[permaculture] Organic Farming Beats No-Till?

Dieter Brand diebrand at yahoo.com
Tue Jul 17 18:03:38 EDT 2007

To go by the various sites appearing on the Internet, different
  groups seem to be lining up to cash in on the environmental
  trend. Some argue in favour of grassland and against
  reforestation, others argue in favour of reforestation and
  against grassland. Still others are in favour of organic
  farming and against no-till, while others are in favour of
  no-till and against organic farming. Others still see salvation
  in terra preta ...
  With all these claims and counterclaims one thing is certain
  though: the primary interest is commercial gain and the 
  environment only comes a poor second. Another thing that 
  is certain is that, whatever deal politicians and business 
  leaders will cook up, we the consumers and tax payers 
  will have to foot the bill in the end.
  Different estimates put the amount of greenhouse gases emitted
  by agriculture at between 10 to 20 % of the total amount of
  emissions. Before farmers can claim carbon credits they ought
  to achieve a substantial reduction of the greenhouse gases
  emitted by agriculture at present.
  The additional amount of CO2 emitted by organic farming
  due to additional ploughing for turning under green manure
  depends in part on the climate. For example, many fields
  in my neighbourhood are used for growing lupines during
  the winter. In the spring the lupines are ploughed under
  and corn is grown under a regime of dry-land farming.
  Due to lack of water and nutrients the corn grows sparsely
  and hardly taller than a foot or two. So meagre is the crop
  that farmers don’t even bother to harvest. The only 
  thing harvested here are agricultural subsidies which are
  paid to plough the fields each year, which probably 
  causes more loss of nutrients and CO2 emissions due 
  to oxidation than is gained by turning under the lupines. 
  With the various regimes for carbon credits we are going 
  to see more of this type of madness.
  Personally, I would be in favour of giving farmers technical 
  assistance for converting to organic no-till, which many 
  farmers find difficult to achieve on their own.
  Dieter Brand

"Lawrence F. London, Jr." <lflj at bellsouth.net> wrote:  -------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [SANET-MG] Organic Farming Beats No-Till?
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2007 10:16:41 -0400

Hi Janet, and all --

Small wonder that conventional chemical no-till adherants are staking
a claim for garnering carbon credits. They've been touting no-till as
THE agribusiness salvation for erosion protection and lesser ag
energy use through reduced tillage, and as the best way to reduce
agriculture's hefty contribution to climate change via the soil
sequestration of carbon.

What they don't dwell on is the method's complete dependance on agri-
petroleum inputs -- for the herbicides needed to kill the cover crop
to plant into and for the increased synthetic fertilizers required to
grow the cash crop in a killed sod environment along with all the
insecticides, fungicides and other pesticides required to produce the
crop. Rather, when counting up the carbon credits, the no-till
researchers and advocates are only counting what they want to count.

In reality, the enhanced use of chemical fertilizers generates major
amounts of nitrous oxide -- a virulent greenhouse gas 296 times more
potent per pound than carbon dioxide. There's also all the
significant embedded energy costs in manufacturing and transporting
the synthetic fertilizers and herbicides as well as the machinery/
fuel to apply them. As for erosion control, well maybe, but only in
terms of non-sustainable, ecologically ruinous trade-offs. Around
here, (hilly upstate NY) chemical no-till was initially developed to
enable farmers to plant corn on highly erodable sloping areas -- land
better off in pasture, hay or trees. Going no-till also required
considerable investment in special heavy duty planters designed to
plant into sod -- and larger tractor HP to pull it.

And overall, no-till has found limited value in northern zone areas
because the killed cover keeps soils cooler longer into the planting
season, delaying the soil microbial biological nutrient exchange
activity necessary for plant growth, restricting it's usage to
central and southern areas.

And as the "organic farming beats no-till" research is/pr/2007/070710.htm> demonstrates, even standard organic builds
more organic matter and sequesters more carbon, than chemical no-till
-- without co-generating the nitrous oxide, pollutant and pesticide
"side effects." In addition, there's exciting research at Rodale and
elsewhere on Organic no-till which relies on roller/crimpers, etc. to
mechanically kill the cover crop, while using biologically-based
fertility enhancements such as compost, legume rotations, amendments,
etc. to bring in the main crop, while building organic matter and
sequestering carbon in soil organic matter as well as in the more
stable and lasting humus, chitin and fungal glomalin.

Energy-wise, Organic is essentially a solar agriculture, using 30%
less energy inputs to begin with. Conventional ag is a major
petrochemical industry, however, completely dependent on a rapidly
diminishing oil supply and escalating petro-input costs --
unsustainable into even the near future.

In short, ALL the numbers for organic carbon credits really DO add
up, even if Organic's OTHER beneficent environmental and health side
effects (clean air and water, no pesticide poisoning, food security,
etc.) aren't part of the equation.

Rigorous studies comparing organic and chemical methods are
critically important if we're to have a valid scientific basis for
issuing saleable carbon credits to farmers. I'm not sure who makes
the decisions awarding carbon credits at the Chicago Exchange, but I
haven't heard anything to indicate that organic is even on their
radar screen. We should all be jumping up and down to get Organic at
the top of the list. As more and more organic agriculture comes on
line and the price premium drops in the marketplace (already
happening in dairy) the extra income from carbon credits are a major
(non-subsidy) incentive for the transformation of (world) agriculture
to the organic method -- especially when ALL the costs are counted
and conventional farmers end up having to BUY carbon credits to
continue their conventional practices, no-till included...

Steve Gilman
Ruckytucks Farm

On Jul 17, 2007, at 12:00 AM, SANET-MG automatic digest system wrote:

> Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2007 10:37:19 -0700
> From: "Babin, Janet" 
> Subject: Re: Organic Farming Beats No-Till?
> Hi All:
> I'm working on a story about the Chicago Climate Exchange's new 
> deadline
> for farmer participation this year. The Exchange, as many of you 
> know,
> pays farmers for 'carbon-credits' that they get for no-till farming on
> their land. They they trade them on the exchange.
> I wonder, are any organic farmers planning to take part in the Climate
> Exchange this year? (the deadline is in mid-August). Because no-till
> is one of the ways to get money, it would seem to me difficult for
> organic farmers to participate (somewhat ironic). =20
> But then I came across John here...and thought I'd better ask.
> Thanks,
> Janet

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