Posts Tagged ‘Focus Foresight’

The “Book” is complete, almost

October 9, 2011

Soil and crop management for today and tomorrow.

That is the bold title of the work. Not so detailed, but maybe comprehensive. I intend to add more links to add to the contents.

Main points.

It is necessary to be ecologically efficient. Reduce nutrient losses, use chemicals with care and restraint.

Have high production. That is good for both the soil and the economy.

Put prices on secondary effects. Example: soil organic matter is beneficial. But it should be quantified in economic terms to come into the planning process.  “Soft” information is difficult to use.

But there is a lot we all can do in our different positions. If you can do nothing else – write a book.

There is a link to the book to the right downwards.  Blogroll.

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Agriculture stands for 3% of the economy but maybe 20% of the ecology.

December 15, 2009

 Focus Foresight. This was the start of this blog. Meaning that we both as individuals and farmers need to consider the ecology of the planet. The events this year have not diminished the urgency: climate discussion, ecological limits of the globe etc.

In a conference in Cambridge last week (International Fertiliser Society). Nitrogen Efficiency was discussed. Much can be done to improve the efficiency and reduce losses, for instance precision farming and improved manure management.

But how motivate the farmers? That was not on the agenda of the conference. The farmer acts in a competive market and his main concern is to reduce the costs. In fact, the society has given the farmer one primary goal: produce cheap products. Then – if possible – mind the environment.

There is a way forward: utilize available techniques and knowledge to combine both economic and environmental efficiency. Consider the economy over 4-5 years on your specific farm. Then probably both precision farming and cover crops to improve soil organic matter are positive also economically.

It is interesting to note that the development of crops and cultivars for high yields gives increased importance to maintenance of soil organic matter. 5 tons of wheat can be achieved even with some shortcomings now and then, but for 10 tons top performance is required at every stage. Soil organic matter gives resilience and top performance, and is also positive for environmental function and sustainability.

Environmental issues and agricultural advice.

November 10, 2009

 For some days I have been preparing a presentation for advisors on agriculture and climate change. Which leads to the question: Can agriculture respond to advice on how to reduce greenhouse gases?  If so – why or why not?

The agriculture cannot accept additional environmental costs in a competive situation. This is clear enough. But if the measures may mean some  increases in yields and profit. What then?

Still – my experience is that such an offer is not competitive enough. The increases are small and not immediate. The issue is never urgent.

So – we have a problem. Or a challenge. How get respons from the farmers? Add bioenergy to the package?

In fact this is where this blog started. To get environmental development we need engagement from the farmers. A feeling that they are more than economic managers of a piece of land. They manage  part of the biosphere.  Focus Foresight.

Borgeby Fältdagar – an agricultural exhibition i S Sweden.

June 25, 2009

Some impressions;

Machines. Big, impressing, expensive. Sigh from an 80 hectare farmer: Hardly anything for my farm.

Biogas. Several firms and organizations. I only hope there is a firm base also without stimulation packages.

Interest for “ecological efficiency”, environment and sustainability. What happens in the soil? How can nutrient losses be reduced? How to use fertilizers most efficiently? Very encouraging.

But there are also burning questions about profitability and competitiveness. How will the future be if low cost production in the short term is the main issue? Is this really the proper guideline for the ecological base of our entire global society?

But let us look at positive alternatives:

Work with improved rotations  and soil carbon can both reduce costs and give increased yields. Win-win opportunities. Good for environment, soil fertility in the long run and competiveness. (Tag Future Foresight).

Some adjustment of market forces to reduce strife for the highest possible yield. If we get 7100 kg/hectare or 7000 means little for production and food security but can be important for the environment. The Swedish nitrogen tax is such an adjustment. Others are possible. It should also be possible to neutralize the effect of such measures on the competitiveness.

Better economy and improved environment

June 16, 2009

. Many crop producers have this win-win situation. Check it and catch it. It is about soil organic matter. Or rather, measures promoting soil organic matter and biological activity: harvest residues, green manure, cover crops, organic fertilizers. With cover crops no production year is lost and they can be fitted into most rotations.

Well, this turned out to be some advisory speech, sorry.

But use the soil, use the sun. Let plants pump in carbon, energy and nutrients. Whenever there is an opportunity.

A bare soil means an unused resource (but admittedly sometimes there are reasons).

Use new technology and knowledge. Calculate, see and control. Think ahead.

This is an investment, without cost.

Some days have passed. My posts have been less frequent. But it is not summer lazyness, on the contrary. I am summarizing all knowledge I can get hold of concerning agriculture, soil organic matter, what happens to it and what does it mean. It is almost as a detective investigation. Facts add up, evidence is gathered, relations are explored. But there is a difference: the detective works with what has happened, I work with what is happening. And the result? The case of “taking care of soil organic matter” keeps being strengthened.

Natural systems – the most important resource of the globe?

June 10, 2009

Not for clearing to agricultal land but for keeping. This was mentioned in my previous post. And  now a study presented in Science Magazine arrives att this result in a global simulation (23 May, page 1183. Implications for limiting CO2 concentrations for land use and energy).

Clearing natural land means release of stored carbon and nitrogen which is negative for the climate. And in addition there is the biodiversity issue.

This means that it is important to efficiently use the the land which is under cultivation. The study sees a continuous increase in agricultural productivity as a necessary prerequisite.

This is a challenge – a challenge not to go too far. Not to hunt for the last possible kilo of yield or the last dollar in shortsighted profit. That is not what the globe needs. A more longterm view is necessary.

LET US RAISE THIS ISSUE IN THE POLITICAL-ECONOMICAL DISCUSSION.

This is much more important than the quibbling about organic – conventional. Unrestricted market driven conventional compromises environment and sustainability. Dogmatic organic would be a disaster if implemented in total in the world we have. What we need is either reformed organic (ecological) or modified (integrated) conventional. And that is possible if the dogmatics in both sides (organic fans and free market dogmatics respectively) widen their views,

A high-producing crop production i south Sweden can be carbon neutral with full food production, provided straw is used as bioenergy and cover crops are used to keep the balance of soil organic matter.

A project combining production and environment.

June 4, 2009

“Odling i Balans” (www.odlingibalans.com ) aims at seeking solutions for improvement of agriculture as concerns environment and sustainability. 17 pilot farms are the core of the project, each of them working on this goal.

Some glimpses from a 2 day meeting:

A new seeding and weeding technique. Precise sowing, later during Spring followed by precise mechanical weeding with the same machine. The weeding knives are guided by photosensors, avoid the crop rows and weed in between. An impressing machine, Cameleon.

 Biogas and recycling. Nothing new in principle but important practical improvements. Norup “Small scale high tech” small company is developing technology for farm level use. In this scale most of the nutrients can be recycled locally. There are plans to separate the sludge into a liquid and a solid phase. The solid material can be transported some distance and be used as fertilizer in a larger area, thus distributing the nutrients and diminishing local surpluses. 

System for energy balance studies are ready for use. In practice the energy output of plant production farms is 9 times the input. But still some people, also those who should know better, preach that modern crop production consumes energy.

There is progress in most fields, weed control, farm waste treatment, energy efficiency, nutrient efficiency. The technical-biological development can deliver the combination of production and environment our society needs. But there is a big challenge: to adjust the economical-political environment so it can be realized.

Nightingales and cuckoos.

May 26, 2009

 It is lovely springtime. Two nightingales in the garden is almost too much, in addition to all other songbirds. Not much seems wrong with the environment. But still – we need to more efficient because of future development.

More efficient? More cost-efficient and cheaper? Or focus on efficient resource use? Of course I mean the latter. And there are improvements to consider which also are profitable. Just fully use available knowledge and at farm level apply what seems workable.

 Competition as driving force for development is needed, but for production of type agriculture there should be distinction between two types of measures.

 One type is favourable for both production and environment. Examples: much of plant breeding, techniques for adaptation of fertilizers and plant protection etc, more efficient machine use.

The other type favours production at the expense of environment. Examples: increased use of nitrogen and plant protection “at the top”, zealous fight for big fields without landscape considerations etc. When critically scrutinized some of these measures are not as efficient as believed.

The was an alarm in the news:  the growth in the trade sector is expected to be zero for 2009. Terrible.

Competitiveness – an important theme in today´s issue of Jordbruksaktuellt.

March 18, 2009

And that has been a subject in this blog for several days, maybe too much, looking back. Then it struck me the other day:

This is not only a local problem.

It affects the way mankind interacts with the biosphere – exploit or care and maintain.

The exploiter is most competitive and wins.

 

There are several examples in the journal, from diesel tax to animal welfare.

Shall we give up? No, absolutely not. There are many levels to work on.

 

  1. The farmer has measures to consider which increases both competitiveness and environmental function (management of soil organic matter, improved nitrogen management, precision farming, ecodriving). There are many examples in this blog (tag Focus Foresight).
  2. Help raise the issue to the global and principal level. If Swedish agriculture cannot be managed by taxes and rules in the long run, neither will it work in other countries. Which is not at all good for the biosphere. We get a development nobody wants.
  3. Push innovative thinking at all levels: agronomy, economy, social sciences.

 

Agronomy: more combined work on environment, economy and production.  There are more positive combination effects than expected. Quantify them and use them.

Economy: Taxes are efficient tools – if they comprise the whole market. But for a global mrket – work out better alternatives.

Social sciences: economy and technology is not sufficient.

Competitiveness – soil carbon – cover crops – zero plots – precision farming – Agrotain.

February 12, 2009

 

Some topics which have been on the agenda the last few days.

The farmers´ organizations stress competitiveness, thinking of Swedish taxes and environmental rules. They are right, we have a problem. Only – one could wish for a wider view.

A well functioning soil also gives competitiveness. But a yield of 8 tons of wheat must imply a good soil? Maybe so, but it could have yielded 8.5.  Soil carbon helps, more organic material from for instance cover crops is positive for soil carbon and biological activity and also soil structure. There are important advantages to harvest.

 

Nitrogen is a strong agent – it has to be held in tight reins. With zero plots to characterize the soil and precision farming to adapt to the actual crop you are doing just that. But in for instance England there are other ways of development. Much urea is used which means risks for considerable ammonia losses. These can be reduced by means of chemical substance, an urease inhibitor. Market name: Agrotain. This improves the situation somewhat, but you could ask: is this the best way to go? Wouldn´t it be better to use available knowledge and technology to control the use of reliable N sources as well as possible?