Rational Agriculture Article


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21st century Agriculture and Plant Nutrition

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Rational Agriculture Article

  1. 1. RATIONAL AGRICULTURE: Organics; GMOs; Biotechnology; Transgenics; Super Organics; Smart Breeding; Geonomics; Transgenomics; DNA Markers; BigAg Monopolies; Molecular Biology; Apomixis; Disease Resistance; Drought Tolerance; More Nutrition; Better Quality and Quantity Food; Environmental Degradation & Protection; Biodiversity; Soil & Water Conservation; Market Conditions and a host of other issues confront the Bioenvironmental Manager. Harsh words and extreme stands compounded by a lack of Conflict Resolution Bodies or Measures, assail the manager and she/ he is forced to take refuge in one or other camp in a highly fractured and voluble mess of conflicting ideas. However, there is but one absolute Truth or many compromise paths that take due cognisance of all points of view but come to rational conclusions. Where does all this leave Sustainable and Sustained Development Practioneers? Hopelessly frustrated by display of emotions where pragmatism and rational thought is required. Illegal funding of opponents to support the cause of vested and Particular Interest Groups further compounds the problem. Big money successfully uses media to perplex and obfuscate issues in order to maintain a highly questionable Status Quo. Of course Corruption, Nepotism and Resistance to Change are the Big 3 hurdles that faithfully lie in waiting to frustrate many a noble cause! Where does this leave the malnourished, sick, homeless; unemployed and poverty stricken? Continued anguish and acute deprivation is their lot whilst pseudo intellectuals and armchair idealists do their best to ensure continuity to exploitation. There is no villain versus hero; there is no black and white. Instead there are many shades of grey that shift their hue and saturation levels on an almost continuous basis. Today’s villains can be tomorrow’s heroes and vice versa. Rather than bewail our sorry fate, it might serve some purpose to highlight the issues and arrive at rational conclusions in order to impact malnourishment and ensure its eradication. Do we not realize that agriculture is not a natural phenomenon! Replacing profuse biodiversity by single variety crops that have been domesticated and bred for desirable genetic traits or Smartly bred or Genetically Modified all lie in the same class of manipulating Nature to serve human needs. Increasing awareness has led to balancing human needs and those of the environment and all other life forms. This balance is important and extremely important!
  2. 2. The central issue of safe and sustainable agriculture to feed a growing population is affected by many external factors. These include politics; materialism; vested interests; negative as opposed to proactive attitudes; resistance to change; incompetence and lack of vision; selfishness and greed; sloth and indifference as well as downright meanness. In Agriculture entire ecosystems are ploughed under increasing susceptibility to soil erosion; encouraging pests; compacting the ground; leaching nutrients; wasting precious water resources; emitting green house gasses; requiring deadly herbicides/ pesticides for protection and consuming fossil fuels for tractors and pumps, thereby leading to toxic emissions of fumes. All this results in severe disruption and destabilization of the ecosystem and produces food that is laden with toxic residue that leads directly to creating medical problems for the consumer. As we eat for survival there is no point in producing food in a manner that negatively impacts the very survival that we are seeking. We must Nurture Nature because Nature Nurtures us The Green Revolution increased yields and thus put off the sceptre of famine from many a 3rd World Country. However, this revolution unwittingly fostered the pollution of the environment by using unstabalized chemical fertilizers, which, in turn led to the heavy use of pesticides. With growing knowledge and a body of evidence to spur them on, Agri Scientists applied their ingenuity to overcome these problems while maintaining and even increasing yields. Some alarmists pressed panic buttons and advocated return to natural farming; a misnomer as there is nothing natural about farming. This gave rise to Organic Farming, which name is used to include the most unscientific of practices including the use of raw manure and resultant chemical ill-affects that are similar to that of unstabalized chemical fertilizers (excessive nitrate nitrogen build up) and lead to pest infestations (Chemical Trail – Chemitaxi for crawling insects and build up of excessive amino acids to attract flying pests). In reviewing all the prattle about modern Agriculture it has become obvious to the author that we are confusing the issue to no end whatsoever. It is undeniable, especially for a Pakistani, that the Green Revolution saved millions from starvation. However, it is also undeniable that this revolution has polluted the environment. The rational recourse was to apply human ingenuity and develop inputs that do not harm the environment and at the same time provide the nutrition required by a plant to enable commercial exploitation that meets the needs of growing populations. The axiom adopted by the Swiss Development Corporation is entirely commendable and needs to be supported. “Sustainable Development that is Economically Sound; Ecologically Safe and Socially Just:”
  3. 3. A point that is being missed by almost all those who have so volubly contributed to the Agricultural debate concerns Plant Nutrition. All plants, whether they are: Wild plants supported by Nature; Organically grown plants arising from pre-tech, smartly bred or genetically modified seed varieties; Pre-tech, smartly bred or genetically modified seeds supported by artificial fertilizers of the unstabalized variety; Pre-tech, smartly bred or genetically modified seeds supported by modern, hi-tech, environmentally safe inputs and organics. When we learn that the use of uncomposted manure will result in almost the same dangers to the environment as unstabalized fertilizers and give rise to pest infestations similar to them, we realize that extremist greenies and champions of the Green Revolution are actually riding the same horse. The advocates of Genetically Modified Seeds, who fail to realize that these seeds often need more nutrition then their unsophisticated counterparts due to greater genetic potential, further compound this issue. This extra nutrition is not being derided, as it is definitely cost effective as a result of improved yields. Rather, the fact that extra unstabalized or misconceived organic fertilizer will only add to the Earth’s burden of human caused pollution. Let us review our surmises: Organic Agriculture is much more than the use of manure. Compost is an essential part of Organic Agriculture and is indispensable to Agriculture of any kind. This is due to its primary advantage of being an excellent and often vital soil amendment. However, even the best organic agriculture cannot produce sufficient food for the World’s growing population. Use of unstabalized or toxic chemicals has to be banned immediately in order to reverse their deleterious affects. Complete, safe and rational plant nutrition makes efficient use of the genetic potential of any seed, be it pre-tech, domesticated and bred over the centuries; hybrid seed; smartly bred seed (using gene mapping) or genetically modified seed. Plants raised on complete nutrition (one that caters to all of its requirements) are better able to fight disease and combat adverse climate and other Negative Growth Factors. Genetically modified seed will give rise to the same problems as any other type of seed if Plant Management Systems are not efficient; in accordance to the plant’s requirements or environmentally safe. Increased yields in accordance with genetic potential; increased stress and disease resistance; denial of pest help that arises from the use of unstabalized and unsafe Plant Nutrition; environment friendly inputs are all due to Complete and Safe 21st century Plant Nutrition. Introduction of Genetically Modified Seeds without introduction of safe inputs will add to rather than relieve associated problems
  4. 4. The question arises whether such Plant Nutrition exists or not? The answer is a resounding YES! Thus the debate should primarily revolve around Plant Nutrition. Careful examination will reveal that both organic and green revolution agriculture will be knocked out from scientific debate when it comes down to feeding the World’s starving millions in a sustainable manner. We cannot revert to pre-science agriculture and yet feed the world; we can no longer ignore the threat to our environment by irrational agriculture and we cannot afford unregulated science due to the ability to cause irreparable or irreversible damage to the world. By this we mean only inbuilt safety and monitoring mechanisms to prevent harm due to indifference, incompetence or greed. Are the environmentalists not aware that the real and most important issue is Plant Nutrition and not Seed Manipulation! If that is the case then God help the environment. It is my guess that they are radicals and socialists who are opposed to Capitalism and Multi National Corporations (MNCs). It is Big Ag that is the target and not GEMs. Unfortunately BigAg holds patents upon the technology and that is causing all the fall out. However there is very little technical basis for the controversy. Plants alone have the capacity of capturing the energy from the sun and using it to store this energy as food or fuel while producing Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide as by- products. Indeed the various essential nutrient elements required by humans are made available from their inorganic mineral forms, to humans, through plants or plant consuming animals. Plants do not consume organic matter from the soil. This is a 200 years old concept that predates the discovery of the plant’s requirements of mineral nutrition. In 1860, Julius Von Sachs, a German plant physiologist, grew perfectly normal plants in a solution of ten minerals without any soil at all. Justus Von Liebeg, a German teacher of Agricultural Chemistry, applied his knowledge of Chemistry to Agriculture and laid the foundation of Chemical Fertilizers. The Green Revolution used these chemical fertilizers to great affect and dramatically increased yields which, when combined with new hybrid seeds, ensured food for millions who would have starved without this great benefit. The birth of the Environment Movement and with increasing knowledge and breakthroughs in many fields resulted in a growing awareness of humanities interdependence with the eco systems that they inhabit. Analysis showed the flaws and ill affects of chemical fertilizers in the forms that they were being used. More responsible
  5. 5. scientists and an increasingly influential Green Lobby created the need to overcome these problems. In 1997, Dr. Jerry Stoller, a German American Scientist, introduced the Stoller Advantage of complete Plant Nutrition to us in Pakistan. In answer to a request for better seed he stressed the fact that we are not utilizing even 40% of the genetic potential of what we already have. His argument was that hormones drive the characteristics of a plant, not fertilizers. The hormone balance of a plant dictates its growth characteristics. Nutrients are used to derive these hormones. Weather and its extremes of heat and drought compounded by insects and disease, restrict genetic potential utilization to 35 - 40%. Complete Plant Nutrition pushes this efficiency up. The Natural World is subject to certain Laws and patterns that serve to maintain a balance. This balance has led to evolutionary adaptation and development of life forms that are at the same time dependant upon Nature or the Eco System that they inhabit in the overall Environment as well as interdependent upon each other for survival. However, there exist numerous and often deleterious affect causing human and pest interventions that must be rationally and sustainably managed on a sustained or self sustaining basis in order to perpetuate the Bioenvironment and avoid breakdown. Homo Technicalis has the ability to either nurture or destroy this delicate balance. Only complete understanding and careful monitoring can ensure correct and proper Bioenvironmental Management. The existing Food Chains and Webs need to be reinforced and replenished in order to ensure health and continued functioning. The vital human requirements for food, water and air cannot be left to the mercy of ruthless, short sighted and short-term exploitation that leaves death, destruction and permanent loss in its wake! This fact is a dire necessity and can no longer be held in abeyance. Nor is it productive to enter into useless and repetitive argumentations. International and National Politics cannot be allowed to subvert the achievement of Eco Stability. We must realize that the “enemy” does not exist in other Countries, nor do they adhere to “other” faiths, nor yet are they of “different” races. The enemies of humanity belong to every faith and come in different colours. The so-called advanced, developed or civilized world is just as replete with unscrupulous, materialistic, greedy, viscous individuals as the 3rd World Countries. The garb of civilization, piety or affluence does not serve to subdue the reptilian “claw that lurks within a paw covered by an outstretched hand” which is the phylo genetic patrimony of humanity.
  6. 6. A factor common to all of the before mentioned agricultural developments and indeed part of them is Plant Nutrition. In fact the basis of the controversy is the deleterious affects of Plant Nutrition as introduced by the Green Revolution. Rather than only highlight the positive results accrued by this revolution, it would serve humanity to take lessons from past mistakes or oversights and move to correct them. This does not take from venerable reputations but rather reinforces them by provision of continuity rather than termination. A greater and deeper understanding of organics and their inorganic building blocks is badly required. Organics are high-energy-level compounds that have arisen due to energy input (usually from the sun) to low-energy-level inorganic elements and or compounds. Thus low- energy-level inorganic materials arise to constitute the parts of high-energy-level organic compounds and entities of progressively higher life forms that, in turn are subject to reversion to low-energy-level inorganic materials on decomposition and/ or death 1. With this as a fact there is absolutely no basis for an organic versus inorganic debate what so ever. The debate should revolve around the safety of the introduction by humans of man-made materials into the environment. In case they are not safe then safer materials need to be developed and unsafe materials need to be banned immediately or whenever such safe materials are available. It is an inescapable fact that all life forms require nutrition to maintain life. Modern research has shown that a life form must change its physical constituents quite rapidly in order to meet its growth and existence requirements. Indeed we require a constant supply of all kinds of atoms, molecules and compounds in order to replace what is being lost. The environment provides us with air and water to fulfill our need and indeed that of all life forms with Oxygen, Carbon and Hydrogen which make up over 90% of the life form’s body, be it human, animal or plants. Apart from this there are a number of essential raw materials required, this placed is between eighteen to forty for human beings. Of these eighteen are most commonly required, i.e. fifteen apart from the three already mentioned. These elements are the same for humans, animals and plants. As yet however, only plants are able to synthesize these raw materials into assimilable forms and make them available to humans and animals on an economic scale. There are six classes of nutrients for humans; of these four supply indispensable building materials. These are water; protein; minerals and vitamins. The other two are classed as energy foods (carbohydrates and fats, oils) and are interchangeable whereas the previous four are not. 1 Environment Systems Engineering, Linvil G. Rich. Mcgraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-052250-2
  7. 7. Just as living organisms shed their components and replace them on a continuous basis thereby consuming energy so too does Nature constantly consume energy through breakdown of organic matter, weathering process in the soil, the hydrothermal cycle and mobility of substances in soil, water, and air. Many dynamic and interdependent chains and cycles exist within the Biosphere as elements are cycled and recycled, are consumed and/ or replenished, subjected to output losses due to lack of input: output balance. Stable Eco Systems are those wherein minerals (essential elements) and particulate material are retained by recycling them within its constituent sub-systems. It is important to note that rebuilding of this dynamic recycling, in case of disruption, can take from 60 to 80 years and longer depending upon the severity of the disruption. Secondly, it has taken millions of years for these Eco Systems to evolve. For instance soil that has been either deposited or built up in millions of years can be lost within a few years if mismanaged. Within natural Eco Systems, nutrient flow is conserved and input and loss is usually of small quantities (especially in terrestrial systems) compared with the volume, which circulates within the system. In artificial or human intervened systems, minerals which originated in underlying rock strata or through sediment deposit becomes part of the vegetation and is in turn regularly harvested and removed. Thus large quantities of minerals are removed. If Compost or well-rotted Farm Yard Manure is inculcated in the soil, quantities of these minerals are returned to the soil and fertility is replenished to the extent of addition. Since Farm Yard Manure does not contain sufficient minerals to replace those removed, unless prohibitively large quantities of rarely available manure are added. Even when composted with biodegradable organic material, the output: input ratio is not balanced. Thus agricultural soils face continuous depletion (Nutrient Mining). This is compounded by run off and leaching losses due to poor cultural practices. Thirdly, over use of deadly pesticides and herbicides tend to kill or eliminate useful biota in the form of microbes and fungi. These biota are of vital importance as they mineralise organic material and provide them to plants and other energy pathways within the Eco System. Therefore if uptake is value 5, retention is 1 and return is 2 then Nutrient Mining output: input ratio will be 5:3 representing a net loss of 2 per crop leading to declining fertility. When organic material and biota are absent or deficient then the even 2 return is not, or partially mineralised and will not be available to the plants. Thus our Nutrient Reserves are soon exhausted. If cultivated land is managed correctly, nutrient reserves can be replenished and fertility levels can be increased. For example nutrient loss from the Eco System is minimized
  8. 8. by presence of plants that hold soil through their roots and thus prevent erosion; convert water run-off to evapo-transpiration and restrict leaching losses; provide shade and reduce rates of decomposition of organic matter so that the supply of soluble ions available for loss via run- off is lessened. if sufficient nutrients and compounds are provided to the plant, uptake from the reserve is curtailed and soil fertility is maintained. These nutrients etc. must be in a chemical form that makes it available to the plant and must be stable and safe for the environment. Thus we see that provision of Plant Nutrition and Correct Cultural Practices are of prime importance. These are common to all seed; often critical for hybrid or Genetically Modified Organisms. If either of these two is not rational the result is poor quality and quantity produce as well as more susceptibility of the plant to Negative Growth Factors and pest attacks. Thus we see that humans require minerals either directly from plants or from animals dependent upon plants (meat, milk, eggs etc.). It is the human, animal or plant that makes organic compounds out of basic essential building materials. Some of these organic compounds are known as hormones, which are described as chemical messengers that excite one response or the other in the body’s organs or tissues. Plants normally obtain their mineral requirements from the soil and the ability of a soil to provide the proper elements and compounds, in proper amounts and in proper balance for growth of specified plants when temperature and other factors are favourable is what determines soil fertility (proper means in the ionic forms commonly absorbed by the plant).