Thursday, 8 November 2012

Ecosystem Services

This blog has featured a few stories over the years with regard to sustainable agriculture and how it may manifest.   Vegetarianism is NOT the answer as any and every know ecosystem you'd regard as self sustaining, requires flora and fauna.  Animals are part of the solution.

The guys running one farm down in Boone County Iowa get this.  In Big, Smart and Green, from Wired, there is a great article giving an example of who 'traditional farming techniques' can bring enlightenment,
They essentially took a step back to the well know approach of crop rotation,
  • [T]he researchers rotated over three years between corn, soy and oats, with red clover planted in winter. The clover, which absorbs atmospheric nitrogen, was planted between crop rows and plowed under as soil-replenishing “green manure” in spring. On another plot, instead of red clover the researchers planted a fourth-year crop of alfalfa, which can be used to feed livestock. The animals’ manure came back as fertilizer.
I love the phrase 'ecosystem services' that underly this approach; why pay a chemical manufacturer to do something nature can do for free - and in a superior fashion?
  • Having different crops with different life cycles made it harder for weeds to grow. What might flourish among corn and soy, for example, was disrupted by oats. When red clover and alfalfa were mowed, weeds were chewed up before they flowered. As for insect problems, low pesticide use, along with habitat provided by cover crops, allowed pest-eating bugs and birds to flourish.

    After eight years, Liebman and Davis used eight times less herbicide in the three- and four-year rotations than in the conventional plot, they report in the new study. Ecotoxicity in surrounding water was two orders of magnitude lower. Thanks to clover and alfalfa, the experimental plots also used 86 percent less synthetic fertilizer.

    Most important of all, the experimental plots were as productive as the conventional. They produced just as much total crop biomass. When the researchers calculated the value of their environmentally friendly harvest, it was every bit as profitable.

    “We exceeded those goals — not by pumping chemicals in, but by maximizing ecosystem services,” Davis said. “We’re not throwing away those tools. They’re very important. But you use a strong cropping system as the foundation for your agriculture. Then, when you need it, you tweak it a little bit with the inputs.”

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