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Natural Farming

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First of all, hello everyone! A subject I have been getting quite passionate about is something called Natural Farming, it's an approach to plant propagation (and a philosophy) that has four basic tenants. No digging, no watering, no fertiliser and no weeding.

 

Masanobu Fukuoka was the proponent of this style and it didn't take off in his native Japan that much as he was seen as eccentric for his ideas, but it did pick up in Greece, India, America and Africa.

 

He felt that modern science could not hope to fully understand the totality of Nature as it was too focused on deductive reasoning, the breaking down of something into parts and going from there. His arguement was that since the whole is greater than the sum of its parts you could never gleam any truly useful information from looking at parts of a whole process.

 

For instance, he pointed out that at first fertilisers seem like a good idea but only if used on dead soil. On living soil, it actually leaches nutrients from the soil and has the reverse effect. He argued that instead inductive reasoning should be applied to Nature. "I know what I want, now how do I get there" as opposed "I know what's there, but what can I get out of it".

 

His argument simply sumarised is that when we bottle and comoditise all these products and say this work for this and that, they actually don't because they only work on certain things in certain conditions. They don't exactly do what we think they do because they were not studied in a wild environment with all these uncontrollable, contextual situations that are unique to each corner of the globe.

 

Simply put, he argued for a simpler approach with minimal input. You coat seeds in clay balls to fight off animals that want to eat the seeds, wildly flinging the balls everywhere.

He argued that to imitate nature you must saturate an area with species and let Nature carve a new diversity, different species of each type (e.g, tree, shrub, ground cover, flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc) and by saturating the area with a large amount of plants, nature could sculpt a situation that suited the environment.

 

The main approach he used when on his own farm in Japan, was to thresh wheat for use as a ground cover and to grow his rice in this, only flooding the rice for one week out of the whole year and the rest of the time, letting nature drop the water on. It surpressed weeds long enough for the rice to establish and basically blot out any parasitic or harmful plants with ease.

 

To me, it's incredibly compelling information but I may have a bias there. For me one of the biggest thoughts motivating me is this: If you put in minimal input (the other name for this method is Do Nothing Farming) then anything produced has minimal costs associated with it. In other words, there is no pollution, no excessive and pointless hardships. The primary thought behind each action should be "what is the least I can do here to achieve what I want" if you follow the philosophy of Natural Farming to the letter.

 

The reason why I think this is an issue? Masanobu Fukuoka argued that we were overconsuming, drawing resources from one piece of rock to another, creating pointless pollution and harming the environment thinking we were doing good garden practice. That really we are just slowly fallowing our land, creating artifical deserts via over farming and not enough return of resources to the land be it via plants being overfarmed or livestock being overused.

 

I think he's right, really. I think we need to cultivate a much stronger desire around the globe for just using what you've got around you and working with it, not thinking you need some special bottle of stuff to get the results you want because you know nothing about plants but instead getting to understand the land around you via your failures and your success.

 

If you search "Masanobu Fukuoka Natural Farming PDF" on Google you can actually read the book yourself and get your own impression on the subject, if you're interested. Welp now I've let that all out of my system, would love to know what you people think about this?

 

Peace!

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Coming from a family of farmers, but never actually being one myself, (apart from small to medium sized gardens) I can say that this only works in very specific circumstances, and only for a very select set of plants.

 

If you need to produce large amounts of a particular crop to feed the barely not-starving masses cheaply, you can't use the method you described. There simply isn't enough produced. Corn, wheat, soybeans, etc, all need very specific conditions for mass production, and we already know exactly how to do it. We aren't looking to gain that extra 0.1% in quality, we're looking to gain that extra 5000-100000% quantity. (those quantities aren't exaggerations)

 

In short: It sounds good on paper, but is the opposite of what's needed today on this planet. We need more quantity, not imperceptibly higher quality.

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He does address that concern actually, so rather interesting that you should mention it! He mentions the pretty simple issue that a given area of land can only support a certain amount of crops regardless of tilling and fertiliser and that to push it past the natural limit causes soil erosion and represents a continuous depletion of the soils fertility as more is being taken out than is being returned through decomposing biomass.

 

He felt that conventional argiculture was well intentioned but misguided in that it overstated the role of man and disregarded the factor that plants survived for many millions of years without much human interaction other than finding the good ones and popping them down near your home.

 

No offence to the farmers in your family, of course. If you get the chance, do give the free PDF a gander. Could make for an interesting night of reading.

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The thing is, he ignores proper crop rotation. With proper crop rotation you remove nutrients from the soil, then return them in equal amounts, and never need fertilizers. I am fortunate enough to be descended from some of the pioneers of proper crop rotation, and I can tell you that it's hard to find farmers that do it right.

 

There are also natural fertilizer systems in place on this planet that are constantly being curtailed by mankind. One of these is natural flooding. For example, look at the historical floodplains for the Missouri river; these are now the most productive farmlands in the USA. They are slowly dwindling in productivity though, and most of the smart farmers are linking it properly to the excessive control over the natural flooding cycle. If flooding was allowed to occur once every 20 years, productivity of those farmlands would be stabilized. (of course the government is the one that controls this, and the farmers have no say)

 

The theories this guy is using are only useful for very specific circumstances, and are only better than the absolute least intelligent farmer's standards.

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That's pretty much the most common arguement that is leveled against Natural Farming, that it only works in specific circumstances.

 

Which wouldn't appear to line up with it being practically applied in Greece, Africa, India, America and Japan.

He also reported yields equal to his neigbours in Japan for the first few years and then subsequently increasing slowly over time.

 

Well if it would naturally be getting enriched by that and suddenly that supply is cut off the land would quite drastically change over time. Makes you wonder if there's a long term goal to make the land useful for something else, eh?

 

And fair enough, but I'm going to stick to learning all I can about Natural Farming. I am hoping to learn enough about the approach to apply it to an urban farming style of crop production. At first to replace shopping for fruits and vegetables and then if that works well enough, move onto attempting for profit.

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Well, its quite easy to apply common sense here - Historically since the dawn of agriculture people have improved their methods and well before modern machinery and fertilizer people already have realized the concepts of plowing and why its necessary, the already mentioned crop rotation (e.g. using plants from the legume family), fertilizing with manure from livestock, watering etc. etc.

 

I think these concepts from history has proven itself... Has the modern agriculture changed? Yes, a lot. Have we used way to much chemicals? Yes, especially like 40 years ago or so - e.g. in USSR nobody gave a shit about the environment and sometimes for human health either (e.g. google "DDT", its a pesticide, but best known for killing birds and has been reported to increase cancer chance in humans), but its way down today, so thats good. Do we use too much fertilizer? Maybe, there is no correct answer. Does soil erosion happen with weak land use policy? Yes. Do we have to go back to the natural way than? No.

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