Dieter, I read your posts and then thought again about the Man Who
Farms Water. I can't think of his name at the moment. He is the man
in Zimbabwe who was accused of stealing all the water because he
could grow crops in the dry season, and also because his well never
ran dry when everyone else had those problems.
Brad Lancaster from Arizona went there and learned from him....then
experimented with the ideas in Arizona....and then wrote a wonderful
set of books he called, "Rainwater Harvesting."
Are you familiar with any of this?
Leaving chaff on the ground, etc. should stop water runoff when it is
wet encouraging a build up of groundwater there. I just read an
article in Scientific American's June issue on No Till Farming. It
did mention the use of herbicides, etc, as you did. It was neither
an organic, nor a natural farming type of article. It was instead
showing why there is an increase in no till farming, even though the
yields, and losses are not satisfactory in the beginning. It did
mention that Europe was behind in this method....that few are using
it in Europe.
When I was well I did experiment myself with swales and such to see
what would happen here in Texas where we often have drought. It was
great to see that the trees and plants where I had dug the swales, or
even just holes to collect water near them. not suffer from the
drought. Those not so lucky were often devoured by grasshoppers
which plague us in drought years.
I suspect, if you investigate some of the Zimbabwan ideas you may
change your mind. I think they are probably doable even on larger
tracts of land with good planning. It has changed things in Africa
where, when there is no strife, agriculture does not stop when it is
dry because of this wonderful Zimbabwan man.
--- In email@example.com
, Dieter Brand <diebrand@...>
> You are correct that "intellectually speaking" or in theory no-till
could be useful in the arid regions of the World in that it is
possible to improve the water retention properties of soil by
avoiding soil disturbance and thus leaving the soil structure and the
soil web (including roots, fungi, etc.) intact. That is also the
motivation behind my experiments. In fact, in the irrigated part of
the garden I have successfully used no-till, mulching and composting
to reduce irrigation by about 80%. However, there is a limit beyond
which it is difficult to stretch the available water resources.
> This year, I experimented with deep mulching (2 inch plus of hey,
straw, etc.) to test if an organic mulch can be as effective at
avoiding evaporation and suppressing weeds as the dirt mulch normally
created in dryland farming by ploughing. I used crops typically used
for dryland farming such as beans, sunflowers, sorghum, etc. I was
surprised that many plants still had not wilted even after 3 months
without rain and without irrigation. However, the harvest produced
is near zero. I think I will be able to obtain better results next
year by: earlier sowing, different seeds and better soil. Still,
whatever the results, the harvest will be too meager for commercial
exploitation. And what is more, it is gardening rather than farming,
since no farmer can use the organic matter from 10 acres to produce a
deep mulch for one acre only.
> Most no-till is _conventional_ no-till, meaning, herbicides such as
Monsanto¢s Roundup are regularly used to kill the cover crop and/or
weeds. This has nothing to do with Natural Farming. When it comes
to _organic no-till_ farming, which is equivalent to Fukuoka's
continuous wheat/clover/rice cropping, there are very few working
> The principal requirement for _organic no-till_ is to establish a
continuous cropping system of cash and cover crops. If there is any
interruption in the crop rotation, e.g. during the dry season when it
is too dry to grow a crop, the weeds will grow back and you have to
start from zero. Considering that it will take at least 2 to 3 years
to achieve sufficient weed suppression solely by cover crops and
without ploughing, the prospects are hopeless in dry regions where
you have a dry season every year.
> In practical terms this means, farmers in my region, either plough
under the weeds of the summer fallow in November to grow a winter
annual such as wheat, or they grow green manure such as lupines
during the cool season, which is ploughed under in May at the onset
of the dry season to grow a warm season annual such as corn,
sunflowers etc. in a dirt mulch. It is physically impossible to do
this without ploughing.
> What is more, in a _normal_ year we will have sufficient rain in
November and April for seeds to germinate. However, often the
regular rains fail. But even then, it is still possible to get the
seeds to germinate with the soil humidity after ploughing since
temperatures are not that high during these months. Without
ploughing seeds will not germinate without sufficient rain, and even
if they did they would not be able to compete with the existing weeds.
> In years with sufficient November rains, I have successfully grown
crops (small grains, faba beans, etc.) during the cool season without
ploughing by broadcasting the seeds into scrubland and then
cutting/shredding the shrubs so as to create a mulch on top of the
seeds. However, this is not possible every year, since native shrubs
will take 2 to 3 years to grow back and produce sufficient biomass.
Also, the problem of the interrupted crop rotation during the dry
season, as explained above, still persists.
> I still have some ideas I want to try out and I intend to continue
my experiments as long as I don't run out of savings and as long as
my old bones will permit, but whatever the results, I don't believe
farmers in this region will be able to use this for making a living.
> PS: Fukuoka did take a trip around the World to visit different
farms and make some seedballs here and there. But farming is not a
road show, it takes the sustained effort of many years to rebuild
depleted agricultural soil. Fukuoka's writing did put a lot of ideas
into people's head, but 60 years after he first developed his method,
Natural Farming might as well not exist as a method for feeding
people. This sad state of affairs is mainly due to the fact that
people are more interested in cultivating their cherished ideas than
to cultivate the soil and to put to the test what will and what will
not work in practice.