A recent newspaper quote... "Organic agriculture is both the fastest growing and the most profitable sector of the ag industry. Consumer demand for healthier, environmentally sound food products is skyrocketing...American shoppers spent more than $51 billion on natural and organic products in 2005, a 9.1 percent increase over the previous year. Wal-Mart's decision to start carrying organic produce is sending shock and opportunity waves through the industry."
For farmers, I believe the key word in the quote is "opportunity." But, "going organic" means more than growing a beard and spreading manure instead of NPK fertilizer - there are many new tricks to learn, not the least of which is changing the way that soil is perceived.
Instead of regarding soil as just inert root-holding material that needs "x" amount of plant food added each season, the successful organic grower will take the time to understand soil as a living ecosystem, with plants being one part of that system. A farmer can certainly grow organic produce without learning much about the microbial life in the soil, but those who do will see production (and profits) that far exceeds their neighbor's.
Once the grower gets a feel for the relationship between plants, nutrients, and beneficial soil organisms (earthworms down to bacteria), then it is possible to manage soil in a way that maximizes plant performance - gaining the EFFECTS of more fertilizing without DOING more fertilizing. By encouraging higher populations of the types of microbial organisms that nourish plants, organic yields can match or exceed those of chemically-fertilized fields. This is when organic farmers can again walk freely around town without having to dodge their banker.
There are soil organisms that generate nitrogen, there are others that transform phosphorus into a form that plants can use, others that decompose crop residue, and still others that transport that decomposed residue from the surface down to the root zone. Then, beneficial mycorrhizal fungi seek out and bring all these nourishing nutrients to their host plants. Each organism has an important role to play - from "harvesting" to "food preparation" to "delivery," and all are needed for the system to function well.
For example, a plant in good soil without the appropriate type of mycorrhizal fungi will be unable to access much of the abundance surrounding its roots. Many plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, grapes, melons, citrus, and asparagus have roots that are very inefficient at up taking nutrients and moisture, having evolved a dependence on mycorrhizal fungi over many millions of years time. (This is the origin of the often-used term, "heavy feeder" - the need to wastefully overload soil with fertilizer to compensate for non-mycorrhizal root systems.)
Yes, it will call for a change in thinking to successfully grow crops without using synthetic fertilizers or the attendant protective chemicals that are required to protect force-fed plants, but the payoff could be substantial. Harnessing the inexpensive and powerful biological tools that nature has given us can be a sustainable and profitable approach to farming.
The concept of organic food is being embraced by consumers. This means that opportunity is knocking for high-yielding bio-active soils. We'll be happy to help with quality inoculants and practical application advice.
Ever wonder why airlines don't offer glass-bottom planes for better viewing of the scenery below?
Cheers, my friends,
President, BioOrganics, Inc.