Posts Tagged ‘Win-Win’

An exciting year – Sustainable Intensification in practice

January 3, 2013

Today I have been out controling and mending fences. 4 horses are about to arrive. Nice day, 8 degrees, also a January winter day. There are some possibilities for grazing, although the main thing is to provide space and exercise.

Sustainable Intensification – big words from important organizations. Nevertheless, for anything to happen we have to rely on the farmers. Can we get response?  (An English translation of  Framtidsodling will come shortly).

But there is a discussion. “Intensification” is an ugly word for some people. “More “industrial agriculture”, is that the way? It should be smallscale and organic. We don´t need more production really, we could waste less and distribute better to those wanting”. However,we need both ways. With the current economical paradigm, economic efficiency through competition, we will continue developing the so called “industrial agriculture”.  What we can do is to include the factors  “sustainability” and “environment”

 

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Catch up: Agriculture and environment. Economy and nitrogen tax.

October 25, 2009

 I have neglected this blog for a while. Time to catch up.

 The theme is still important. The actual progress probably negative.

Agriculture stands for 3% of the economy (GNPs) of the world but governs at least 20 % of the global biosphere (the land component). Which role is the most important?

Competitiveness on the market is favoured by specialization and adaptability (could we say shortsightedness). The ecological function is favoured by diversity and longterm consiseration, Exactly the opposite.

The market economy promotes shortsightedness. This should be a strong warning signal for the global agriculture. 

We in Sweden have as almost the only country a nitrogen tax, about 0.2 US$ per kg N. This is not very much, but sufficient to help in formulating agronomically and ecologically sound nitrogen recommendations. Of course it is a burden for agriculture in a global competitive situation, so now it will be abolished. We have an example of “the prisoners´ dilemma”. An action which should be advantageous in general does not take place if those who start are punished.

The increasing demands of humanity leads to increasing nitrogen flows. Problems: eutrophication both of waters and natural lands, the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and this gas also eroding the stratospheric ozone layer. And there is a resource issue: energy.

 Agriculture is a major player in this field. And we need to increase production. What we could do is to increase nitrogen efficiency. Or maybe we should put it the other way: to  fight inefficiency.

 What we could do now is to forcefully promote agronomic methods for guiding the nitrogen use. Precision farming in all aspects, from GPS guidance to annual adaptation. There is still a gain for the farmer, although not very exciting.

Looking a little bit wider, in my part of the world we should care more about the longterm development of soils. Rotations, organic matter. And it is not only a maintenance cost, there are gains in both yields and management, within a few years. Win Win situations.  But our research and advisory systems are inefficient in putting forward these aspects.

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.

Soil organic carbon – continuos losses.

April 23, 2009

 

Longterm experiments with soil analysis for organic carbon show a decline in soil C for normal crop production also if the straw is returned. The decline is proportional to the level of soil C and seems to attain an equilibrium at about 1% soil C..

This is no favourable development. There are measures: cover crops giving more organic material to the soil, modified tillage, preferably only spring tillage.

On a soil with 1.5% soil C (fairly normal for important agricultural areas) and normal tillage with autumn plowing and straw returned a couple of cover crops can save 200 kg C annually.

There are some costs (seeds etc) but within a few years the increased soil fertility gives higher yields. Also without environmental payment there is some economic gain.

Further, the soil fertility development is secured for the future.

Finally, there are environmental benefits: less greenhouse gases (means more than twice the normal tractor emissions), less nitrogen leaching and reduced erosion.

A triple win-win-win.

Precision farming – win-win for economy and environment.

March 22, 2009

This week-end has been full of precision. What does it mean for yields and environment?

Maybe an explanation is needed. A sensor on the tractor records the colour of the crop in different spektral areas. A computer translates this information to nitrogen demand and directs the fertilizer spreader. In this way irregularities in the field are considered and the crop gets the correct dose in all parts of the field. This is good for the yield and the economy. And also for the environment. The nitrogen efficiency is increased and the leaching reduced. Compared to perfectly adapted ordinary measures the difference is not very large but it is consistent. And how often is everything perfect? After manure and catch crops it is often difficult to find the correct nitrogen level. The sensor is extra important in such cases. Variation between years: the sensor system considers such variations up to the time of application. Now is the question: how get enough interest for this system? It is profitable if used for sufficient area (1000 hectares).

Economy, environment and longterm considerations.

January 28, 2009

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From the post below it may seem that these goals don’t go together. It can be so, but not necessarily. Often there are win-win situations and that is the idea behind Farming Perspectives.

An example from a cereal-oilseed farm in middle Sweden:

We use cover crops where possible, which is 3 years of 6. The are left over Winter and all soil management takes place in Spring. On many soils this is possible.

There are costs for seeds and for extra herbicides, say in total SEK 300. But instead there are savings in soil management, maybe 300. This evens out.

The cover crops increase soil carbon in the long term and biological activity directly. This may mean increased yields and income of SEK 100 – 200 for each crop.

With these figures there is a gain of  SEK100-200 per year.

 

Not very exciting, but something.

 

And further: Soil carbon is increasing meaning better soil structure, easier management and better yield security.

There will be less risk for erosion and phosphorus outflow.

Nitrogen is kept in the soil and leaching is reduced.

There is more life of all kinds in the soil and the landscape.

 

Is this idealized? Not in average. In the specific case it depends on the crops, the soil and other farm specific characteristics. And it should be observed that no subsidies or payments are included. They can be added in some areas.

 

Improvement – but how?

January 22, 2009

The last few days have been full of discussions concerning precision farming, soil fertility, agricultural systems and environmental issues.

 

Swedish agriculture is in a good state environmentally. It is necessary to point that out. But it is possible to improve. Therefore, we must pursue. The state of the World permits no other way of action.

 

Some examples:

More efficient nitrogen management. Precision farming.

Adapted soil management, type conservation agriculture.

More cover crops giving erosion protection, organic matter contribution and reduced leaching.

Ecodriving for tractors.

Biodiversity considerations at field edges and the landscape as a whole.

 

These measures are not costly. On the constrary, several give some net profit, although small and not always immediate. But some effort in management and engagement is needed. How overcome this threshold? Some possibilities:

 

Personal engagement of the farm management, Focus Foresight.

Branding, but still more focused that today.

Branches working with production contracts (vegetables, sugar) can motivate their growers. Can this be widened?

Focus in the issues from science and advice.

More focus on the need for some longterm economic considerations also in crop production.

Reduce emissions to the seas and strengthen the competitiveness of Swedish agriculture – an impossible combination?

January 16, 2009

 

The Baltic Sea has problems and also our western sea waters. What Swedish agriculture can do about this is an open question, nevertheless it is necessary to try. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency had a workshop/brainstorming session this week.

 

But it is also necessary to strengthen the competitiveness. In the agricultural press the problem with the extra environmental costs in Sweden  is often discussed.

 

There are a few possibilities to combine these goals:

Precision farming, especially sensor guided nitrogen applications, give better nitrogen efficience, less losses and a better economy. If properly used.

Cover crops (catch crops) contribute to better soil structure, higher humus content and higher yields.

 

These are two win-win opportunities to further practically develop.

 

However, some measures discussed incur costs: More protection zones. More wetlands. No manure on lands with high P status (which means either shut down of animal production or transport/processing of manure).

 

This is certainly not improving the competitiveness, if the costs are not compensated for some way or other. But subsidies with bureacracy and control have also drawbacks.

 

Any solution?

One step forward is what I call Focus Foresight (see tag at right). To use all positive opportunities to adapt the production to both ecological and economical demands.

Special branding (Sigill) could maybe be further developed.

Plus some measures, for instance wetlands, fully publicly financed.

And, of course, lobbying for more environmental work internationally.

 

A ghost from the past.

October 28, 2008

 

This is a phrase from yesterday, which concerned phosphorus from toilets, but I thought it could be a provoking headline. But maybe a quesionmark is needed.

 

In some respect we have gosts from the past also in agricultural lands: soils with excessively high phosphorus contents. Also in that respect Sweden is in a favourable position. Our situation is a distant goal for many neighbouring areas.

 

However, there are large areas with unnecessarily high phosphorus contents. These should be reduced, which is more interesting with the high P prices of today. But a reduction of the soil content takes time.

 

A soil content of P-AL 6 is enough for normal agricultural crops. Higher content is a resource to utilize. A true win-win situation for economy and environment.

 

The problem is farms with animal production and fully utilized spreading area for manure. They cannot adjust the P application easily. Cooperation with neighbours – easier said than done.

There is a modification of my system Farming Perspectives which could help.

 

In fact there is a kind of market failure. When the individual enterprise is optimized the longterm aspects cannot fully be considered for reasons of competition.

 

When the rules of the society are compromizing longterm environmental aspects a change is needed. In a global market it should be a global action, but while waiting for that national programs are possible: adequate rules with economic compensation

Rotation perspectives – an advisory tool coming to practical use.

October 7, 2008

 

“Rotation perspectives” is a tool built on an Excel sheet with the aim to facilitate discussion of alternative crops and measures (such as straw management, soil management, cover crops). The economy and consequences for soil organic carbon, leaching, crop protection, fuel use and somewhat on diversity is calculated.

Some base data, for instance results from field experiments and actual costs are given as information to be discussed during the process.

 

Often Win-Win situations are found, meaning both better economy and improved environmental performance.

 

“Rotation Perspectives” will be used by the nationwide program Focus on Nutrients.

For more information: send a mail to bertilsson@greengard.se