An organic farmer claimed that organic inputs (fertilizers) cause just as much damaging runoff as commercial synthetic fertilizers -- releasing too much nitrogen, phosphorous, and other nutrients at once, causing runoff to waterways, disrupting balance, and leading to things like algae blooms. I realize farmers should focus on growing sustainable soils full of healthy microbes vs. using fertilizers, but I need some perspective on comparisons of organic fertilizers with synthetic ones, and the longterm effects. Thanks for any help.
In nature, as in life, too much is not a good thing. Thus too much nitrogen running off can pollute water sources. Absolutely. There are ways of mitigating that and I'd still rather use organic means than chemical means. You simply have to consider all sides when applying anything to your property.
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posted 3 years ago
That's what I was thinking, but needed to hear. Thanks.
On some farms and gardens, the term organic has come to mean little more than green marketing. If you just substitute an "organic" nitrogen source instead of a man made synthetic nitrogen source, but you still till the shit out of your land 2-4 times per year, yes you will still have runoff and you will still destroy your soil.
But if you do cover cropping and companion planting, and plant guilds and very high biodiversity, and low till or no-till, and rarely or never have bare soil, that is FAR better. Permaculture would be one variety of that.
The human body analogy: If you get headaches every day because your boss is a jerk and your job is high stress and the hours are crazy, and you take 4 aspirin every day just to get by...that's conventional agriculture.
If you substitute willow bark for aspirin, now you're "organic" and "natural" but you haven't addressed the underlying and more fundamental problems.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
posted 3 years ago
gina: My main concern with organic fertilizers is that if I am applying them to one piece of ground that means I am mining them from someplace else. So one piece of ground is becoming more fertile while the mined ground is becoming less fertile. In the extreme case, I'd end up with an oasis surrounded by desert.
Google dictionary defines "fertilizer" as "a chemical or natural substance added to soil or land to increase its fertility". It also defines organic as "of, relating to, or derived from living matter". Sticking by those two definitions, organic fertilizers don't necessarily have to contribute to the problem of runoff; you can simply rely on organic inputs that aren't water soluble and limit the use of ones that are. But since these non-water-soluble, organic inputs to your garden (read: plants, manure, compost, etc.) typically attract beneficial microbes to your soil, then it sort of becomes apparent that instead of "organic" vs "non-organic", or "good soil" vs. "bad", the real contrast seems to be farming with a reliance on "water-soluble" vs "non-water soluble" inputs.
So what are the differences between water-soluble, organic fertilizers and water-soluble, chemical fertilizers? I believe the main difference is that water-soluble, organic fertilizers release their nutrients at a slower rate than chemical fertilizers, which makes for a less dramatic impact on the environment they're introduced to. Water-soluble, organic fertilizers also have less of a negative impact on soil microorganisms. I would say the long term effects of using water-soluble, orgnaic fertilizers in the same way we use chemical fertilizers would be pretty much the same in terms of runoff, disrupting balance, and causing algae blooms. It may leave a few living soil microorganisms in our fields though.
"There is nothing, Sir, too little for so little a creature as man. It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible." - Samuel Johnson
posted 3 years ago
In real life, it can be complex...that's what makes it interesting and fun.
Do the best you can with what you have.
My soil was severely lacking in nitrogen and organic matter. I could have pulled myself up by my boot straps and done it without inputs.
But...the South Bend organic resorces dept collects yard waste and tree trimmings and turns it into pretty good compost. You can also get mulch from chipped up trees.
Four bucks a pickup truck load if they load it with a big loader. Free if you shovel it yourself.
So, I am happy to close the loop and encourage South Bend to continue to make good use of organic matter.
I can pick up a load on my lunch hour, and it costs just a bit of gas.
Would it be better if everybody composted it on site and used it to improve the local soil and agrculture? Sure. But not everybody is going to do that.
This is a little bit like, the citizens of no-common-sense-ville have decided that gold and silver have no intrinsic value. So let's just throw it all in a big pile and let the dumb country bumpkins haul it off for us.
Who knows what they even use it for?
I feel richer every time I haul a load home. I wish they weren't foolish, but I'm not going to let the resource go to waste. They used to just haul it all to the landfill...
Also, something like azomite which is rock dust is taken from a place where it really isn't impacting the area (you aren't stealing soil fertility, just mining valuable minerals and spreading them around). it's not like you are sucking minerals out of the topsoil from one area and putting them somewhere else, nothing will be grown where it is mined.
As an organic small grain farmer I have to comment on this. Composted poultry manure or glyphosphate and 2,4-D? Only Monsanto would claim these are equally (non)toxic. My ultimate goal is sustainability, technically it's like being pregnant, you are or your not. Hopefully we can cut ourselves a little slack, anything closer to (sustainability ) is better than.
posted 3 years ago
Yes, absolutely Ragnar.
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