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E-M:/ catch-22 "organic" ecology



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Enviro-Mich message from Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com>
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On Tue, 1 Oct 2002, Kenneth Vermeulen wrote:

> Lowell, I agree with your basic premise that the use of compost is
> superior to the use of synthetic fertilizers or non-composted manure.
> But surely you must concede that it is also A LOT more expensive.
> Unless consumers are willing to pay for the cost of organic farming
> (which to date, they have not been)  organic farming methods will not
> succeed in the market.
>
> Ken

Hello Ken,

The "organic farm" problem is a bit of a catch-22 type of thing:

200 years ago, over 90% of the USA was rural farm life. Things
were a lot slower, marketing of produce was a local thing, plants
were not breed for long travel instead of more valuable traits,
crop rotation and the use of cover crops was easier, as letting
land lay fallow for awhile was easier, organic waste was utilized
on the farms in a traditional manner, etc. In short, we had no
problems feeding ourselves without causing any great ecological
harm.

At present though, less than 2% of the population in the USA are
farmers. That puts a great burden on them for food production and
therein lies the problem of "organic" vs."non-organic" farming.

The catch-22 becomes even more apparent when observing the
results of a dependence on petrol-chemical derived fertilizers,
instead of compost.

Plants need a vast array of micro life in the soil in order to be
healthy plants, as there is a symbiotic relationship that has
developed over millions of years.

The way that micro life is nurtured is through the use of
compost.

i.e: the forests do very well without any human intervention, as
everything that was once was alive, returns naturally to the soil
via the natural composting process and the nitrogen-phosphorous-
potassium cycle is naturally maintained, as is the micro life in
the soil which in numerous ways, then makes the nutrients
available to the trees and plants.

The problem with petro-chemical derived fertilizers is that they
do not nurture the micro life in the soil and in many instances,
are actually toxic to that micro life.

At that point, the plants will still grow but are not as healthy 
as they otherwise would be, and it is unhealthy plants that are 
most susceptible to disease, insect attack, etc.

To combat those problems, fungicides, pesticides, and herbicides
are applied which temporarily control the problems but their
application is also toxic to the micro life in the soil and the
beneficial insects above the soil.

In short, the real catch-22:

by attempting to solve the problems created by the sole use of
petrol-chemical derived fertilizers, the problems only get worse,
as do the problems created by the run-offs of the chemicals used
to combat the problems.

What then, is the solution?

More farmers would help, as they could proceed more slowly and
still maintain the food supply but given the global competition,
that is difficult with the controversy of price supports, etc.

Composting all our urban organic waste and returning it to to the
farm soil would help, instead of dumping it in landfills, but
that would require a national commitment to recycling to make it
cost effective.

Composting all our farm waste would help but as you suggest, 
are the farmers aware of the advantages of compost compared to 
petrol-chemical derived fertilizers and are they willing to make 
the initial capital investment to wean themselves off the 
petrol-chemical derived fertilizers?

Greater use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) would help,
whereby natural biological controls are used to control problems,
rather than chemicals.

Making more land cheaply available to our smaller farmers would
help, instead of turning it into condos, shopping malls, mega farms, 
etc., as the farmers could practice better rotations and cover crops.

A greater public awareness that we are in fact, killing not only
our farm soil but also our various eco systems through bad,
"hurry up", farming practices would help.

In the long run, more organic small farmers are needed to combat
the intrusion of the corporate mega farms and pressure must also
be brought on those corporate mega farms to make the switch to 
truly sustainable agricultural practices.

Given the relationship of those corporate mega farms to the
petro-chemical fertilizer industry and the other related
industries, initiating truly organic farming practices nationwide
would require some type of federal mandate.

Is such a mandate possible?

Well, I guess anything is possible with a well informed public
and it will take an established, "green", third political party
to begin to mount the type of public pressure necessary to make
such a change possible.

In conclusion, I remain an optimist, as given all the other
ecological problems we are facing not only in the USA but also
globally, and the failure of past and present federal
administrations to deal rationally with those problems, the
development of a strong, "green", third political party is
inevitable.

Lowell Prag

>
> >>> Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com> 09/30/02 07:17PM >>>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Enviro-Mich message from Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> On Mon, 30 Sep 2002, Grant Trigger wrote:
>
> > The fundamental problem with composting is almost no one can make it
> > economical. The City of Windsor does it and Milwaukee - so asking a
> > farmer to add this to his list of none economic burdens needs some
> > perspective - if this was such an easy solution it would be done.


> I do not believe it is just a matter of economics.
>
> In Europe, composting both farm waste and municipal waste is very
> common,
> utilizing both windrow composting and anaerobic digesters which
> provide
> both compost and methane.
>
> In the USA, most farmers have been sucked into the myth the
> petro-chemical
> industry has created, for the need to use their chemical fertilizers.
>
> The actual fact is that compost is far superior in building the health
> of
> the soil which is critical for healthy crops. That is the whole basis
> for
> organic farming, without the use of petrol-chemical derived
> fertilizers.
>
> As far as lagoon sludge use instead of composting, that is a knowledge
> problem and not a necessarily a matter of economics. Compost is far
> superior to the spreading of "hot" sludge which is not completely
> broken
> down by the bacteria, as in actual cured compost.
>
> In short, the methods of true organic farming are gaining ground in
> the
> USA and hence, the number of farmers using sound composting practices
> are
> increasing. In fact, Michigan and California have the strictest
> organic
> farm standards in the country but the new FDA organic standards and
> labeling standards will actually undercut these strict state
> standards.
>
> That is not to say, that these strict organic farm methods will
> anytime
> soon, become wide spread on the corporate mega farms, given the
> influence
> of the petro-chemical fertilizer industry and others like Monsanto,
> ADM,
> etc. which are trying to control the world's production of food.
>
> Lowell Prag
>
> > >>> Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com> 09/30/02 05:03PM >>>
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> > Enviro-Mich message from Lowell Prag <lprag@mail.msen.com>
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > > On Mon, 30 Sep 2002, Kenneth Vermeulen wrote:
> > >
> > > > Lowell, I've got several large farming operations that are very
> > > > interested in putting in a digester/methane collection co-gen
> > > > facility.
> > > > Unfortunately, there always seems to be some major obstacle,
> like
> > > > sand
> > > > bedding, or a water discharge permit for the outflow from the
> > solids
> > > > separator, or the volume of manure necessary to make the project
> > > > sustainable vs. the market for the compost.
> >
> > Hello again Ken,
> >
> > As far as the economics of anaerobic digesters for your manure and
> > other
> > organic wastes, you not only have to consider the value of the
> compost
> > produced but also, the value of the methane produced.
> >
> > Depending upon the size of your operation, the methane produced
> could
> > negate your present costs for heat, electricity, and fuel for your
> > vehicles.
> >
> > Any engineer could easily figure out for you, with some basic btu
> > conversions, the amount and value of your projected methane
> > production.
> >
> > In addition, if you produced a surplus of electricity with the
> methane,
> > by
> > federal law, your utility company must buy it from you. In effect,
> > your
> > electric meter would run backwards or in some cases, two meters are
> > installed, one a debit and the other a credit.
> >
> > In short, we waste a huge amount of methane in the USA, by not
> > recovering
> > it from not only farm waste but also, all our other combined organic
> > wastes. Maybe someday it will be a mandated technology when global
> > warming is really taken seriously.
> >
> > As for also marketing the compost produced by the anaerobic
> digesters,
> >
> > if you are not going to use it all for your own soil, see the
> Michigan
> > Recycling Coalition, http://www.michiganrecycles.org/
> >
> > They provide some in depth statistics on the compost market:
> > State of Recycling in Michigan
> > http://www.michiganrecycles.org/a_projects_measure.shtml
> >
> > There is also a less comprehensive list at:
> > Suppliers of Compost Materials for Michigan Residents
> >
> http://www.michigan.gov/mda/1,1607,7-125-1566_2311_2317-8019--,00.html
>
> >
> >
> > For my own gardening needs, I have bought composted cow manure from
> > Lowe's
> > for about $1.20/40 pound bag which is the best price I've seen. I
> did
> > however, stop buying it until the EPA gets the clopyralid herbicide
> > issue
> > resolved, as it can get into the compost by farmers using it on the
> > forage
> > crops.
> >
> > That is one major problem with buying bagged compost, as there is no
> > uniform testing and labeling standards. One would think the
> composting
> > industry would push for truth in labeling to gain consumer's
> > confidence
> > but that hasn't been the case to date.
> >
> > Lowell  Prag
> >
> >
> >
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