Restoring Soil, Revering Life: Solutions for Climate and Agriculture
Editor's Note: This guest post is by Timothy J. LaSalle of the Rodale Institute.
What I am about to share with you works for large-scale farmers as well as gardeners anywhere in the world. Pests and diseases do not like healthy plants, so weak plants are more susceptible to their damage. Chemical inputs of synthetic fertilizers begin a downward cycle of weakened plants that need pesticides and fungicides to prop them up.This is not a new idea, but the work of French research scientist, Francis Chaboussou. He outlined plant responses and increased pest susceptibility way back in the 1980s as part of his "Theory of Trophobiosis" in his book, Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution Jose Lutzenberger, former Minister for the Environment in Brazil, calls Chaboussou's work, "the most important discovery in agricultural chemistry since Liebig," the 19th century German chemist known as the "father of the fertilizer industry."
But the agro-chemical companies don't want you to know this. They want you to think you need their fossil fuel-based, toxic and unsustainable products to grow food. Agribusiness is even lobbying at Copenhagen to receive funding for these practices.
Here is how Choboussou explained why soluble fertilizers work to increase disease and pest vulnerability. The soluble fertilizers cause plant proteins to break down into amino acids and change the carbohydrate to sugar ratios, affecting the plant's metabolism. This change makes plants more vulnerable. Pests and disease rely on malfunctioning plants for nutrients that are not available in healthier plants. When imbalance occurs, circumstances are ripe for infestation and infection. Further, chemical fertilizers inhibit the growth of life-sustaining fungi in the soils, damaging the biological health of the soil as well as that of the plant.
Chemically-treated soils produce weaker plants that are more physiologically stressed, and these plants become more susceptible to disease and insects as well. There is, perhaps, little difference for humans. Just like plants, scientist Dr. Warren Porter at the University of Wisconsin has informed us that as a human becomes stressed and is fighting disease, he or she will break down blood proteins, which creates a similar environment to what the imbalanced plant experiences with the application of fertilizers.
When plants get nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) as manufactured soluble salts--instead of from biologically released nutrients from a healthy, biologically alive soil--the plant becomes dependent on chemical applications for nutrition, instead of the soil. Increased applications of herbicides (to kill weeds) over time only further weakens the plants, creating more opportunities for weed resistance and pest infestation. For humans, it's the same as our immune systems are weakened by eating over- processed and corn syrup/sugar-based diets.
What happened to eating whole foods that are toxin-free- and possess actual nutrition, whole proteins, complex carbohydrates? No person in their right mind would try to survive solely on vitamin supplements—why do we think our food supply can? Crops, and humans, demand a complexity of nutrients for optimum wellness that can only come from biologically derived nutrients.
Choboussou's conclusions are not surprising to those in the biodynamic, organic, regenerative, or ecological farming communities, who have known this truth for decades. Yet these life-based farming practices are not a return to "antiquated" methods of the pre-Industrial era. They are, rather, post-modern agriculture at its finest and most promising, and it is time to adopt it.
We must all restore health to ourselves, our families, and the planet in all the ways open to us. We need to learn how to work with nature to replace that which we have destroyed by trying to trick and manipulate it. This is best done biodynamically, organically and eco-agriculturally—without synthetics—and with aggressive soil regeneration in mind.
Soil regeneration is not just farming without chemicals.
â— It takes intensive, well-planned practices and knowledge of how soil life works,.
â— It means looking at the kinds of grazing that maximizes root growth with a biodiverse plant mixture in grasslands or pastures.
â— It means cover crops/green manures and composts to build soil organic matter at faster rates without losing productivity.
â— It means keeping soil covered as much as possible for as many days of the year as possible.
Agrochemical companies, take notice. Copenhagen is happening, and there will be new appreciation for farming that really works. The information exists, you can not keep it obscured forever. New media is joining old media and word of mouth to help common sense prevail through networks of farmers, scientists, activists and citizens who have seen the truth growing in their fields and nourishing their communities.
We have a chance to advance organic agriculture methods as a solution to climate crisis in Copenhagen, certainly. More importantly we have a chance to seize this opportunity for restoring our planet and civilization as it needs to be through a deep and reverential respect for soil, its biology, and life-producing qualities.