What could be more satisfying? - you drench liquid fertilizer on a pale plant and within a few days it turns a lovely dark green; or you see a bug chewing on a leaf, spray it and get to watch the little #%& drop stone dead. We live in an era of quick fixes - see problem, spray problem, end problem! All due to dedicated chemists at MegaCorp Plant Food and Bug Killers.
You gotta hand it to them, though. Since the end of World War II, when the major chemical companies needed to find a new market for their production capacities, their tens of millions of research dollars spent on developing artificial fertilizers and insecticides has taken chemically-oriented methods of plant culture to amazing levels.
Growers no longer need to concern themselves much with soil issues - just plow, fertilize, seed, and destroy harmful insects when they appear. Oh, there might be some need to spread lime or sulfur to adjust pH levels, but the soil chemists can easily prescribe the right dosages for that.
And if the soil builds up toxic levels of salts, or is getting more rock-hard each year, or yields are falling off, well farmer, that just means you've got to plow deeper or apply more fertilizer.
Sound about right? I'd be happy to pass along opposing views, but to me the general abuse of our valuable cropland soils is nothing short of a preventable tragedy. Does the word "unsustainable" have no meaning at all to today's agricultural managers? No? OK, then let's use shorter words and say "can't keep doing things the way we're doing them now and expect good yields tomorrow."
Crop soil is far more than inert root-holding matter laced with NPK fertilizer. The living organisms in a truly healthy soil can account for one-third or more of the total weight, and the most productive topsoil will also have a broad spectrum of minor and trace elements - some of which are needed in only tiny amounts but are still essential to the performance of plants.
If farmers will make extra efforts to keep organic matter levels up, occasionally add good rock dust, promote large populations of beneficial fungi and bacteria, and back off the overuse of petro-fertilizers, then they will be doing more than just mining the topsoil until it's depleted. They can also take satisfaction in knowing that their grandchildren will enjoy abundant food from those fields.
I know I may sound like one of those religious nuts standing outside a bar yelling "Repent, you sinners!" at the patrons, but when I see how biologically-oriented techniques can produce better yields and healthier bug-resistant plants,I feel compelled to argue against chemistry-only methods. The right contributions from both the fields of chemistry and biology can keep our crop soils productive far into the future instead of being depleted within a few decades.
And I realize that well-entrenched "conventional agriculture" methods won't change overnight, or even much during my lifetime, but the next time you read any article about crop soils and there is no mention whatsoever of living components, if you question the completeness of that article I'll feel that I've accomplished something.
Cheers, my friends - good growing and best wishes for the New Year.
President, BioOrganics, Inc.