(1) How practical is organic farming?
Depends on how you look at organic farming. To most people, especially the ones outside the farming world, it means farming without applying chemical inputs and instead using the organic inputs available in the market. This is actually using the modern chemical farming model, striking out the chemical inputs in the equation and replacing them with the organic inputs available in the market. Well, I can assure you that this kind of organic farming with an NPK mentality is a sure shot recipe for disaster. Frankly the term ‘Organic’ these days serves more towards glamorising farming and its products on the shelf than being of help to the farmers. I would prefer to cite another type of organic farming, i.e. – natural farming. This farming draws inspiration from nature, is sustainable and eco friendly and is done with minimum interference from the farmer. Here the role of the farmer would be that of a catalyst in aiding nature and plant growth. This type of farming is practical and cost effective. The expenditure incurred on natural farming would only be about 30-40% of that chemical farming, since there are no artificial inputs and all the inputs are prepared in-house. The only major cost would be the cost of labour. Once the farmer has good understanding of the different aspects of his farm, natural farming can be practical and effective.
(2) Is it for small farms alone or extensible to large farms?
Large or small holding, the underlying principles behind natural farming will be the same. Of course, smaller farms will have the advantage of being easier to manage, but that does not in any way mean it cannot be applied to larger farms. Larger farms have their advantages of economies of large scale operation, branding etc. The methods of application strategy and implementation needs to be altered to meet the requirements of larger farms.
(3) Can higher yields be produced by organic farming over conventional methods?
In short term crops like vegetables, paddy, banana etc natural farming has yielded crops comparable to that of chemical farming with more consistency and quality. Natural farming has quicker results on short-term crops. In the long –term crops, I have seen natural farming produce upto 85-90 % of the crop on conventional methods, again with much higher quality and considerably lower costs. To get to this level it takes 3-5 years of groundwork along with lots of patience, dedication and perseverance.
Before going to organic/inorganic comparisons, it is essential that one has deeper understanding of the whole picture.
Left to nature, soil has the inherent capacity to manufacture nutrients and provide them to the plants it supports. Continuous chemical application for years has destroyed the balance of the soil, leaving it depleted. Chemical application, apart from depleting the soil and causing it’s degeneration also destroys the most important ‘live’ part of soil- the micro-organisms. It is these micro organisms that generate and supply nutrition to the soil, thereby enriching he soil; they also convert the nutrients into forms that can be readily absorbed by plants. Once this in-built feeding system has been disturbed, and the plants are used artificial nutrition, it takes a good 3-5 years to restore the system and get the plants off this dependency habit. Plants are creatures of habit as much as humans are. If you disbelieve me, kindly try this, have 2 potted plants placed in the open sun. Water Plant A daily and Plant B once in 3 days. After a month, cut-off the water for plant A, within a day or two it will wilt, whereas plant B will remain unaffected for 3 days.
The same applies to plants and soils which are given frequent doses of artificial nutrients, the moment they are cut-off, the plant may face difficulty in adjusting to the new conditions. This is why the 3-5 year period for converted organic farms to attain productivity. But, very few farmers have the staying power to withstand this. Within a couple of years their productivity goes low, they suffer losses and the revert back to chemical farming. The practical thing would be for the farmer to convert 1/10th or 1/5th of his holding to natural farming. For those who try to farm in fresh/dry/ neglected soils, it will easier, however restoring the soil still remains the important task.
In long term crops, I have observed that after a period of 3-5 Years, natural farming yields about 85-90% yield of chemical farming, this 85-90 % in relation to the volume or quantity only. The quality, (parameters like the taste, aroma, nutrition, anti-oxidant count etc) will be much superior to the chemical farmed one. Also the yield from natural farming remains fairly consistent; there won’t be fluctuations in yield as there is in chemical farming. The yields projected by chem. Farming are difficult or next to impossible to achieve on consistent basis. For e.g. – The figures projected under chemical fed modern agriculture for paddy crop is 1250 kg per acre, for arecunaut 1250 kg per acre. This figure is the highest crop achieved once in 3-4 years, this IS NOT the standard crop for 3 years. So to assume that these figures are achievable each and every year is a myth. Can anyone achieve this yield on trot for 5 years? NO
I have personally known cases where natural faming in paddy yields 1000-1250 KG per year, the average of 4 years would be about 900-KG/acre. Likewise I know an arecunaut farmer who turned organic 5 years ago. Earlier the he used to extract a maximum of 1250 kg per acre. After turning organic his yield dropped to 300kg, subsequently went upto 500 kg. Now in the 5th year he gets 1000 kg per acre with minimum inputs
Apart from this the cost of production incurred in natural farming would only be roughly 30-40% of that of chemical farming and it consumes only roughly 25% of the water that chem. Farming does. Chemical farming comes with a lot of hidden costs that are not obvious to people. For instance the aspects of depletion and restoration of soil. It is very difficult to assess the cost of these. Let us examine this on a primary level – It has been openly acknowledged by scientists that chemical farming soils need constant correction of Ph levels in the soil. There is no escaping this. Take the case of land under chemical cultivation of cash crops, every 2 years one tonne of lime/per acre is recommended to correct the pH balance of the Soil and maintain production levels. The cost o this as of today can be taken as 1000 kgs @ Rs20/- per kg every 2-3 years which works out to 6000-10000 Rs per year per acre. Has this cost of restoration been included in the cost of production? Similarly, micro-organism multiplication, constant chemical and pesticide application results in depletion of micro-organisms and imbalances in the soil. The recommendations from the chemical agri consultants are to culture the micro-organisms in your soil multiply it and put it back to soil? These costs of foolishness are never taken into account in arriving at the cost of production.
(4)Are the farm inputs in the market really effective?
Avoid them at all costs. I am not saying all inputs in the market are bad, of course there are good ones, but they come at a price; and at the price they come at, they are not value for money, especially branded inputs available in the market. Suppose you buy a branded input worth Rs.100/- , the value it may give to your farm cannot be beyond Rs.35/-, always remember the manufacturer will make a 100 – 200% profit and apart from that the freight charges and tax. Would you choose to buy your raw material paying a premium and allow it to eat into your profits or would you like to source it locally, that is have it in-house? Always prepare your own inputs; never think of buying anything, especially branded stuff.