Sunday, January 20, 2013

Do-nothing farming

Chimel here, taking over Ed’s blog during his and LuAnn’s vacations, or, as I like to call it, the “How to destroy 20 years of a farmer and ag teacher’s reputation in 20 days” experiment.  ;)
Today, step 1, give away your Blogger password to a total stranger.

To go back to the subject of this post, I would like to dedicate today’s blog to Masanobu Fukuoka and his 1978 book “The One-Straw Revolution. Yep, these were not my own pictures.

While in the U.S no-till really started in the 70s with the development of appropriate equipment and improved herbicides, Masanobu Fukuoka had been developing since the 50s a completely different form of no-till, more harmonious with the landscape and the laws of nature. He calls it do-nothing farming, and it inspired the permaculture method.

His learning on the job cost him dearly at first, but he finally managed to evolve a double crop rotation of rice and winter barley or rye that each yields about 80-90 bushels per acre, as well as a no-pruning method for fruit trees.

His method goes beyond no-till and is based on his observations of the natural cycles. For instance, barley or rye is sown in the still standing rice field, 2 weeks before harvest, and the rice is sown back in the field before winter: Its natural dormancy will allow the barley to be harvested while the rice is just getting started. The field is flooded for 7 to 10 days, allowing the rice to shoot up and overcome the weakened weeds. Rice is then grown in a dry field, not the traditional paddy wet fields. Masanobu Fukuoka also developed an ingenious method to protect the rice seeds from being eaten by animals or insects, by encasing them in clay pellets, like we do for coated seeds.

The only fertilizer used in the fields are clover sown in the field, and a small cover of chicken manure spread over all the straw mulch from the previous crop in a double crop rotation of rice and barley or rye.

Each field unit is a quarter acre, easily manageable by one person even at harvest time, and providing food for 5 to 10 persons. This type of farming produces jobs and high yield at a cost lower than both organic and conventional farming. Not taking any position here, but such reading is a nice break from the current productivity race. The rest of the book contains several other peaceful considerations on farming politics and many other matters. I’ll leave you with one excerpt from the book to reflect upon: There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song. I strongly recommend the book if you are curious about other farming practices, it is as much a reference book as Edward H. Faulkner's Plowman's Folly (1943).

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