I think it is important to look at the themes that underlie Gabe Brown's work in North Dakota where he grows with no irrigation and no fertilizer with 14 inches of rain a year.
1) By increasing the carbon content in the soil he does not have to irrigate or fertilize. He is increasing the carbon content with a very mixed cover crop (as many as 30 species), which the grazing animals then lay down and of course with the animal manure. So we could do this with chop and drop and microbe innoculations (microbe tea) Chop and drop is not even necessary according to me as the mixed cover crop will share nutrients with the trees that are planted. I would use 6 inch tall cover crops. In the video he talks about a farmer converting to his system and not fertilizing and getting good yields the first year. Using trees in the system would mean that the trees take the water further down and pull it back up when the trees and their sister plants need it. Again not having the ruminants grazing could be replaced by soil innoculations with microbes. Local microbes would be the best. There is a lot of information in the Korean natural farming work about how to do this fermenting if there are folks like me who do not have electricity for bubbling. I am currently buying EM (Teraganix)and mycorhizzals (paul stamets, fungi perfecti)
2) Gabe is not tilling all the microbes can proliferate. In the Indian systems they use a very light tilling with animals. There is a lot of stuff I do not know about hydrology, but I expect not tilling also keeps the capillary action of the soil intact allowing much less transspiration and better water flow to the plant roots.
3) Gabe is very interested in nutrients in his cover crops as well as in his animals. These nutrients are increased by his no fertilizing, no irrigating system in a way that cannot be matched by fertilizing or irrigated systems. I am not positive he would say it like this, the nutritional value of the food is the basis of his whole program. i am thinking i will connect with him and interview him to find out.
4) He is not using hedgerows to protect from the wind. It seems as though with the increased carbon content in his soil he does not need to. I will still use hedgerows for insectary, wind etc.
5) He is not using water holding structures, such as swales. Again it looks like with his carbon content he does not need to. He speaks of his soil holding billions of gallons of water (he has 5000 acres). I have not read or seen a lot of the mob grazing stuff, but it seems they are all not using water holding structures.
7) Another thing he speaks about in the video is the NPK is his soil is not good. An extension agent came and tested it. The NPK in the corn he grew from that same NPK low soil was better than average. This agrees with what Elaine Ingham is saying. It is not about the NPK in the soil, so soil tests do not help us. Again she says that every soil or since air and water are included I should say every plant environment has what the plant needs if it has its microbe partners to access this environment.
7) i do not remember Gabe addressing this, but it is an underlying theme of growing without irrigation and fertilizer The use of minimum water means a lot to the nutrition of the plants and to the susceptibility of the plants to pests and viruses. When chemicals are used the plants need 4-5 times as much water. I believe this is true (maybe not to the same degree) with using any concentrated plant foods. The plants evolved to work with their microbial partners not to take up concentrated plant food.
This is from the book “Regenerating the Soil” by Claude Bourguignon. This is a description of how the plant takes up additional water because of osmolality differences when NPK are taken into the plant cells. This then leads to pest and virus problems. The example used here is potassium. Normally when the plant takes up potassium from the soil solution and brings it into the membrane, it immediately releases another unit of potassium into the cell sap. The plant has no regulatory system for theuptake of potassium. if you put a lot of potassium in the cell the plant is unable to regulate its uptake and absorbs high quantities of it. Consequently you have a lot of positive charge on the membrane. to be sure to have this you have to put in a lot of phosphorus because potassium is pumped b ATP which uses phosphorus. So if you put more phosphorus a lot of potassium gets pumped into the membrane. then when you put a lot of nitrate in the soil, when you put a lot of nitrate in the soil, what happens? the concentration of nitrate inside the cell increases a lot. on the electric side there is no problem as there is a balance: the plus charge of potassium is compensated by the minus charge of nitrate. The big problem however is on the osmotic side. an atom alone has no osmotic charge. it has no salty reaction. but a molecule like nitrate has a high salty concentration and thus has an osmotic force. Owing to this the plant is obliged to bring a lot more water inside the cell. we call this turgor pressure. So the plant becomes full of water, extremely fragile and susceptible to attacks of disease, bacteria and so on. Then you have to use pesticides. In the end what happens is that you eat plants which are in disequilibrium.
if any of you can come up with more themes that Gabe's work highlight, i would love to hear them.
A working model to reverse desertification, end drought, grow enough food to feed everyone, and allow farmers to make a good living.
As I was traveling in India my eyes were opened to a way of agriculture that I had not known in the U.S.
1. Dry land farming with no fertilizer and no irrigation added, no pesticides, and no herbicides produced better than chemical yields.
2. The carbon holding capacity of the soil on large acreages could be drastically increased with microbe inoculation.
a. This increases the water holding capacity exponentially to allow the soil to hold water for many months to grow plants effectively without irrigation.
b. The microbes allow the minerals in the soil to become available and thus lead to fertility and increased production with no added fertilizer.
3. I saw the results of the green revolution where thousands of acres of forests and diverse orchards were replaced by monoculture. The farmers had borrowed money for equipment, irrigation, fertilizer and seeds. for several years their yields would go up and then they would drop down to below where they had been before all of their investments. This led to many farmers losing their farms and hundreds of thousands of farmer suicides. There were still traditional systems in place with which I could compare these monocropping systems.
4. Chemicals require 4 – 5 times the amount of water used for non-fertilized plants. In a place like India where there are wall to wall farms this meant the ground water was seriously depleted. This is happening in the U.S. as well.
All of these things I could have learned in the U.S. Gabe Brown is farming in North Dakota with 15 inches of rain a year with no irrigation and no fertilizer. He has a mob grazing practice, which means he has a lot of animals involved. The system we are demonstrating is a diverse food forest system with nut, fruit and timber trees, herbs, berry bushes, as well as annual and perennial vegetables, legumes and grains.
I have been practicing permaculture for 25 years. I led an organization called Victory Gardens For All which helped folks in the Eugene, Oregon area put in 650 gardens. One of the focal points was putting on microbial innoculations. Most folks got great gardens the first year.
I did not understand before going to India how these techniques could be used to work on depleted soils while getting good yields on broad acre applications. Or I could say that I was in a fog due to having plenty of food to eat and did not understand the real problem until I went to India where my fog was lifted.
I see now that such people as Geoff Lawton, a well know permaculturist, head the Permaculture Research Institute, http://permaculturenews.org/author/geofflawton/ recommends what he calls compost tea, which is a form of microbial tea, be applied to broad acres where compost is not feasible. I was part of a farm where we made compost for 15 acres. it took a full time person with a tractor. Many permaculture practices such as hugelkultur, dry mulching, sometimes composting are a tremendous amount of work for the practioner, Many people want their sand, clay or other problematic soils to be friable soil before they put in their crops I have put these microbes on all kinds of soil and planted at the same time. The soils change within months to friable soils. Broad acre permaculture without using microbe inoculation is too expensive to be doable by most practioners. Even in your back yard, many people cannot do this much work. Increasing the carbon in the soil with microbe innoculations on broad acre applications is a matter of survival. I also see in videos that Elaine Ingham who is a soil scientist, who is applying her science to help farmers, describes scientifically why these microbial inoculation practices work, very succinctly in her video The Roots of Your Profits
I have returned to the U.S. and have started Terra Lingua farm to demonstrate how with 8-14 inches of rain a year we can
1. Interplant fruit, nut, wood, fiber, vegetable, and fodder trees with medicinal herbs, vegetables, fruits and cereals, pulses, and oil seeds
2. Planting all of the above along key lines along with ponds, contour trenches, green mulch etc.
Please check out details of our demonstration farm on our web site.
There is a link on the right hand side to an interview with Narsanna Koppula with Aranya Alternative Agriculture who has a 17 year old dry land food forest which has never been watered or fertilized except with rain and mulch, like in a forest.
The cropping system we have posted in the buttons on the top is a major contribution from traditional Indian agriculture.
i also want to post the video that i am referring to describing Gabe Brown's work.
Keys To Building a Healthy Soil - Organic - Permaculture and Polyculture Gabe Brown Soil Conservationist - Explains how to remediate and build up your soil quality. .
Keys To Building a Healthy Soil - Organic - Permaculture and Polyculture
Gabe Brown Soil Conservationist - Explains how to remediate and build up your soil quality.