Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Organic Farming - Is It The Way Forward

"Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved...” This is the definition of organic farming officially accepted by the international Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) that was established in 1972 and acts as the international umbrella organization for all organic organizations around the world. Organic farming aims to rely on organically managed methods of farming such as crop rotation, compost, mechanical cultivation, biological pest control and green manuring to control pests and maintain soil productivity while strictly avoiding the use of synthetic materials such as pesticides, genetically modified organisms, synthetic fertilizers etc. Since the 1990s, the organic market has grown rapidly and now accounts for 32.2 million hectares of all farmland. Its products accounted for $46 billion in 2007.

According to the book ‘The Gift of Good Land’, an organic farm is one that “uses certain methods and substances and avoids others . . . in imitation of the structure of a natural system . . . “ Farmers usually have the challenge of ensuring that plants get enough nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. In organic farming, this is achieved through crop rotation and nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes that host the nitrogen-fixing bacteria rhizobia. Intercropping also helps in increasing soil nutrients. Potassium can be gotten by use of animal manure which must first be composted and various mineral powders like greensand and rock phosphate. Lime and sulfur is used to make the necessary PH amendments to the soil. Organic farming works best in mixed farms where there is livestock and crops in what are called ley farms. In this scenario, the manure is easily obtained to supply the needed mineral elements.

Weed control in organic farming is done through hand-weeding, garlic and clove oil, table salt and use of vinegar. In rice farming, ducks and fish are introduced into the paddy fields effectively eating both weeds and insects. Insect pests like nematodes and arthropods can be controlled removing dying materials like dry leaves, diseased plants and also use of cover plants. Beneficial organisms can also be introduced to control these insect pests. While marketing and the economies are scale are the greatest obstacles to organic farming, its benefits include reduced water contamination from pesticides, reduced soil erosion, reduced carbon emissions, reduced water use and increased biodiversity.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Solar Panels for Agricultural Power

There are a variety of positives when it comes to solar panels, especially since they harness the natural elements on earth to provide us with green energy. Plus, they are an energy source that's renewable, so they will never stop producing energy which is great. You may have been wondering whether or not you should get solar panels installed, in which case I recommend you continue to read to learn more about this wonderful energy source.

Building your own solar panels at home, or even down on the farm
isn't as difficult as many people think. Of course, you do need to have some DIY skills, in that you need to be handy with a soldering iron and to be able to handle a saw, but other than that you can have a solar panel ready in no time at all. To build your own solar panels you will need just a few basic items. You will need to use silicon caulk or wood glue of some type to attach the solar cells to the wooden container. If you can find solar cells that already have the tabs on them it will make wiring them up easier. If you can not find solar panels with tabs you will have to solder on the tabs before you glue them in place. A solar panel is connected to batteries and most of them use the regular 12 volt batteries that are used in cars. Storing electricity is just like recharging your batteries, except you are using a 12 V battery with a solar panel. You can save hundreds of dollars by finding low-cost or free batteries in your area. Once the battery has stored enough electricity, you can use the energy by hooking up a power inverter to convert it to AC. There are two types of power inverters available, namely true sine wave and modified sine wave. To replicate the comforts of home, a true sine wave inverter is what you need to have actual alternating current. Though more expensive, only the true sine wave device can create genuine AC electricity.

Solder on your diode before you attach it to batteries. This way, power will only be able to flow from the solar cells to the batteries and not the other way around. Lastly make sure that you are not wasting power. This is not a necessary step when you choose to use a charge controller instead.

There is no better time than now to switch to an alternative power source, considering the state of the global economy, especially since many experts fear that the worst is yet to come. In this day and age, you can feel safer knowing that your energy needs don't depend on things like oil, gas or coal being affordable or even available at all.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Biocontrol Agents for Organic Farming

What are biocontrols exactly? Is it stuff you use for organic
farming, like ladybugs, sulfur and maybe soap-spray? Right on
folks, but much-much more. Things change fast nowadays, ya know.
The biotechnology which produces many of the relatively new and
growing list of biocontrols for the agricultural supplier  (and
gardener) has ushered in the next era of pest-controls… at least
as a viable alternative anyway. It’s growing so fast however,
it’s the new terminology, not the technology, which you have to
contend with first. I think we need a quick review.

To begin with, the term ‘biocontrols’ is slang for ‘biocontrol
agents' and defined as “biological derived or identical to a
biological derived agent”. That means the term covers all types
of environmentally safe products. Watch out though, some of the
terminology might get confusing. ‘Biological control agents’ is a
more specific term… meaning only beneficial insects, nothing
else, although these bugs are often just referred to as
‘beneficial insects' or 'beneficial organisms’, somewhat slangy
terms. Within that, there are sub-categories, insects which might
be classified as ‘predators’, ‘parasites’ or ‘weed-eating
invertebrates’ which are “living organisms used for controlling
the population or biological activities of another life-form
considered to be a pest”. If you noticed, the industry prefers to
say ‘control’ instead of ‘kill’… a hedge maybe?

Today, there are about 30 commercially available predators, like
spiders, mites and beetles, which seek out and kill other bugs.
They are hatched, raised and sold by companies called
‘insectaries’. The number of parasites put to work has grown
also, about 60 of them critters, the likes of tiny wasps, flies
and a myriad of other parasites, parasitoids (host-killer
parasites) and also a few protozoan. Parasites live on (or in)
various ‘hosts’ (their victims) which impede the host’s
development or generally causes them injury. A protozoan,
however, is a ‘microbial control agent’, a different kind of
agent, which are not to be confused with biological control

There are about 25 biological control agents (good bugs) which
control weeds although they’re often just called 'beneficial
insects', the most common slang term which farmers use. By
whichever term, even though they don’t eat or live off other
bugs, they go around doing good deeds by controlling weeds.
Anyway, these weed-destructive bugs consist of moths, weevils,
beetles and flies. A fungus or two are also available for the
control of weeds and fungus, like a protozoan, is also a
‘microbial control agent’. As you might suspect, the honeybee is
also considered a beneficial insect but since the Africanized bee
began infecting some of their ranks, they can also cause
problems. I remember once when all bees led a dignified life
within their beehives but today many are terrorists and live in

In addition, the industry has identified about a dozen different
beneficial nematodes, which, if you didn’t know already, are tiny
little wormlike-looking creatures that live underground.
Nematodes usually just eat roots and are normally considered
destructive but these little guys like to eat other bugs. The
industry has no interest in employing any vegetarian nematodes
that are non-selective, they just want bug eaters. From here on,
it starts to get more complicated and scientific sounding.
Microbial control agents, like fungi and protozoan, also mean
other teeny-tiny microscopic things like bacteria and viruses.
Farmers use about 25 different kinds to control undesirable bugs
and fungi.

The use of viruses and bacteria can sound kinda scary but don’t
worry, microbial control agents in Arizona are regulated by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Environmental Services
Division of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, the Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Plant Quarantine
Act (PQA) but you still need permits from the State of Arizona,
USDA, APHIS and from Biotechnology and Environmental Protection
(BEEP). Only then can a farmer apply the stuff… if his crop ain’t
already ate up. We’re not done yet, we still have ‘biochemical
control agents’. These are semichemicals such as plant-growth
regulators, hormones, enzymes, pheromones, allomones and
kairomones which are “either naturally occurring or identical to
a natural product that attract, retard, destroy or otherwise
exert a pesticidal activity”. Impressive, huh?

But that’s still not enough already… the EPA wants to push a
stupid term called ‘biorational pesticides'. And this is where
they get picky… you can use the term if you’re (1) not talking
about bugs or (2) not talking about synthetic-made stuff they
don’t think is identical enough to a given product of nature.
Anyway, I hate that term, there is nothing rational about causing
more confusion. In all, there are over 200 biocontrols of which
some have multi-use applications which equates to about 300
specific uses and there are at least 400 of these 'products' on
the market. Competing companies supplying the same product
accounts for this discrepancy.

A lot of biocontrols have hard-to-pronounce, stuffy-sounding
scientific names, which, I think, are thought-up by
laboratory-shackled scientists who jealously hate farmers and
like to see them get tongue-twisted and embarrassed. One such
case is ‘bacillus thuringiensis’, a bacteria widely used and
marketed in different variations but to spoil their fun, farmers
just call them ‘B-Ts’. Another thing farmers can use are made of
‘nuclear polyhedrosis viruses’ but they don’t sound very
environment-friendly to me.

What I really think is dumb are those goofy brand-names the
distributors use for these biocontrol products such as ‘Doom’,
‘Condor’, ‘Futura’, ‘Grandlure’ and so forth. I think they hired
the same marketing guys that work for the car companies… they
think brand names gotta sound ‘cool’.

Farmers also use juvenile hormones and behavioral modifiers.
Juvenile hormones keep bugs from maturing, thus denying them
their adult and reproductive cycle. It should be obvious what
behavioral modifiers do... it makes them less destructive.
sell plant-growth regulators too, made from
cytokinins and gibberellic acid. There are also sex hormones on
the market to confuse and attract bugs. Confusion and bugs I
don’t need.

In summary, these biocontrols are incredibly diverse but they
don’t include genetically engineered plants which have disease or
insect resistant qualities, but that’s another story. See
Genetically Modified Food (external link) or else genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) (external link)

Well, that sorta brings you up-to-date, so consider yourself
‘bio-informed’. Remember though, you can’t go around saying
‘biological’ anymore because people might think you’re talking
about bugs. If you’re still confused, talk about something else
or you could end up getting mighty embarrassed. Some words might
even sound organic when they're not. I knew a farmer who, when he
first heard the term ‘entrepreneur’, asked… “What kinda manure is

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Farm Visits are all the Rage. Are you In?

People who love and support organic farming and the small self-sustaining farms that this type of farming generally means, often worry about how difficult it can be to get such a farm to financially make it on its own. Usually, farmers who run such small farms need to look elsewhere for financial help to keep their farming ventures going. But these days, there's one new way that several small farms around the country have hit upon as a great source of income outside of the traditional crop-raising barn animal-tending paid farm activity they usually depend on – it’s called farm visit tourism.

Small farms possess this aura that people love – they make people who visit them feel like they've returned to a simpler, more wholesome time. One of the reasons the Paris Hilton-Nicole Ritchie reality show The Simple Life made it big was of course that personal magnetism of these two women; but it also succeeded because there's just something really attractive about the rural life that people like to look at.

Small farms have lately been trying to take full advantage of the image advantage they enjoy, by entering the farm visit tourism business. Many of them have opened up for business for little farm stay visits by tourists – bed-and-breakfasts, if you will. People who come on a farm visit or better still, who come to stay a weekend, find can indulge themselves in traditional rural entertainment and immerse themselves in the simple wholesomeness of it all. Entertainment could consist of learning to ride horses, learning about barn animals, finding one's way around corn mazes and whooping and hollering on zip lines around these places. Small farms that have been struggling to survive in the face of competition by large mechanized holdings have found that this kind of farm visit tourism can really bring in enough money to help them balance their books.

So how successful are these farm visit businesses? The Department of Agriculture estimates that small farm holdings actually bring in only 20% of their income every year from any actual farming. All the rest of it comes from either the bed-and-breakfast businesses they run, or from other jobs. There are at least 20,000 farm bed and breakfasts around the country (which the DoA unfortunately calls agritourism businesses). And each one of these farms makes at least £25,000 every year getting people to come and enjoy the rural lifestyle for a bit.

If you find that like lots of other city folk, you have an urge to get back to the land at least for the weekend every now and then, you should probably check out the FarmStayUS website which gives you a complete listing of many of the best farms around the country that allow you to come and stay. The site lists about 1000 farms and ranches at this point. If you are looking for a low-cost trip to such a place, you could actually have the time of your life staying for free by offering your labor to these farms in exchange for a bed. You can stay for as long as you want this way. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or WWOOF would be one best websites to check out if you're interested in this kind of thing. There are actually about 10,000 Americans who've come on this website to go working at more than 1000 farms around the country. It can actually be pretty great.