In the UK , around 80 % of the cultivation energy we use is to undo previous traffic compaction and around 50 % of the energy we use to manufacture and spread fertiliser goes into the groundwater. This is neither profitable in the short run nor sustainable in the long.
The nature of the Nitrogen molecule carrier/store dramatically affects not only N fertiliser losses to groundwater, but how it gets into the plant and promotes growth.
Nitrogen fertiliser can be applied in two forms; as soluble in water (such as ammonium nitrate) and as organically bound N (as part of long, Carbon-chain molecules).If the molecule is relatively small and in-organic (mot part of a Carbon chain molecule), then it can be absorbed across the root-hair wall and progressively built up by the plant metabolism into amino acids and plant proteins. This route has served us well and saved countless billions from starving and postponed their death.
There is a problem. While “artificial” or “synthetic” fertiliser N certainly has its place, the energy cost of manufacture and the losses to groundwater are unsustainable. The alternative will be discussed in the next post on this blog.
Also see “Reversing global Warming for Profit” by Bill Butterworth published on Amazon.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 20 May 2018
The soil mycorrhiza are dramatically assisted by the addition of biosolids, thus reducing crop disease and crop spying.
The Guardian newspaper reported recently that the British museum is exhibiting part of a sewer-blocking fatberg that made headlines last year, weighing 130 tonnes, the equivalent of 11 double decker buses and stretching more than 250 meters, six meters longer than Tower Bridge. Said Vyki Sparkes, the curator of social and working history, “I don’t think you can get much lower than a fatberg … it reflects the dark side of ourselves”.
Fortunately, most of our sewage goes through very efficient sewage treatment works (STW’s) before the water is recycled to rivers and the sea. The STW extracts the organic material and some of that is recycled to land to grow crops (“biosolids” are really good fertilisers which add trace elements and improve the biology and disease resistance of the soil, thus reducing crop disease). The real bogey is the solid plastic which goes to landfill. Yet again, it is hard plastic which is causing intractable environmental problems.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, February 2018
The soil is a great collector or “sink” of Carbon dioxide. Hoiw do we manage this? Could we use CL:AIRE to do it better?
According to the World Resources Institute, “Stopping deforestation, restoring forests and improving forestry practices could remove 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually—the same as taking 1.5 billion cars off the road.” Now, World Bank figures on global waste production show that there is somewhere about 1.5 billion tonnes pa of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste). About half of that would be Carbon which, as Carbon dioxide, would be around 1.4 billion tonnes. Industrial waste production globally could easily double that, probably more. If that waste was composted, instead of burned or land-filled, it would not only lock up the Carbon, it could be used to fertilise the tree and crop growth. It would also save wasting at least 21,000 kW hours on producing every one of the 185 million tonnes (FAO figures) of Nitrogen nutrient in the fertilisers we manufacture every year. (Yes, that is 385,000,000,000 kWh – at least!)
Only farmers and foresters have the skills and scale to do these things. Better respect and care for them.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 28 November 17
The wightish areas just off center, upper left are patches of mycorrhizae, just visible to the naked eye. These are the fundamental clue to soil fertility and healthy crops.
Closed Loop 6. Organic matter up, crop disease down.
Looking back at this blog entry of 31August 2016 and organic-based soils, we mentioned the closed conduit of the soil fungi, mycorrhiza, feeding at one end of their hyphae on the soil organic matter and the other end either crossing the root hair wall into the plant, or wrapping round the root hair like the placenta of a mammal. Many of these mycorrhizae have probiotic effects, some have anti-biotic. Some even have the ability to take nutrients out of one plant, hopefully a weed, and transport it into another, hopefully the crop. Nearly always, increasing organic matter will reduce crop disease and expenditure on pesticides but it may take several years of higher soil organic matter for the soil biological activity to deliver that. Also see click.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 13 October 2016
Cultivations can be speeded up and with less energy if organic matters can be raised.
Closed loop 5 Saving in cultivation energy.
There is no doubt that soils which are hit with power (such as with a power harrow) to “force a tilth” suffer loss of organic matter and that, in turn, next season, will demand more power. In field trials recorded by Land Research, a heavy land farm using the mouldboard plough, power harrow, harrow and drill, was measured by tractor hours and number of furrows on the plough. The fields were fed with compost for 6 years and the ploughing finished earlier even when the tractor carried one more furrow. The power harrow was dropped completely. The increased organic matter resulted in an average saving in total cultivation time including sowing of over 60 %. Yields went up and were more consistent, year on year.
For more details, click here or put “Survival by Bill Butterworth Amazon” into your search engine.
The Moore Unidrill’s patents related to keeping the seed sown at the same depth regardless of how much seed is in the grain tank. This direst drill gives an unparalleled even establishment.,
Farmers can get paid to make their own organic fertilisers from urban wastes by composting. Is it easy and without hassle? Certainly not but it does produce better crops, with lower cultivation costs and higher yields. There is a part way stage and that is to conserve as much organic matter as possible in the soil, including leaving crop residues and minimising cultivations. In most crops, approaching half the total dry matter of the plant will be below the surface of the soil. Cultivation oxidises organic matter. Conventional ploughing and power harrowing plus seeding can destroy up to 35 % of soil organic matter per annum. Direct drilling as little as 10 %. .
For more detail of preserving organic matter and profits, put “Survival by Bill Butterworth Amazon” into your search engine to download details.
Land Research Ltd September 2016
Flooding has enormous cost but much can be avoided.
The current issue of “The Furrow”, the John Deere journal of April 16, prompted me to think again of my own work on top soil reservoirs and what is beginning to be called bio-engineering in flood control. Sands will hold about their own weight of water, clay two times, and peat 16 times. Composts made from urban wastes, including a wide range of industrial wastes, will hold 5 to 15 times their own weight. Put that into context of the Dutchman, Cornelius Vermuyden, who, in the 1650’s drained the flats of East Anglia. He knew that there had to be not only big, straight dykes but also sacrifice flood zones which were adequately boundaried and with enough capacity to take the worst water emission flow rates from the higher land. Now increase the organic matter levels of all the soils in the catchment area. Finally, plant grass, herbs, shrubs and preferably trees and do so at all levels right up to the highest. The cohesive effect of roots and the evaporation by active plants will buy time to even out the flow to what the lower water courses, adequately dredged, can cope with. As global warming increases extremes, we need to match that, preferably before the event, with buffers that even out flow rates.
Bill Butterworth 13 April 2016
Also see, “How to make on-farm composting work”, by Bill Butterworth, published by MX Publishng, London.