Tag Archives: food production

Cultivation destroys organic Nitrogen

“Recreational tillage” soothes the soul but it really does dramatically increase organic mater oxidation and loss. Forcing a tilth with a power harrow is the worst offender.

The problem with forcing a tilth with power harrows, or any other cultivation tools, is that organic matter is oxidised at a rate corresponding to power input. This was first shown by Sarah Wright working at the famous USDA research centre at Beltsville in the USA. It was reinforced by research I did for ICI Plant Protection back in the 70’s and early 80’s; then, a fair guide in most soils was that conventional, high-power-input cultivations would oxidise and lose around 35 % of the humus per annum but direct drilling would limit the losses to around 10%.

There are two results of this loss which are, amongst others, worthy of note in this context.  Firstly, the more organic matter is lost, the greater the cultivation power needed next time around, leading to a declining soil structure, demanding progressively more power in a downward spiral.  Secondly, N losses progressively rise in parallel.  Further, as organic matter level falls, so does water-retaining capability.  This, in turn, allows more soluble N to be leached out.

What Michal Gove needs to do it look at the energy we could save by recycling more to land, using science-based process to encourage it, rather than allowing regulation to progressively restrict it.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd.,12  June 2018

Organic N and crop growth

As the previous post here showed, Organic N, then, is different.  It just sits there in the store, alive with micro-organisms and giving some (but very low losses) to the soil atmosphere and groundwater.  However, it is different in a staggeringly complex and important way.  When conditions favour both plant and fungi, the mycorrhizae feed at one end of their hyphae on the organic matter and the other end of each hypha either crosses the root hair wall into the plant body, or wraps round the root hair (much like the placenta of a mammal).  This is a closed conduit! Not only is this why natural ecosystems do not leak nutrients and pollute the ground water, they also feed the plant with complex molecules, already some way down the route for forming cellulose and amino acids – so accelerating growth. Even more staggering, these mycorrhizae can suck nutrients out of some plants (weeds?) and transfer then to others (crops?).

There is enough urban waste in the world to supply enough nutrients to feed the world – without manufacturing fertilisers. (But we do actually need both.)

See the next blog in this series for more on profitable, eco-mimic fertiliser mechanisms and also “Survival” by bill Butterworth, published on Amazon.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,   29 May 2018

 

The Soil N Store

S Michael Gove’s staff look at the environment v. Farming, they might do woerse than to read this series of posts on N fertilisers.

When ammonium nitrate hits the soil moisture, it forms two “ions”.  The ammonium carries a positive charge and is an “anion”.  The nitrate carries a negative charge and is a “cation”. Sands have a very low ability to hold onto nutrients whether they be anions or cations..  Clays have some useful colloidal capacity which has some ability to hold onto anions (so it will hold some ammonium ion) but not much ability to hold cations (so it will hold very little nitrate).

“Humus” is a very complex and variable black tarry material made up of large, Carbon-based chain molecules (so in chemists’ language they are “organic Carbon” molecules) forming hydrocarbons, carbohydrates and proteins.  The proteins carry one or more Nitrogen molecules. These molecules are insoluble in water.  So this humus-N will not leach out in rain or irrigation. More than that, humus is very colloidal, so it will hold both ammonium and nitrate ions and reduce the leaching of synthetic N.

So, pushing up the organic matter in soils is a real economic and environmental plus.

See the next post on this blog for how organic N storage work sand promotes crop growth.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,   May 2018

 

Synthetic N Fertiliser

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

 

Nitrogen in the next 10 years

Whether government and do-good “environmental” lobbyists agree or like it, or not, in a western economy, cash is the driver

I have come across several cases recently of the Environment Agency refusing to allow Deployments to spread processed wastes because there was “too much nitrogen” present.  The Nitrogen would, in composts and organic wastes, be present substantially, if not completely, as organically bound N.  In a grassland or direct-drilled arable soil, that might release as little as 1 or 2 % of the total Nitrogen in that soil, to ground water per annum.  (That might be just enough to keep the weed in a trout steam growing at a natural rate.)  At the other extreme, in a much-cultivated clay soil, the release of N might reach 10%, and in a much cultivated sandy soil, maybe 15 % per annum.  Now, to be economic, if the farm did then not have composts made from “wastes”, and used ammonium nitrate, then the percentage of N lost to groundwater would be between 30 and 60 or even a bit higher (85%) on an irrigated sandy soil.

The point is this. Read the research. Recycled wastes spread as well made compost are generally safe to add to farm land at any N content, without limit on quantity added.  Don’t believe the research?  Try common sense; when Vermuyden drained the Fens some 300 years ago, it was, and remains, possible to grow a crop (probably the best crop in the UK) every year, without ever adding any N fertiliser in any year for 300 years.  By the way, some of these Fen soils were 10 or 12 m deep when first drained (the N reserves were enormous) and the dykes and Norfolk Broads were not full of green slime and dead fish.

If the human race is to survive, we have to recycle wastes to land.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd   18th May 2018

“From our Own Resources”

We are loosing land, thousands of acres every year. We produce the safest arable products in the world.

We are losing dairy herds at a dramatic rate and importing milk. Less safe milk!

I hear the talk about “environment” and “countryside” on one side, on the other I hear talk of “productivity”.  Farming remains Britain’s biggest industry and farm production remains a fundamental component of the national economy.  If, for the sake of political correctness, the Environment Secretary ignores, or otherwise takes the emphasis off farm production, he does so at the peril of the national economy.  Where is common sense?  Where is the national vision?  Some will remember a White Paper from Peter Walker, Minister of Agriculture; “From our Own Resources”. What on earth has gone wrong with this nation?  Where is the vision of production and growth? Where is the statesman who can drive production up so that we can afford the NHS?  Without productivity, we are nothing.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,  April 18

Land £ per ha

I am not sure that the puzzle of land prices can be sollved; why do people buy land?

I read an article recently, written by a land agent who was talking up the price of land. I found myself doubting it all and thinking of all sorts of reasons why the theme could not be right. Without doubt, there will be fluctuations and some of any such changes may be painful. I did, however, remember two quotations from a long time ago;

  • Farm land is still cheaper than carpet.
  • Land – they have stopped making it.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,   1st May18