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Bio-Methods...a Slow Awakening in Farm Country

When I was first introduced to the concept of growing plants with biological methods nearly ten years ago, it was an exciting moment.From the perspective of someone raised on a farm, I could immediately appreciate the appeal of cutting back on expensive fertilizers and chemicals.

And from the perspective of a business entrepreneur, I saw the potential for a billion-dollar new market - one that could some day rival the soil-chemistry industry.Why, if ten percent of the farms in Kansas converted over to biology-based techniques, or even just one percent, suppliers of beneficial fungi and bacteria could make huge amounts of sales. Huge!

So I embraced mycorrhizal fungi inoculants as a new career, and it has been an interesting experience to say the least.Those Kansas farmers are still pretty much all ignoring soil biology and probably will until either their yields plummet, the cost of petro-fertilizers soars upward, or the government begins to limit inputs of water-contaminating nitrates. That billion-dollar game plan will require more patience, but if the word"unsustainable" means what I think it means, time is on the side of biology (as always).

Instead of big farms, the more immediate market for biologicals has turned out to be growers of higher-value plants and ornamentals, along with home gardeners and landscapers.Wine grape growers, rose fanciers, market vegetable farmers,and people planting expensive trees, shrubs, and lawns represent the bulk of our customers.

I actually think that home gardeners will end up leading the way to wider acceptance of biological methods as they see the benefits, and that routine use will go from smaller growers up to larger ones.

Why the delay in using biological science on farms?Well, let's remember that changes do not come easily to conservative rural areas, plus there are industrial giants constantly touting the effectiveness of chemical products, and until very recently the USDA barely acknowledged the existence, let alone importance, of biological soil elements.

Also, we must keep in mind that we are talking about people's livelihoods.Until our bio-methods can promise equal or greater yields THIS season- no maybes or down the road- you really can't blame farmers for sticking to what has worked in the past. Until a neighbor out-produces them five years in a row, more tons of NPK fertilizer based on soil chemistry tests are going to be applied every spring.

I guess the question is whether it will turn out to be a bigger gamble to continue as-is, with the potential sustainability problems noted above, or to begin working on restoring biological health to crop soils.

Maybe just one-tenth of one percent of those Kansas farmers while I'm still alive?

Cheers, my friends,

Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics, Inc.

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