It is essential that we fully understand both our past and our present circumstances to enable the move toward a more sustainable future. Often this involves an honest appraisal of where we are at and how we got there, and to do this we need to look behind the veil at what is really happening. The “veil” in this case involves a bunch of commercially driven assumptions about how agriculture works. Many of us have blindly accepted the industry message because it has been sold as scientific progress and who are we to stand in the way of progress. The dictionary definition of “science” refers to “adherence to natural laws and principles” and much of what we have done in the name of agricultural science does not conform to this definition. In fact, the industry is driven more often by greed than real science. In this series of blogs, entitled “Questioning the Status Quo”, we will revisit some of the base assumptions underlying modern agriculture and examine their validity.
Accepted Rationale – Farm chemicals are a “necessary evil” if we are to successfully feed a burgeoning world population. Insects and disease would decimate production if not for chemical intervention.
Reality Check – Perhaps we should begin by asking when and why the “chemical experiment” came to be considered “necessary”. How did we ever grow crops for thousands of years without the chemical crutch? Did we subsist upon the meager remains of insect and disease ravaged crops? Were pre-industrial farmers prepared to accept these inevitable losses as a kind of preordained penance for food producers?
The answer is a resounding “No!”. The simple fact is that the increasing need for chemical intervention was directly linked to the adoption of soluble NPK fertilisers. When we dumbed down crop nutrition to just three key minerals, while continuing to remove 70 minerals with every crop, we effectively called in insects and disease. In a protection racket not unlike that favored by the Mafia, you create the pressure then offer the protection. In many cases the same people who sold the simplistic new fertilisers (and created the problem) also developed and supplied the solution – the “rescue chemicals” that were now required.
Pest pressure is a signpost to poor nutrition. Plants emit an infra-red radiation that varies according to their nutrition. The feelers on insects are in fact antennae that receive this information that will determine the insect’s feeding schedule. A healthy, well-balanced plant emits a steady infra-red flow that signals an unhealthy meal for the insect marauders. Insects are not designed to manage the high sugars that are part of robust plant health. In some cases these sugars become toxic alcohol within the pest, in others the insects are less seriously affected. In both cases their reproductive potential is compromised and this defeats the whole reason that a species exists.
A nitrate-packed, nutrient deficient plant, by contrast, sends out a staccato flow of infra-red radiation that literally calls in the insects. In the great scheme of things, the insect is a garbage collector designed to constantly remove the weak, to improve the overall gene pool. We grow garbage, the trash collector arrives on cue and so begins a war in which we effectively fired the first shot!
Why are excess nitrates so often involved? The fact is that nitrates are always taken into the plant with water, so there is an inevitable dilution of other minerals when nitrates are oversupplied. The watery, high nitrate plant will always have a low brix level (a measure of dissolved solids) and it will require much more chemical intervention. It is such a ludicrous situation because it cost hard earned dollars to over-supply the offending nitrates in the first place and now you are destined to shell out much more to compensate for your mistake.
Bringing out the chemical hammer to slam the soil diseases is similarly self defeating. The fungicides take out good and bad and the “good” just happen to be the creatures responsible for carbon sequestration and disease protection. Cellulose-digesting fungi offer major pathogen protection. Trichodema, for example, is a voracious cellulose digester/humus builder that predates upon a whole range of destructive disease organisms including Fusarium, Phytopthera, Rhizoctonia and Schlerotinia. The humus that these creatures produce is not only planet saving, it is a reservoir of the full range of minerals that govern nutrient density and associated insect resistance within the plant. Humus is also the home base for the organisms responsible for delivery of these minerals. When we knock out the beneficial fungi with fungicides, herbicides and nematicides, we inadvertently increase our need for insecticides. It’s good business if you are selling the chemicals but bad news for the rest of us.
Since the “chemical experiment” in agriculture began, a few short decades ago, there have been more chemicals applied to our soils and food every year without exception. However, in spite of these ever-increasing applications there has actually been an increase in overall pest pressure and associated crop losses every year. This is the definition of “unsustainable” and it must end!
To read Part 2 of this article, please click here.