hunger.

Conventional farming can actually do more harm than good

In the conventional system, the farmer maintains the soil with chemical fertilizers. He keeps pests and diseases away with pesticides and insecticides. In this system, the cost of the input is very high.

Most farmers are not trained to use insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers. There chemicals also affect the health of those who handle them or consume them.

On the opposite end, many farmers have actually managed to increase the output of their farms through organic farming. A farmer in Africa growing coffee on two acres of farmland increased his coffee output to 1700-2200 pounds from 1300 pounds by employing organic farming.

That farmer also grew bananas on his farm. When he started growing bananas organically, the quality of his banana crop improved. Before, when he was using conventional farming methods, the banana bunches came out small. But after switching to organic farming, the size of the bunches increased. Now, he was able to get a better price for the bananas on the market.

Organic farming cannot be the solution for your farm problems by itself

But there is a catch. Organic farming becomes a high yielding enterprise only when you adopt a scientific approach. Just going organic won’t increase the size and quality of your yield.

Resources should be used efficiently using correct technologies. For example, just substituting bio-inputs for NPK fertilizers won’t give you high yields. It will only increase the cost of production.

This is ironical because farmers are being advised to replace chemical fertilizers with bio fertilizers or compost. This will reduce the yields rather than increase it.

Many factors are responsible for increasing the quantity and quality of produce. Take seeds for instance. If you use good seeds, naturally, you get high yields. Heirloom seeds are a good option.

But then you have to go beyond seeds. If you are practicing monoculture, stop it immediately. Switch to mixed farming.

No farm residue should go to waste. Use plant stalks to create compost. Prepare vermicompost. Encourage beneficial insects to come to your vegetable or fruit patch. Initiate apiculture or beekeeping.

But before you do all this, keep your farm or garden fallow for a while so the chemical fertilizers and pesticides can drain from the soil. In our enterprise, we have adopted all these practices.

Make your farming endeavor holistic

The bottom line is, organic farming can give high yields but you have to follow certain farming practices.

Organic farming can give you huge profits because organic vegetables and fruits sell for a higher price than conventionally grown food. Organic farming is also sustainable and it is safer for the environment.

There are many successful examples around the world of climate smart and resource conserving organic farming systems. In fact, we are seeing a revolution in this sector. More and more farmers are switching to organic farming, thanks to its multiple benefits.