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Science supports ‘anecdotal’ biological farming experience

Press Release – Association of Biological Farmers

Farmers across the country are increasingly finding positive solutions to many on-farm challenges; proving that farming can provide both economic and ecological outcomes. For many years these farmers have been vocally dismissed by a faction that believes …3 July 2012

Sound science supports the ‘anecdotal’ biological farming experience

Farmers across the country are increasingly finding positive solutions to many on-farm challenges; proving that farming can provide both economic and ecological outcomes. For many years these farmers have been vocally dismissed by a faction that believes it is not possible to be profitable and to take care of New Zealand’s ‘clean green image’.

The Association of Biological Farmers (ABF) has just completed a SFF one year project showcasing some of the successful farmers and growers around the country who are bucking a trend of diminishing natural capital returns.

ABF has collated data from research from New Zealand and around the world supporting the ‘anecdotal’ on-farm experiences of these innovative and progressive farmers. This research shows that biological farming systems use significantly less agro-chemicals, are more energy efficient, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve soil qualities without reducing output and financial benefits; all in all resulting in a more ecologically, economically and socially more robust model compared to the conventional farming approach.

The farmers adopting this approach are now seeing the results across their bottom lines. ABF spokesperson Nicole Masters encourages farmers to get in touch with the Association; “One of the best way to build confidence in the approach is to meet with one of the farmers and growers in your local area to see the results for yourself.” To find out more, contact ABF at info@biologicalfarmers.co.nz or to view some of the science see www.biologicalfarmers.co.nz

Document summary (available here)

The addition of biological foods with reduced chemical inputs have been clearly shown to improve or maintain soil structure, reduce erosion (Eltun et al, 2002) increase soil organic matter, improve soil fertility, cation exchange capacity (CEC), lower bulk density (Bulluck et al, 2002, Clark et al, 1998; Deurer et al, 2009; Fortuna et al, 2003; Pimentel, 2012) and reduce weed pressures (Liebman et al, 2008; Liebman, 2000) while encouraging beneficial soil fauna and contribute to the control of pathogens (Arden-Clarke & Hodges, 1988; Baldi et al, 2010; Bhardwaj et al, 2011).

Low input biological systems improve economic return per unit of fossil energy invested and improve energy efficiencies (Alluvione et al, 2011; Bailey et al, 2003; Cruse et al, 2010). Importantly, compared to the conventional approach, many researchers found that the low-input systems maintained or improved crop yields (Bhardwaj et al, 2011; Bulluck et al, 2002; Clarke et al, 1998, Coulter et al, 2011; Liebman et al, 2008; Makinde & Ayoola, 2010; Pimentel, 2012; Poudel et al, 2002) and the economic returns are comparable (Rasul & Gopal, 2004). Efthimiadou et al (2010) also found a positive correlation with yield and rate of photosynthesis.

Improved soil management can also lead to decreases in greenhouse gas emissions from soil and an increase in carbon sequestration (Deurer et al, 2009; Fortuna et al, 2003; Kong & Six, 2010). Alluvione et al (20110) also found that improved energy efficiency suggests the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices.

Using biological practices including crop rotations, which build soil carbon levels and enhancing the natural N-cycle nitrogen availability and use efficiency (Bhardwaj et al, 2011; Constantin et al, 2010; Efthimiadou et al, 2010; Kong et al, 2007; Kramer et al, 2002) soil organic matter and total N were positively correlated to soil microbial biomass (Baldi et al, 2010). Reduced input systems were found to effectively match nitrogen availability with crop uptake (Kramer et al, 2002).

Low input systems have been shown to have less potential environmental impacts (Clarke 1998a; Bailey at al, 2003; Eltun, 2002; Poudel et al, 2002; Rasul & Gopal, 2004; Deurer et al, 2009) with significant reductions in nutrient runoff and/or leaching, soil erosion (Kramer et al, 2002; Wells et al, 2000) and pesticide contamination (Eltun et al, 2002). Improved environmental outcomes are also shown by biologically managed soils increased adsorption of ag-chemicals (Deurer et al, 2009; Mallawatantri & Mulla, 1992).

Oquist et al (2007) found that alternative farming practices reduced subsurface drainage discharge by 41%, and nitrate N losses by between 59 and 62% compared with conventional practices, this finding is being supported by New Zealand research undertaken by the New Zealand Biological farming research centre (Magesan and McFadden, 2012).

Clarke et al (1998b) conclude that “the low-input system appeared to be most efficient, and the conventional systems were least efficient.” Cruse et al (2010) also reflected that if fossil energy prices continue to rise significantly without increases in crop value, diversified low-input systems may become preferable to conventional cropping systems and used more widely.

ENDS

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