August 25, 2006

Effortless (almost) farming

FUKUOKA - A Japanese agro-philosopher developed a farming practice called "Natural Farming", in response to modern organic agricultural methods that degrade soil. He encourages "no till" methods of grain cultivation, and the idea of letting nature do the farming work for you. He wrote an important book called One Straw Revolution, and introduced the idea of "seed balls", self propagating balls of clay containing hundreds of seeds, to the world: The Natural Way of Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka. Check out: www.seedballs.com

I would be very interested in hearing some practical experience with this method.

Fukuoka practices a system of farming he refers to as "natural farming." Although some of his practices are specific to Japan, the governing philosophy of his method has successfully been applied around the world. In India, natural farming is often referred to as "Rishi Kheti."

The essence of Fukuoka's method is to reproduce natural conditions as closely as possible. There is no plowing, as the seed germinates quite happily on the surface if the right conditions are provided. There is also considerable emphasis on maintaining diversity. A ground cover of white clover grows under the grain plants to provide nitrogen. Weeds (and Daikons) are also considered part of the ecosystem, periodically cut and allowed to lie on the surface so the nutrients they contain are returned to the soil. Ducks are let into the grain plot, and specific insectivorous carp into the rice paddy at certain times of the year to eat slugs and other pests.

The ground is always covered. As well as the clover and weeds, there is the straw from the previous crop, which is used as mulch, and each grain crop is sown before the previous one is harvested. This is done by broadcasting the seed among the standing crop. Also he re-introduced the ancient technique of seed balls (“y’cŽq,“y‚¾‚ñ‚²,Tsuchi Dango {Earth Dumpling}). The seed for next season's crop is mixed with clay, compost, and manure then formed into small balls. Much less seed is used than in conventional growing, resulting in fewer but larger and stronger plants.

The Fukuoka method is not suited to growing large quantities of grain, like those presently produced in the industrialised world by means of large-scale mechanization. However, the vast majority of this grain goes to feed animals (which could be more efficiently fed by diverse forage systems), and the quantity used for direct human consumption could be grown by the Fukuoka method.

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