I'm currently reading Fukuoka's The One Straw Revolution, which I've found to be marvelous philosophy in the mask of agriculture. But there is one thing that is bothering me as I'm reading this. In the Four Principles of Natural Farming section in Part II under the fourth principle of No Chemicals, there is a double asterisk explaining:
Mr. Fukuoka grows his grain crops without chemicals of any kind. On some orchard trees he occasionally uses a machine oil emulsion for the control of insect scales. He uses no persistent or broad-spectrum poisons, and has no pesticide "program."
This seems a bit contradictory to the fourth principle, does this bother anyone else? Can anyone shed some light on this issue?
It is analogous to using what we call "ultrafine oil" in the nursery trade. It is a petroleum product, but it is on the level of toxicity of baby oil or mineral oil. Personally it is preferable to handpicking or using anything more poisonous. I'm not aware of a better OMRI listed product for what it does, though you have to be careful about it. And, scale insect along with spider mites are the only two things I really worry about with citrus, and that gets both. My understanding is that fukuoka learned that these citrus are fairly well bred, thus requiring some outside care. Kind of like a domestic dog needing human care (excepting carolina dogs etc). Or, like how he thought that the seedling form was the ideal form for a tree, and pruning was unnecessary for such trees, but a grafted tree has been altered by human hand and thus needed occasional pruning to reach such a form, even though he philosophically disagreed with pruning.
I appreciate all the information, it's good to understand the actual use and composition. It seems like a treatment of a symptom, the kind of thing Fukuoka warned against. I like the idea of using the insects as shellac too!
I think most decent philosophers allow themselves to use words like 'never', yet make exceptions.
It's so much more readable than 98.2% ... with a +- 1.4% margin of error....
'Chemicals', to a chemist, is everything. The elements and building blocks of life; minerals, hormones, and the sugar in your tea.
Where do you draw the line between 'natural stuff' and 'chemicals'?
Between chicken manure, DE, and quicklime? Ammonia and copper sulfate? Cyanide and DDT? (They all kill different things in different ways.)
Something that comes in a bag vs. something that comes out of a cow? (If fed to cows, do chemicals become 'natural' again?)
'The Natural Step' framework offers some useful distinctions without needing to argue any particular category as 'bad chemicals.'
Their 4 system conditions are roughly:
1) "protect biodiversity / don't destroy genetic seed stock"
2) "avoid increasing concentrations of crustal materials in the biosphere"
3) "avoid increasing concentrations of persistent compounds in the biosphere"
4) "equitable resource allocation: unmet needs for immediate survival undercut long-term solutions."
#2 and #3 both address different aspects of 'chemical' to avoid. Living, biological materials are part of the thing to be preserved: life on earth. Crustal materials (minerals) are necessary, but if your business involves systematically replacing living soil with inert minerals, it's not sustainable. Likewise, 'persistent compounds' might be natural or synthetic; what matters is if our activity stirs them up or produces them faster than they can be re-absorbed.
Female mammals naturally produce estrogen. Urban areas bring together large concentrations of birth-control users near fresh water supplies. The frogs and fish don't care whether your 'Pill' is natural tortured-mare's-piss or artificial vegan alternative, they only notice whether there's more of it in the river.
From being a limiting nutrient locally, nitrogen has become an over-abundant problem regionally. Over-fertilization and feed-lot runoff combine to make estuaries into a nitrogen dead zone. Organic farms are just as prone to over-fertilization as conventional ones, because fertilizer is cheap and people tend to think 'more of a good thing is better.' Too much chicken manure kills things just as fast as too much urea.
If you occasionally use some bitumen from the tar seeps around California to repair your pottery, you aren't shifting the balance. But if you are constantly extracting tars and paving bigger parking lots, you are replacing living habitat with non-living, toxic stuff. That violates both #2 and #3 above.
Of course, there are some absolutely nasty chemical poisons. Persistent insecticides, herbicides, even antibiotics and fungicides are designed to kill. Any chemical whose name you can't pronounce is probably worth passing up: not time-tested for compatibility with life on Earth.
Physical methods are self-limiting because they're labor intensive: mulching, heating, washing, or drying things out.
'Mild but effective' chemicals break down relatively fast: vinegar, baking soda, biodegradable soaps, non-toxic oils. Diatomaceous earth. Charcoal, ashes, sugar, salt... all known to be compatible with life on earth when diluted; all appropriate if used in suitable concentrations. That is, if you are not using them faster than they break down.
Using oil to smother scale insects and remove them from trees seems compatible with this: like poulticing and salving an infected cut. Sure, you are going to try to improve your health so you don't repeat the problem, but sometimes you also need some basic first aid in order to keep everything alive long enough to enjoy an improvement in its overall health.
We're all using computers here, and probably most of us drive around to get our organic farm supplies in vehicles that pollute far more than the tree treatment in question.
I'm leery of any solution that is hypocritical about 'purity' for the system under management, yet the managers use all the normal, practical everyday conveniences for their own needs.
Smacks of school lunch-ladies that don't eat what they dish out.
If I'm going to be a practical omnivore in my own lifestyle, then I'm going to extend the same attitude toward my trees, pets, and livestock.
Elegant solutions when possible; Grandma's pragmatism when necessary.
What I've heard of Fukuoka suggests a blending of labor-intensive and labor-saving methods, a beautiful set of solutions but not an omniscient one. Like a watch-maker with cogs of DNA and springs of sunlight. The purist solutions are tempting simply as an exercise in seeing how far we can push the limits of our theories.
Look forward to a better acquaintance with his work when I get the chance.
Hey, good question and a good discussion. I would agree that light machine oil should not be considered a chemical pesticide. Anyway, he gradually stopped using it because there was no need. When he first began the soil was run down and there was little diversity of plants and animals. That made natural insect control difficult. He grew chrysanthamum plants and created a pyrethrum "natural" insecticide to spray on some of his vegetables to control insects that had no preditors such as cabbage worm. As the soil improved and the diversity of habitate for insects grew he stopped using it since the diversity of insects controlled themselves. Eventually he stopped needing to do very much at all. That's one of the reasons he referred to his technique as "do-nothing." Obviously if you're maintaining ten acres of orchard and one and a half acres of rice and barley fields using only hand tools you will be doing a heck of a lot of labor. It's unnecessary labor that he tried to avoid.
onestrawrevolution.com There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write poetry or compose a song -- Masanobu Fukuoka