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Footnotes from the Field

Footnotes from the Field: Fall 2019

in 2019/Climate Change/Current Issue/Fall 2019/Footnotes from the Field/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Water Management

Water, Water, Everywhere… and Not a Drop to Drink!

Marjorie Harris

Special thanks to Tim Rundle of Creative Salmon for helping pull this synopsis on Aquaculture together!

The Canadian Aquaculture Standard CAN/CGSB-32.312 was published in 2012, with the new revision released in February 2018. The Aquaculture Standard stipulates the following:

Section 1.3: In the event of any conflict or inconsistency between this standard and CAN/CGSB-32.310 /311, this standard will take precedence.
Section 1.4: Prohibited substances list is identical to organic agriculture except that the soil amendments clause is expanded for aquaculture – Soil, sediment, benthic, and water amendments that contain a substance not listed in clause 11.

Seventy percent of our blue planet’s surface is covered by the oceanic ecosystem. Short of desalination, that water isn’t available for drinking, and yet the oceans’ salt water has all of the micronutrients required for human health. As of 2012, farmed fish production throughout the world outpaced beef production.1 Surprisingly, 60% of British Columbia’s exported agricultural products come from aquaculture operations. In 2017, Canada’s wild fish catch harvest was 851,510 million tonnes, and the aquaculture harvest was 191,416 million tonnes.2

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) tracks 179 wild fish stocks worldwide, and states that “fishing is a global industry, and of key importance to Canada. Sadly, overfishing, illegal fishing activities, and the destruction of ocean ecosystems are serious global issues that require immediate and continuing attention. Canada is committed to combating these problems.”3

According to the Earth Policy Institute, these trends illustrate the latest stage in a historic shift in food production—a shift that at its core is a story of natural limits: “The bottom line is that getting much more food from natural systems may not be possible.” In terms of resources required for livestock production, “Cattle consume seven pounds of grain or more to produce an additional pound of beef. This is twice as high as the grain rations for pigs, and over three times those of poultry.” In contrast, states the Earth Policy Institute, “Fish are far more efficient, typically taking less than two pounds of feed to add another pound of weight. Pork and poultry are the most widely eaten forms of animal protein worldwide, but farmed fish output is increasing the fastest.”1

Clearly, it looks like aquaculture is here to stay as a form of high quality, lower input, method of protein production, but is it the answer? Conventional aquaculture systems have left a legacy of controversy and environmental issues when operated in natural ecosystems.

Can organic aquaculture meet the needs for human food production and be environmentally friendly?

On January 25th, 2019, I attended an organic aquaculture training given by Tim Rundle, General Manager of Creative Salmon, North America’s only major producer of indigenous Pacific Chinook (King) salmon and Canada’s first producer of certified organic farm-raised salmon.

The biggest take away for me was that I was impressed with the standard’s requirements for the farmed species to be indigenous or adapted to the region. This requirement is a huge improvement over conventional systems. For example, Atlantic salmon being raised in conventional farmed systems in BC coastal waters are plagued by sea lice, while Creative Salmon’s Chinook salmon have a natural resistance to sea lice and no parasite treatments have been required—the species is indigenous or adapted to living where it is being raised with respect to its natural requirements.4

In an article featured on Aquaculture North America, Liza Mayer writes, “Rundle is first to admit that organic farming is not easy. Compared to conventional farming, fish raised under organic standards are provided added space in the pen enclosures,” in a parallel to the stocking requirements for land-based livestock in the organic standards. Moyer goes on to explain that “Chinooks, known to be more aggressive than their Atlantic cousins, swim freely because there are fewer of them in the pen, but it also means lower harvest volume. For Creative Salmon, that is 8 kilograms of fish per cubic meter maximum, although organic standards allow up to 10 kilograms of fish per cubic meter. Density in conventional farming could be from 20 to 25 kilograms per cubic metre.”5

What does the Aquaculture Standard cover?

Aquaculture is defined as the cultivation of crops or livestock in a controlled or managed aquatic environment (marine and land based freshwater and salt water operations). Aquaculture products are crops and livestock, or a product wholly or partly derived therefrom, cultivated in a controlled or managed aquatic environment. Aquaponics is also covered by the new Aquaculture Standard and is defined as a production system that combines the cultivation of crops and livestock in a symbiotic relationship. The products of fishing and wild animals are not considered part of this definition.

Recently, conventional aquaponics received some negative press due to the announcement that CanadaGap would be withdrawing aquaculture from its FoodSafe certification programs due to the use of antibiotics, which end up being incorporated into the plant and livestock products. Organic aquaculture does not allow for the use of antibiotics, and so the discussions around aquaponics need clarity to highlight the differences between conventional and organic productions systems. As aquaponics entrepreneur Gabe Cipes explains, “We have two conventional agricultural systems, aquaculture and hydroponics, that are dependent on chemical inputs and are decidedly bad for human health and the health of the environment.”

Cipes, who has extensive experience in organic and biodynamic farming, says that “If those two conventional systems are combined [into aquaponics] and managed according to the organic Aquaculture Standards, then the fish take care of the plants and the plants take care of the fish and there is no need for chemical or conventional inputs.” The benefit of aquaponics, according to Cipes, is the ability to “create a closed loop ecology that is beneficial for humans and our ecology. It is a high density, low foot print method of food production that could be an integral and biologically secure part of the future of food security and sovereignty if given the opportunity.”

Aquaculture is already producing more fish than wild catches and the predictions are that aquaculture will keep growing at a steady rate. British Columbia is a leading salmon producer in the world and is Canada’s leader in aquaculture production. There is tremendous opportunity to expand organic aquaculture production in BC!

Hungry for More Aquaculture Info?

World Resources Institute projects that aquaculture production will need to more than double by 2050. But how to get there sustainably? Check out their findings, along with the recommendations they’re making to transform the aquaculture industry: wri.org/publication/improving-aquaculture


Marjorie Harris, BSc, IOIA VO and Organophyte.

Feature image: Wapta Falls, Yoho Park, BC. Credit: Keith Young (CC)

References
1. Earth Policy Institute: earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2013/ update114
2. Fisheries and Oceans, Fast Facts:
waves-vagues.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/40782281.pdf
3. Fisheries and Oceans Canada:
dfo-mpo.gc.ca/international/index-eng.htm
4. Rundle, Tim. (2019, January), Creative Salmon. Presented at the Organic Aquaculture Training of the International Organic Inspectors Association.
5. Mayer, Liza. (2018, February). Creative Salmon: In a class of its own. Aquaculture North America: aquaculturenorthamerica.com/creative-salmon-in-a-class-of-its-own-1872

Footnotes From the Field: Advancing Plant Health in the Anthropocene Epoch

in 2019/Climate Change/Footnotes from the Field/Summer 2019

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O.

CAN/GSB-32.310-2015: Amended March 2018

5.4.1 The main objective of the soil fertility and crop nutrient management program shall be to establish and maintain a fertile soil using practices that maintain or increase soil humus levels, that promote an optimum balance and supply of nutrients, and that stimulate biological activity within the soil.

We are in the Anthropocene Epoch.

Although the term Anthropocene Epoch, or the Human Epoch, has not yet received official approval as a recognized subdivision of geological time, in common jargon it refers to a new time epoch where human activities significantly impact and shift Earth’s geology and ecosystems. This includes climate changes due to the advent of agriculture, deforestation, and earthworm expansion, resulting in the increased release of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Small but Mighty

In addition to agriculture contributing to deforestation, it also promoted the dominance and spread of earthworm populations. A study in the journal Nature Climate Change reports that earthworms are small but mighty in their impact on the climate. A meta-analysis of previous studies suggests the worms may actually increase soil outputs of two key greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. The study found that the presence of earthworms appears to increase soil outputs of CO2 by 33 percent and of nitrous oxide by 42 percent, demonstrating the essential role worms exert in determining the greenhouse gas balances of soils globally. Although earthworms are largely beneficial to soil fertility, they do increase net soil greenhouse gas emissions and that influence is expected to increase in the decades to come.

Decent into Glaciation Triggered by Earth’s Orbital Variations

Milutin Milankovitch, a Serbian Mathematics professor, theorized and then proved that Earth’s periodic glaciations are triggered by variations in Earth’s orbit. Milankovitch calculated the cyclical changes in climate based only on Earth’s orbital variation in relationship to the Sun caused by the additive effects of Orbital Eccentricity (100,000 year cycle), Axial Tilt (41,000 year cycle), and Precession (23,000 year cycle). The results demonstrated that over the last million years the climate has been varying between long glacial periods and short warming periods creating a cyclical 25% temperature variation at 65o North over the 100,000 year Milankovitch cycle.

A leading expert in Climate Change, Dr. Dan Britt, Pegasus Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences at the Department of Physics, University of Central Florida, has graphed out (Figure 1) the temperature divergence attributed to the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch, starting 10,000+ years ago with the advent of agriculture, deforestation, and earthworm expansion and leading up to the 20th century with fossil fuel consumption. The graph in Figure 1 shows the Milanovitch prediction for a cooling trend heading toward a glaciation period. The diverging lines indicate the actual temperatures (trending upwards) versus the prediction (trending downwards). Dr. Britt spent part of his scientific career studying ancient ice cores to determine temperature conditions and can attest to the results he presents in his lectures and publications.

The Plant Health Pyramid

Fortunately, while agriculture, deforestation, and earthworms were releasing the first 50 percent of the atmosphere’s greenhouse gases, farmers and scientists were making advances in understanding the promoters of plant, soil, and ecosystem health.

An example of a leading advancer of plant and soil health is John Kempf and his Plant Health Pyramid method of crop production. John started the “Advancing Eco Agriculture” website as a platform to share plant health knowledge and it is worth checking out (https://www.advancingecoag.com/). Kempf based his plant health approach on ideas put forward in a book written by Francis Chaboussou, Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution, published in 2005. Chaboussou proposes a theory of plant health that he calls ‘Trophobiosis’. The foundation concept is that insects and diseases are unable to use food sources comprised of complete proteins and carbohydrates.

According to John Kempf, “the degree of plant health and immunity is based on a plant’s ability to form structurally complete compounds such as carbohydrates and proteins. Complete carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids are formed by healthy plants with a fully functional enzyme system, which is dependent on trace mineral enzyme cofactors.” In order for plants to form complete compounds they need certain micronutrients along with environmental factors.

Figure 2: Source John Kempf, Advancing Eco Agriculture

Here is a thumbnail sketch description of John Kempf’s Plant Health Pyramid (also see Figure 2):

Phase #1: Complete Photosynthesis

Complete photosynthesis is the foundation of plant health and growth. As the plant harnesses the sun’s energy into sugars, the first sugars to form are simple monosaccharides. As the plant secures more resources they can produce complex sugars such as cellulose, pectin, and starches, and the plants become more resistant to soil born pathogens. John’s experience shows that soil pathogens decrease as a problem when the plants are fully and actively photosynthesizing.

Phase #2: Complete Protein Synthesis

During phase 2 the plant translocates up to 70% of energy production in the form of sugars to the roots and the surrounding rhizosphere microbial and fungal communities. In exchange for plant sugars the rhizosphere communities deliver essential trace minerals and nutrients from the soil that the plant uses to make enzyme cofactors that are then used in the manufacture of complete carbohydrates and proteins.

If the plant does not have access to these essential trace minerals it cannot make the catalytic enzymes that change single amino acids into complete proteins. Kempf says that insects target plants that have lots of free amino acids (incomplete proteins), because they have simple digestive systems. If plants have been able to transform the amino acids into complete proteins then they are not susceptible to insects with simple digestive systems such as whiteflies, cabbage loopers, corn earworm, alfalfa weevil, or tomato hornworm, to name a few.

Phase #3: Increased Lipid Synthesis

Most conventional crops do not develop past phase 2 development. This where providing the essential trace mineral needs of the plant pays off in the development of increased immunity. By now the plant has enough energy production that sugars can be converted to fats (lipids) and used to make stronger cell membranes. Through Kempf’s field experience it appears that plants with higher lipid content are more resistant to airborne pathogens such as powdery mildews, rust, blights, and more.

Phase #4: Increased Secondary Metabolites (Protective Polyphenols)

As the plant continues to develop under optimum trace mineral conditions, the sugars continue to convert to fats, which can then be modified into complex oil chains called polyphenols. These complex polyphenol chains are the protective essential oils, which include terpenoids, bioflavinods, carotenoids, tannins, and more. At this level of immunity with polyphenol production, plants can resist insects with more complex digestive systems such as beetles. The polyphenols also possess anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.

Lipids are also exuded through the roots into the rhizosphere. The soil rhizosphere fungi uses these lipids to form the macro molecules of soil stabilizing humic substances. The formation of humic substances in turn increases the bioavailability of trace minerals and nutrients from the soil to the plants, and optimum soil and plant health balance has been achieved.

In the Anthropcene Epoch, advances in understanding plant and soil nutrition are helping to hone the agricultural techniques required for optimum biomimicry practices to enhance soil and plant and health. Here’s a cheer for “Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, and Healthy People” as we continue to manage food production wisely in the Age of Discovery in the Human Epoch.


Marjorie Harris, BSc, IOIA VO and Organophyte.

Feature image: Figure 1: Source: Dr. Dan Britt: Orbits and Ice Ages 2018. Edited to indicate the beginning of agriculture.

References:
1. Britt, D. (2018). Orbits and Ice Ages: Climate During the Last Three Million Years. University of Central Florida. life.ucf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/1-19-10-Britt-2.pdf
2.  Lubbers, I.M., van Groenigen, K.J., Fonte, S.J., Six, J., Brussaard,L., van Groenigen, J.W. (2013). Greenhouse-gas emissions from soils increased by earthworms. Nature Climate Change: 3:187. doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1692.
3. Morello, L. (2013). Earthworms Increase Soils’ Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Climate Central. climatecentral.org/news/earthworms-increase-soils-greenhouse-gas-emissions-study-finds-15549
4. Kempf, J. (2016). Crop Health Transitions – Pest and disease-resistant crops. Advancing Eco Agriculture. advancingecoag.com/johns-posts

Footnotes from the Field: Climate Change

in Footnotes from the Field/Spring 2019

Are We on the Brink of an Ecological Armageddon?

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O.

The United Nations’ 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report identified that “biodiversity is an essential prerequisite for the maintenance of ecosystem services providing manifold benefits to human well-being.”

How is Climate Change Impacting the Biodiversity of our Planet’s Ecosystem?

Regional climate change hot spots have begun to undergo dramatic biodiversity reductions and, in some cases, ecosystem collapse due to temperature related food chain disruptions. Scientists in the field of phenology, the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena relating to climate, plant, and animal life have found that rapid climate change is causing a decoupling of once synchronized light-sensitive cycles from temperature-sensitive cycles.

Slower shifts in climate over geological time frames are well recognized natural and cyclic phenomena. Climate studies have demonstrated that a climate shift 6,000 years ago in northern Africa converted the Sahara grassland savannahs to desert sands. Archeological evidence has found cave paintings in the desert showing mermaids and swimmers in the now-dry local lakes.

How Can We Know that Human Activities are Actually Contributing to an Increase in Global Temperatures?

As the Industrial Revolution was being propelled forward by the burning of fossil fuels, the Greenhouse Effect began building as those fossil fuels released greenhouse gases. The Industrial Revolution began in the 1760’s in Europe and had rooted in North America by the 1820’s.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen by 39 percent and methane levels have risen to the highest concentrations in at least 650,000 years. These greenhouse gases prevent thermal radiation from leaving the Earth’s surface atmosphere with the ocean acting as a heat sink. The upper ocean layer’s heat content has increased significantly more in recent decades. As the ocean absorbs heat, waves, tides, and currents, move  that heat from warmer to cooler latitudes, and to deeper levels. Eventually this heat energy re-enters the land systems by melting ice shelves, evaporated water (rain), or by directly reheating the atmosphere. Heat energy stored in the ocean has a long life span—it can warm the planet for decades after it was absorbed.

Early oceanographers recorded ocean temperature data from 1872 to 1876 aboard the HMS Challenger. The ship sailed 69,000 nautical miles, recording 300 ocean temperature profiles at several depths. Fast forward to today’s Argo Project headed up by oceanographer Dr. Dean Roemmich. The Argo Project uses 3,000 free-drifting floats for long-term monitoring of global ocean temperatures and salinity every 10 days. In a recent scientific paper Dr. Roemmich reported the results, comparing today’s ocean temperatures to those taken by HMS Challenger’s crew. The study revealed an overall average temperature increase of 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit (0.59 degrees Celsius) at the ocean’s surface over the past 135 years.

Rising Ocean Surface Temperatures Directly Influence Global Weather Patterns

NASA scientists have developed computer simulations of historical weather data. These data described the ocean temperatures that created the weather conditions leading to the North American Dust Bowl from 1931 to 1939, considered to be the most significant meteorological event of the 20th century. NASA scientists found that the Atlantic Ocean surface temperature had risen by 1 degree Farenheit, and that the Pacific Ocean had experienced a cooling La Niña cycle. The combination triggered the drought weather patterns for the America Plains.

The Dust Bowl eroded 100 million acres into stripped and lacerated wastelands spanning Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, with dust storms severely affecting a total of 27 states. Farms in the Dust Bowl lost an average of 480 tons of topsoil per acre. By 1940, the Dust Bowl conditions had prompted the relocation of 2.5 million people. The infamous Black Sunday storm on April 14, 1935 measured 200 miles across by 2,000 feet high with winds at 65 mph. The dust blocked the sunlight causing temperatures to drop 25 degrees Farenheit in one hour. During one severe two-hour period on Black Sunday, the violent storm stripped away twice as much soil as had been dug out over seven years to build the Panama Canal.

Hugh Hammond Bennett became known as the father of soil conservation in his work as founder and head of the US Soil Conservation Service. Bennett identified poor farming practices, deep plowing, denuded soil, removal of trees, and drought as the main causes of the Dust Bowl.

Under Bennett’s leadership, the US Soil Conservation Service initiated a 30-year program to restore and mitigate the damages of the Dust Bowl, including the replanting of denuded land. Bennett also set up programs to teach farmers better land management techniques such as leaving crop stubble in the field after harvest. Additionally, in the 1930’s, the US government purchased 11.3 million acres and replanted native grasslands. However, damage to the land was so severe, that by the year 2,000 some areas were still barren of growth and blowing dust.

Light and Temperature-Sensitive Ecosystem Cycles

Bennet stated, “the Kingdom of Nature is not a democracy; we cannot repeal natural laws when they become irksome. We have got to learn to conform to those laws or suffer severer consequences than we have already brought upon ourselves.”5

Here we are some 80 years after Bennett’s warning, and status updates report that climate change is moving forward unabated. An important factor in climate change is the disruption of ecosystem relationships by decoupling synchronized light-sensitive cycles from temperature-sensitive cycles.

Farmers are familiar with counting heat units to time the application of pest controls. This is because many insects—as well as reptiles, and amphibians—use temperature-sensitive cycles as cues for hatching emergence. Sex selection for some reptiles, such as crocodiles, is temperature based—the temperature of incubation will determine the sex of the offspring. This leaves many reptiles at-risk: an entire sex can be removed from the reproductive landscape in a few breeding seasons.

Phytoplankton communities are losing biodiversity in the face of higher ocean temperatures as natural selection is for more heat-tolerant groups. Phytoplankton make up only 0.2 percent of global primary producer biomass, yet they are responsible for about 50 percent of the world’s primary food production. In addition, phytoplankton are key components in the global carbon cycle. Reduction in the biodiversity of phytoplankton communities changes the primary producer profiles and reduces the resilience of the ocean ecosystem.

The concept of an Ecological Armageddon is emerging — Dr. CA Hallmann reports an 82 percent decline in flying insects at 63 protected sites in Germany, over a 27-year study period. Hallmann notes, “loss of insects is certain to have adverse effects on ecosystem functioning, as insects play a central role in a variety of processes, including pollination, herbivory and detrivory, nutrient cycling, and providing a food source for higher trophic levels such as birds, mammals, and amphibians. For example, 80 percent of wild plants are estimated to depend on insects for pollination, while 60 percent of birds rely on insects as a food source.”

In Puerto Rico’s Luquillo rainforest, researcher Bradford C. Lister found that biomass loss  increased from 10 to 60 times over the 30-year study period. Lister’s analysis revealed a synchronous decline in lizards, frogs, and birds that eat insects. Lister determined that the forest temperature had risen 2.0 degrees Celcius over the study period—a temperature change that prevented insect eggs from hatching, and reducing food supply for animals higher up the food chain.

Light-sensitive activities for mammals and birds include migration, breeding, and predation. As well, some plants are reliant on light-sensitive cues for growth stimulation.

For example, caribou populations in the Artic are in decline due to the decoupling of temperature and light-sensitive cycles. Pregnant caribou migrate to birthing grounds based on light cues to time their arrival with the emergence of nutrient-rich plant growth. However, due to rising artic temperatures, the plants are germinating earlier. When the pregnant caribou arrive to their feeding grounds, plant nutrition has already decreased—resulting in malnourished caribou mothers producing fewer calves. Another light-sensitive lifecycle example is the change in the Arctic mosquito cycle. Migrating birds rely on the larval Arctic mosquitos as a rich food source, but the mosquitos are hatching earlier under warmer temperatures. When birds arrive, the mosquitos are in their adult form, and the birds are without a source of food. The now unchecked mosquito population impacts the caribou lifecycle when caribou calves are predated to death by unusually gigantic swarms of blood-sucking adult mosquitos.

The butterfly effects of climate change on the intricacies of the planetary food web are only just emerging. Hopefully, we can adapt before an Ecological Armageddon occurs.


Marjorie Harris (BSc, IOIA VO) is an organophyte, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems.

References:
Roemmich, D, Gould WJ, Gilson J. 2012. 135 years of global ocean warming between the Challenger expedition and the Argo Programme. Nature Climate Change. 2:425-428.  10.1038/nclimate1461
NASA Explains the Dust Bowl Drought: nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2004/0319dustbowl.html
Handy Dandy Dust Bowl Facts: kinsleylibrary.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Handi-facts.pdf
The Dust Bowl: u-s-history.com/pages/h1583.html
The Dust Bowl, an illustrated history, Duncan & Burns, 2012 (pages 160 – 162)
Climate Change: Ocean Heat Content: climate.gov/news-features/      understanding-climate/climate-change-ocean-heat-content
Temperature and species richness effects in phytoplankton communities. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548109/
Lister, B.C. Department of Biological Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic University, Troy, NY 12180 pnas.org/content/115/44/E10397.short
More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas: journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185809
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005: was called for by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000 in his report to the UN General Assembly, We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century.

Footnotes from the Field: Mother Earth is Heating Up

in 2019/Climate Change/Footnotes from the Field/Organic Standards/Pest Management/Winter 2019

BC Crop Adaptation & Diversification in Climate Change

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O. P.Ag

I have stood on my back porch trying to imagine what a three kilometer high Cordilleran Ice sheet would have looked like here 12,000 years before the last big melt. It is estimated that people arrived in BC’s virgin landscape only 9,000 years ago.

Climate change on a geological time scale is undeniable. Long term climate change trends are difficult to observe from year to year and climate change over a lifetime may be imperceptible especially with a variety of shorter and longer climate cycles that can bring on their own periodic dramatic weather events.

Here in BC our usual climate patterns are regularly perturbed by El Nino, La Nina, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The El Nino cycle fluctuates over three to seven years. During El Nino years inland temperatures tend to be warmer and drier with warmer coastal waters that push salmon stocks further north to colder water. La Nina years are characterized with colder inland temperatures with heavier winter snow packs and colder coastal waters. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation pattern shifts temperatures and precipitation over 20 to 30 year periods that correspond with dramatic shifts in salmon production.
We have now entered a new epoch of human induced climate change. Analysis of global climate data provides unequivocal evidence that worldwide average temperatures have risen significantly and at a more rapid pace then usually observed in geologic time frames. The effects of climate change are region specific and variable across the world. The effects are most pronounced in high latitude and high-altitude areas.

What are the predicted impacts of climate change on BC crop production, pest and disease burden, weed control, and water resources?

There has already been a measurable shift to warmer average temperatures year round throughout the province generally speaking. However, climate change impacts vary region to region. Warmer winter temperatures have been more pronounced in the far north. In the southern part of the province the growing season has lengthened. There will be more very hot days in summer and extended droughts with higher risks of fire with drier conditions.

Crop production: Key cash crops will lose viability to grow under new climate conditions. Growers will need to diversify in crop production to meet the new growing conditions. In the Okanagan region, longer warmer growing seasons favor red wine grape varieties over cooler temperature white and ice wine grape varieties. In the Okanagan wine producers are replacing grapevines for varietals that prefer more warmth.

Pest and disease burden: Milder winter temperatures allow a greater number of pests to survive overwintering, increasing the pest burden for the following season. Timing of pest control will need to be adjusted as pest life cycles respond to temperature increases. For strategic pest management increased pest surveillance will be crucial to prevention and management.

Pests will extend range to higher altitudes with warming trends. One example is the spread of the mountain pine beetle from north to south across the province under the influence of milder winters. Many invasive insects and disease vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents, will be able to extend their geographical ranges.

For BC, a rare anthrax outbreak occurred in Fort St. John in October 2018, killing 13 bison. Rainy weather and warmer soil temperatures allowed the bacteria deep underground to migrate to the soil surface and become an infective agent.

Weed Control: It is predicted that invasive plant and weed species will expand their ranges with climate change impacts. Weeds with efficient seed dispersal systems will invade faster than weeds that rely on vegetative dispersal. Higher carbon dioxide levels may cause some weeds to grow more vigorously. Disturbed habitats and fields after drought will be more easily colonized; therefore, cover cropping will become more imperative.

Water management: Climate change is predicted to bring substantial changes to water resources. The type of precipitation is already observably shifting to more rain, intense rain events, and less winter snowpacks. Persistent droughts are becoming more common during the summer months.

Most of BC’s alpine glaciers are predicted to continue to retreat and disappear within the next 100 years. Warming spring temperatures coupled with reduced snowpacks will result in earlier springs freshets, reduced summer flows, and increased peak flows for many of BC’s watersheds.

What can we learn from the past: BC’s prehistoric climate records demonstrate that in previous centuries the province has experience more frequent severe droughts than have occurred in the past few decades, irrespective of climate change.

For the last 4,000 years the planet has actually been in a long cooling period. When key crops failed repeatedly, causing food shortages, people migrated to new locations and diversified crop production. Moving away to new lands is not a current option on our fully explored planet.

Anthropological Archaeologist Dr. Jade d’Alpoim Guedes conducted research into the rapid cooling periods of the last 5000 years and made some correlations to climate warming:

“The impacts of warming going forward are going to be quicker and greater, [than global cooling], and humanity has had 4,000 years to adjust to a cooler world,” d’Alpoim Guedes said. “With global warming these long-lasting patterns of adaptation will begin to change in ways that are unpredictable,” she said. “And there might not be the behavioral flexibility for this, given current politics around the world.”
Also mechanized, industrialized agriculture and global agricultural policy are pushing us toward mono-culture of crops, said d’Alpoim Guedes. “We need to move in the opposite direction instead. “Studies like ours show that bet-hedging and investing in diversity have been our best bets for adapting to climate change,” she said. “That is what allowed us to adapt in past, and we need to be mindful of that for our future, too.”

So, the question of the 11th hour is, can we as human beings cooperate together to manage ecosystems and agricultural food systems to adapt and diversify quickly enough to prevent ecosystem collapses and famines?


Marjorie Harris is an organophyte, agrologist, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems.

References:
WSU Insider, Science and Technology: https://news.wsu.edu/2018/10/31/history-offers-insights-into-climate-change-strategies/
d’Alpoin Guedes, J., Bocinsky, K. (2018). Climate change stimulated agricultural innovation and exchange across Asia. Science Advances, Vol. 4, No. 10.
From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007
https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/earthsciences/pdf/assess/2007/pdf/ch8_e.pdf

Footnotes from the Field: Intergenerational Soil Stewardship

in Fall 2018/Footnotes from the Field/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Standards/Tools & Techniques
Onions by Moss Dance at Birds and Beans

Intergenerational Soil Stewardship: Our Only Hope?

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O. P.Ag

Soil, specifically topsoil, is the foundation of life on this earth. Earth is the only planet with healthy fertile soil on it that we know of yet, in the whole of the universe. Fertile soil is a little-understood mixture of biology and geology whose potential only exists in the topsoil layer. The topsoil layer is composed of the topsoil itself and organic matter in various stages of mineralization and humus production. Degradation and erosion of the topsoil depletes soil fertility, restricting plant growth, vitality, and micronutrient content. Hence, it becomes imperative for one to reach out to a website, and take aid of professionals in combating the problem of soil erosion.

The theme for this month’s BC Organic Grower is: “Bioregionalism: building place based economies.” Agricultural philosopher Wendell Berry suggests that an agrarian economy is based on local adaptation of economic activity to the capacity of the land to sustain such activity.

This is a challenging idea because history shows us that farming as practised in the past and the present always causes topsoil degradation. Through the ages, soil degradation, or erosion, has steered the fate and course of human civilizations and ultimately caused the demise of those civilizations. This story has repeated itself throughout the world and in the history of every type of farming. In the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” No greater historical comment can be made for agriculture: learn or be doomed. All farming societies exhausted their topsoils within 800 to 1700 years.

The Canadian Organic Standards speak to soil conservation and soil fertility specifically in the following sections:
The general principles of organic production in Annex 1:
1. Protect the environment, minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution, optimize biological productivity, and promote a sound state of health.
2. Maintain long-term soil fertility by optimizing conditions for biological activity within the soil.

Clause 5.4.3 Tillage and cultivation practices shall maintain or improve the physical, chemical and biological condition of soil, and minimize damage to the structure and tilth of soil, and soil erosion.

Principle of Health

Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plants, animals, humans and the planet as one and indivisible.

We have run out of new lands to discover on planet Earth. In 1995, Dr. David Pimental of Cornell University calculated that we had already lost 30% of the arable land we were farming to soil erosion. With the advent of chemical and mechanical agriculture the soil erosion problem has increased a hundred-fold in areas. As an example, in the past 150 years, one-half the fertile topsoil of Iowa has been lost to erosion.

Topsoil is a strategic and underappreciated resource. Soil can be conserved, made, and lost and it is the balance of these factors that determines the soils fertility. How we manage the soil resource in our generation will affect generations to come. As long as soil erosion continues to exceed soil production, it is only a matter of time before agriculture fails to support Earths humanity.

What Can We Learn from the Trials and Errors of Our Ancestors?

Çatalhöyük, Anatolia (modern Turkey) was home to a Neolithic farming civilization that lasted around a thousand years starting about 7500 BC. Scientists have studied skeletal remains which have provided a highly informative record of human health. From the skeletal health record they have been able to divide this civilization into three distinct health time periods: Early, Middle and Late. During the Middle period the civilization reached its peak in population and health, and then as soil fertility was depleted the human skeletal health parameters demonstrated decline. By the end of the Late period 52% of human births resulted in infant mortality before the age of two months. Similar skeletal health studies have been conducted on the remains of other farming civilizations globally with outcome of human health declining in parallel with topsoil and soil fertility depletion, supporting the assumption that human health is interdependent on topsoil retention and soil fertility.

Dr. David R. Montgomery succinctly identifies the problem and a potential solution in his book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations: “Sustaining our collective well being requires prioritizing society’s long term interest in soil stewardship; it is an issue of fundamental importance to our civilization. We simply cannot afford to view agriculture as just another business because the economic benefits of soil conservation can be harvested only after decades of stewardship, and the cost of soil abuse is borne by all.”

What Does a New Sustainable Agriculture Ethic Require from Us?

In Dr. David Montgomery’s more recent publication “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” he outlines solutions to soil conservation and topsoil rebuilding techniques he has witnessed applied in the field around the world. He identifies the main culprit of soil erosion in agriculture as the invention of the plow. The plow breaks the soil structure and exposes the underground community of biota to the surface. “The plow is the villain that set the seeds for soil degradation. Only deserts have bare earth and Nature tends to clothe herself in plants.”

Another challenge is that during one generation a farmer can seldom see the effects of topsoil erosion unless a dramatic natural weather event sweeps the soil away. During day to day farming it is difficult to ascertain the minimal yet additive effects of traditional tillage techniques. Fallow land tillage is a traditional technique that leads to desertification and needs to be abandoned and replaced with topsoil preserving methods. Topsoil conservation and rebuilding requires the focused consciousness of Intergenerational Soil Stewardship to guide agricultural sustainability.

Soil is in a Symbiotic Living Relationship with Plants

When plants are actively photosynthesizing they release 30% to 40% of the sugars, carbon compounds, and proteins they manufacture through their roots into the root rhizosphere. The root exudes these nutrients to feed the underground community of fungi and microbes in exchange for micronutrients from fungi and microbial metabolites that act as growth stimulators and plant health promoters.

When plants are fed synthetic N, P, K they grow big on top of the ground but do not invest in growing a big root system and do not deliver as much nutritious root exudates to feed the underground microbial and fungi communities. As a result the plant does not reap the benefits of vitality factors and micronutrients. The plants overall health is less and the plant tissue has demonstratively less micronutrient content to pass on up the food chain. Micronutrient studies demonstrate that under conventional agriculture the plants have lost between 25% to 50% of their micronutrient content in the past 50 years.

The solution to successful topsoil building Dr. Montgomery observed while touring farms around the world required three things to happen at once: no till planting techniques, cover cropping, and adding organic matter to the soil. Dr. Montgomery has coined the method Conservation Agriculture and the methods can be applied in both conventional and organic farms—because when it comes to soil conservation and restoration, everybody needs to get on board.

Principles of Conservation Agriculture:

1. Minimal or no disturbance/direct planting of seeds (e.g., no till)
2. Permanent ground cover: retain crop residues and include cover crop in rotations
3. Diverse crop rotations: to maintain soil fertility and break up pathogen carryover
4. Livestock assisting in topsoil building: mimic bison grazing, move cattle in a tight herd to intensive graze (high disturbance), and move frequently to produce low frequency grazing.

Benefits of Conservation Agriculture, after a short transition period of 2 to 3 years to allow soil organic matter to build fertility:

1. Comparable or increased yields
2. Greatly reduced fossil fuel and pesticide use
3. Increased soil carbon and crop resilience
4. Higher farmer profits

“This is not a question of low tech organic versus GMO & agro-tech….this is about ‘how to apply an understanding of soil ecology to the applied problem of increasing and sustaining crop yields in a post-oil environment’.”

“Agriculture has experienced several revolutions in historical times: the yeoman’s revolution based on relearning Roman soil husbandry and the agrochemical and green revolutions based on fertilizer and agrotechnology. Today, the growing adoption of no-till and organic methods is fostering a modern agrarian revolution based on soil conservation. Whereas past agricultural revolutions focused on increasing crop yields, the ongoing one needs to sustain them to ensure the continuity of our modern global civilization. The philosophical basis of the new agriculture lies in treating soil as a locally adapted biological system rather than a chemical system.”

Intergenerational Soil Stewardship: Society on a global scale based on an agrarian economy adapted to its bioregion dedicated to topsoil conservation and restoration and the development of soil fertility.


Marjorie Harris is an organophyte, agrologist, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems.

References:
1. Montgomery, D. (2007). Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. University of California Press. Montgomery, D. (2017). Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life. W. W. Norton & Company.
3. Pimental, D., Burgess, M. (2013). Soil Erosion Threatens Food Production. Agriculture, 3(3), 443-463; doi: 10.3390/agriculture3030443
4. Montgomery, D. (2014). Soil erosion and agricultural sustainability. PNAS. 104 (33) 13268-13272; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0611508104

Footnotes from the Field: Celebrating the Flight of the Bumblebee

in 2018/Footnotes from the Field/Land Stewardship/Organic Standards/Summer 2018

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O. P.Ag

When I think of the ‘wholeness’ of a bioregional ecosystem and imagine the inner workings to identify which biological organisms could have the greatest influence on the entire system, nothing seems to compete with the influential power of the domesticated honey bee.

This industrious pollinator flies great distances to gather nectar and pollen. The Canadian Organic Standards (COS) Clause 7.1.10 recognizes the prodigious flying capacity of the honey bee by requiring apiaries to be protected by a three kilometre buffer zone from pesticides, GMO crops, sewage sludge, and other environmental contaminants. I decided to calculate just how big of an area a three kilometre radius would cover—an astounding 28.27 square kilometers! Wow! The domesticated honey bee’s influence in a bioregion extends over a huge pollination territory.


RELATED ORGANIC REGULATIONS

CAN/CGSB-32.310 7.1.10 Location of hives
Where sources or zones of prohibited substances are present, that is, genetically engineered crops or environmental contamination, apiaries shall be protected with a buffer zone of 3 km (1.875 mi.).

CAN/CGSB-32.310 7.1.7 When bees are placed in wild areas, impact on the indigenous insect population shall be considered.


In stark contrast to the honey bee’s huge domain is the relatively small realm of influence the humble bumble bee commands. There are well over 450 native bee species in British Columbia and 45 of those are bumble bees.

The bumble bee is the only other social bee that makes honey. Bumble bee colonies are very small containing between 50 to 200 bees. Seventy percent of the colonies are formed by ground nesters, while others nest in cavities of dead wood or pithy stems.

The average bumble bee species will only travel 100 to 200 m from the home nest to collect nectar and pollen. The average domain of pollination influence for a bumble bee is between 0.031 km2 and 0.13 km2. Putting this all into perspective, for each honey bee colony’s influence domain of 28.27 km2 there could be between 200 to 900 humble bumble bee ground nesting colonies competing for many of the same nectar and pollen resources!

Frisky bumblebee. Credit: Gilles Gonthier

The good news for bumble bees is that many of them are specially designed to harvest nectar and pollen from native flowers that honey bees can’t access. The bad news is that native bee populations are in decline due to loss of native foraging habitat, pesticides, and mechanized farming destroying nests by tilling the soil.

Social bee colonies form ‘super organisms,’ with all individuals working for one home. The honey bee’s ‘super organism’ even exceeds in bioregional influence the largest organism on planet Earth, a honey fungus that extends its reach over 10.36 km2 of the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. Honey fungus is a plant parasite that manages its domain by selecting which plants live within its territory. The fertilization by pollination of plants by the bee has a similar selection effect on the ecosystem. By geographic area, one domestic honeybee hive has three times the bioregional influence of the largest organism on earth.

COS clause 7.1.7 recognizes that imported domestic honey bees have an impact on the indigenous insect populations. I would say that even though the vast majority of farmers cannot qualify to produce organic honey themselves, it should be recognized that the conventional production of honey is having a major impact on our native pollinators. Taking the lead from clause 7.1.7, we can conscientiously strive to protect and provide forage habitat and safe nesting sites for the humble bumble bee and other native pollinators.

Brown-belted Bumble Bee (Bombus griseocollis). Credit: Andrew C
Brown-belted Bumble Bee (Bombus griseocollis). Credit: Andrew C

By providing forage habitat and safe nesting sites for bumble bees, we are having a direct influence on the health and wealth of our home bioregional ecosystem. As an environmentally conscious and active community, we can have a positive impact in our bioregion by providing for our indigenous insect pollinators as we mobilize ourselves to address the environmental needs of these indigenous insects.

There are so many delicious wild berries that need the bumble bee. The flowers on these berries are enclosed so it takes a bumble bee’s specialized long “tongue” to get to the plant’s nectar. As the bumble bee ‘buzzes’ on these flowers the muscles it uses for flying releases the flower pollen and sticks to its long body bristles to be transferred to other flowers.

Buffer zones are an excellent starting place to plant native vegetation, trees, shrubs, and flowers that will become oases of survival for the humble bumble bees.
If you need further inspiration, think about the near extinction of the native bee pollinator for the vanilla orchid, which produces vanilla beans, the shiny green orchid bee. All commercial vanilla bean operations must now employ hand pollination!

Another shocker in the news is that Walmart and other interested corporations have been patenting designs for robotic pollinators. I’d rather keep the robots out of the pollination equation, especially since we can set aside buffer zones and wild areas and gradually restore unfragmented sections of land devoted to a wide diversity of native pollinator vegetation, undisturbed nesting locations, and overwintering sites for bumble bee queens.

Check out the link below for a library of seasonal listings for pollinator plants to build your pollinator gardens. Celebrate the amazing bumble bee!

seeds.ca/pollinator/plant_canada/index.php


Marjorie Harris is an organophyte, agrologist, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems.

Feature photo: Bombus Impatiens. Credit: Katja Schulz

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Footnotes from the Field: Seeds of Resilience

in 2018/Footnotes from the Field/Grow Organic/Organic Standards/Seeds/Spring 2018
Leet and onion starts at a plant sale

Seeds of Resilience for Thriving Bioregionalism

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O. P.Ag

Bioregionalism is a philosophical concept that promotes the harmonization of human culture and activities with those of the environmental bioregion they reside in. There is also an emphasis on local food production for local markets, including indigenous plants and animals.

The organic community has developed into a proactive global sub-culture phenomenon whose regulatory standards happen to work hand in glove in implementing some fundamental bioregionalism concepts. Case in point, the use of organic seed when and where possible.

CAN/CGSB-32.310-2015 Clause 5.3 Seeds and planting stock: Organic seed, bulbs, tubers, cuttings, annual seedlings, transplants, and other propagules shall be used…

The tenants of bioregionlism recognise the uniqueness of each ecosystem’s bioregion as defined by its natural boundaries. Often these natural boundaries are not related to national boundaries: for instance, the bio-geoclimatic subzone of the Okanagan Valley stretches through southern British Columbia into Washington state. The organic sub-culture spans the globe and in this sense the bioregion or ecoregion that is defined is the entirety of the earth system herself.

In some ways Bioregionlism harkens back to a time before modern industrialization, when food production was still predominantly local and relied on hardy regional crop varieties that were grown using traditional farming methods and largely consumed by local peoples. In that pre-industrial model, each community had its own work force that could produce enough local foods to support its local population base.

In a world comprised of unpredictable natural disasters and volatile global markets subject to politico-economic shifts, we find that the organic regulatory requirement for the use of organic seed brings the concept of “resilience” into the bioregionalism equation. On a global basis, the organic community directly supports the establishment of local seed reserves, local seed exchanges, the maintenance of open pollinated heritage varieties, the conservation of regionally hardy varieties, local seed producers, and a seed saver aware community.

This is in contrast to the reduction of seed diversity and the increasing vulnerability of seed supplies managed by the multinational conglomerates.

In the past 60 years we have witnessed a rapid consolidation of smaller regional seed companies into a handful of multinational seed producers. The vast majority of seeds are grown out in select regions of the globe and shipped back to farmers. Risks are inherent when you put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. A traumatic disruption, such as a volcanic eruption or an untimely winter freeze could wipe out the majority of seed for one crop in a production year.

Forty percent of all hybrid onion seed grown for commercial production in North America comes from a few hundred acres in the Yuma, Arizona. Jefferson County, Oregon supplies 45% of the global market for hybrid carrot seed and supplies 55% of the US domestic market. A main carrot seed producer has reported losing his entire crop due to a winter freeze, significantly reducing seed supplies for a commercial carrot crops.

Another vulnerability that comes with consolidated seed production is hybridization which inherently limits variety and loses some plant characteristics available to open pollinated varieties. Hybrid seeds are a dead end for seed savers as progeny diverge from parent genetics after the first generation. As well, hybrids have not been selected for local characteristics and regional hardiness, as open pollinated seeds are through rogueing.

In Canada, seed production for onions and carrots is a two year process as the plants are biannual seed producers. Contrast that with the longer growing seasons of the more southern USA, where onions and carrots can be an annual crop. Under annual crop growing conditions rigorous rogueing for carrot variety cannot be conducted as only the leaf tops can be checked for shape. Here in Canada, carrots are dug up and the roots rogued out for desired characteristics and replanted the following spring as ‘stecklings,’ with seed harvested in the fall of the second year.

The organic standards provide a globally unified conversation around seed production ideals and philosophy that actively seeks to build bioregional communities with seed and food resilience at their core. The use of organic seed embodies much more than just a commercial value or niche market item as it is the ‘seed core of resilience’ for thriving bioregional communities. Without the seeds of diversity and regionalism we lose the strength of resilience in an uncertain world.

Happy seed saving!


Marjorie Harris is an organophyte, agrologist, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems.

Photo of leek and onion starts at a plant sale: Moss Dance

References:

1. Onions: cals.arizona.edu/fps/sites/cals.arizona.edu.fps/files/cotw/Onion_Seed.pdf
2. Carrots: oregonstate.edu/dept/coarc/carrot-seed-0
3. Carrots: www.farmflavor.com/oregon/oregon-ag-products/seed-needs/

Footnotes from the Field: Principle of Care

in 2018/Footnotes from the Field/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Winter 2018

A Culture of Caring For Our Children’s Children

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O. P.Ag

This past year offered me a renewed and greater depth of understanding for the foundations of organic agriculture that are steeped in a culture of caring and concern for how the long term ramifications of today’s actions will affect tomorrow’s world.

One of my field-person positions required that I obtain a pesticide applicator’s licence. As I worked through the educational material provided through the BC government training program, I was taken aback to read that certain pesticides have been identified that have the ability to kill the soil irreversibly. I do not comprehend how any substances in this category of lethality could even be considered for agricultural use.

Soil fertility is a primary concern for organic and regenerative agriculture. To quote Rodale, “healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy people”. This quote and concept makes a lot of sense to me. The healthier the soil, the more microbes and fungi systems available to actively deliver nutrients to the plants. More nutrients help plants develop strong immune systems and robust growth that ultimately translate into more phytonutrients created per plant. These well fed, healthy plants supply those proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and species unique phytonutrients to the human dinner plate.

The culture of caring for soil fertility over the long term in organic agriculture is in stark contrast to the concept that there would be legitimate reasons to knowingly kill the soil through conventional agriculture methods. This concept was shocking and foreign to me and made me immediately more deeply thankful for the organic culture of caring for the living earth.

The basic Canada Organic Standard requires a buffer zone that can offer growers an opportunity to build in biodiversity zones. The Demeter Canada inspection forms demonstrate an example of deeper long term caring. Here, reflection on caring for, and protecting ancient forest soils and their living biodiversity, is implied in questions:

3.9 No clearing of virgin forest or high value conservation areas.

3.10 Is 10% of the productive farm area a biodiversity reserve?

The biodynamic practice of protecting undisturbed forest soils for future generations is supported by current scientific evidence, which has found that the ectomycorrhizal fungi of the forest can absorb 30% more human created carbon dioxide under low nitrogen conditions than grassland and agricultural soils dominated by arbuscular fungi.

The roots of forest plants are closely associated with their ectomycorrhizal fungi that can deliver extra atmospheric carbon dioxide directly to the plant, causing a 30% increase in growth—this is termed the ‘fertilization effect’. In a recent study into the fertilization effect, the research team analysed 83 carbon dioxide fertilization experiments, which demonstrated that a plant’s ability to take advantage of extra CO2 depended on whether the roots were associated with ectomycorrhizal or arbuscular fungi. The forest-type ectomycorrhizal won hands down every time with an extra 30% plant growth. The arbuscular fungi in the agricultural/grassland was not able to take advantage of higher carbon dioxide levels at all. (Terrer, et al., 2016)

It was determined that the arbuscular fungi need higher levels of nitrogen in the soil compared to the forest ectomycorrhizal fungi, which are able to absorb soil nitrogen even under low nitrogen conditions. The ability to absorb soil nitrogen determines how much carbon dioxide can be absorbed to fertilize the plants into extra growth. During this time of climate change concern, forests and forest soils are a real and measurable ally for their ability to sequester and reduce the increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and therefore help stabilize global temperature.

A final thought on preserving ancient soils comes to mind and that is the power of humates and fulvic acid, both formed by ancient processes that can take thousands of years. The average residence time of humic substances in undisturbed soils based on radiocarbon dating is as follows: humin, 1140 years; humic acid, 1235 years; and fulvic acid, 870 years. Conventional agricultural practices have shortened the residence time of humic substances through excessive fertilizing and by using tillage methods that expose the sod to weathering.

In this age of CRISPR genome editors (DNA editors) being put in the public marketplace for anybody to tinker with gene splicing, the reported power of fulvic acid to repair RNA/DNA is also in the news. Crop farmers tout the capacity of fulvic acid to raise crop immunities and to even repair DNA after genetic modification. Fulvic acids are also available for human consumption and list immunity boosting powers and potential nerve tissue regeneration.

While much of the evidence for fulvic acid and humates is still in anecdotal evidence, the scientific body of supporting evidence is growing. Who knows what the future holds, it may very well be that the information and memory in the ancient soils will save us from manmade DNA disruptions.

The future is in our hands, and in the choices we make day to day. An organic culture of caring for our children’s children with careful soil fertility management techniques that protect the mysteries and unknown wealth of ancient soil biodiversity is an idea and community that gets my supporting vote!


Marjorie Harris is an organophyte, agrologist, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems. 

References:

Terrer, C., Vicca, S., Hungate, B.A., Phillips, R.P., Prentice, I.C. (2016). Mycorrhizal association as a primary control of the CO2 fertilization effect. Science, 353(6294):72-4. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf4610.

Footnotes from the Field: Ecological Biomimicry

in Fall 2017/Footnotes from the Field

The Art and Science of Organic Agriculture

Marjorie Harris BSc, IOIA V.O. P.Ag

The Principle of Health: Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

The Principle of Health, as stated by IFOAM, is the original premise that modern organic agriculture is based on. This Principle of Health was inspired by Lady Eve Balfour’s words from her 1943 publication The Living Soil. Here she writes, “the health of soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible.” Lady Eve Balfour went on to become co-founder and first president of the Soil Association.

Preceding Lady Balfour’s work, in 1940, Sir Albert Howard wrote An Agricultural Testament. Sir Albert’s work was based on his keen observations while living and studying agricultural methods in India from 1905–1924. He was sent as an agricultural advisor on assignment by the British Crown. What Sir Albert discovered was that the Indian method of farming had much more to teach him then he had to teach them. He observed that all waste plant and animal matter was gathered for composting and then returned to the garden as a rich humus substance.

Preceding both Lady Balfour and Sir Howard, Rudolph Steiner gave a series of lectures in 1924 that became the foundation for the organic Biodynamic Agriculture movement. Early on in the 20th century many observers were noticing that chemical based agriculture was depleting the life of the soils and became increasingly concerned. In response to these growing concerns a group of farmers approached Rudolph Steiner as the founder of Anthroposophy for help and guidance. Steiner had established Anthroposophy as a formal educational, therapeutic, and creative system that sought to use mainly natural means to optimize health in all realms of well being.

Mark Gibeau and his compost tea process. Photo credit: Marjorie Harris

The inspiration and reason for the emergence of organic agriculture is the Principle of Health in that healthy soils grow healthy plants that support healthy people. So, how has this played out in the organic standards as we know them today? Are we achieving our goals for health from the ground up?

In Sir Albert’s later book, The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture, he says, “the first duty of the agriculturalist must always be to understand that he is a part of Nature and cannot escape from his environment. He must therefore obey Nature’s rules.”

Following the rules of nature leads us to another pioneering concept, “biomimetics,” first articulated in the 1950s by American biophysicist and polymath Otto Schmitt. Ecological Biomimicry is a method for creating solutions for perceived problems by emulating designs and ideas found in nature. This is the point where organic agriculture blurs the lines between art and science and we chase the gold at the end of the rainbow. Because agriculture is a man made artifice placed on natures’ landscape, we need to find natural examples for ecological biomimicry that bring in natural health balances into our farming practices.

How do we preserve or enhance the natural integrity of a forest or prairie soil while growing foods for human purposes? As an example, consider soil fertility management just from the basis of adding waste plant and animal matter and how the following organic standard is interpreted and implemented by the individual operator.

COR CAN/CGSB 32.310 General Principles and Management Standards Section 5.5.2.2

Soil amendments including liquid manure, slurries, compost tea, solid manure, raw manure, compost and other substances listed in Table 4.2 of CAN/CGSB-32.311, shall be applied to land in accordance with good nutrient management practices.

Mark Gibeau and his compost tea process. Photo credit: Marjorie Harris

A simple overview of employed organic methods:

  • Raw manure, solid manure, liquid manure, and slurries are simply incorporated into the soil according to the timing specified by the standard. Soil organisms are left the task of capturing the nutrients. This method is the least effective for retaining nutrients in the root zone of the intended crop or for developing a good humus body.
  • The Biodynamic approach employs techniques that call into play some esoteric health principles that go beyond the local environment to also consider the cosmic forces that affect the entire planet. A cosmic calendar is followed and the Biodynamic preparations foster fungi and other factors that improve compost production dramatically according to practitioners. Field sprays and teas vitalize the soils along with the compost applications. The resulting plant growth achieved has greater immunity and perhaps a greater concentration of phytonutrients. The soil fertility is measurably enhanced by these methods, the nutrients are stabilized for slow release to crops, and humus and organic matter are increased in the crop root zone.
  • The underlying concept for the Soil Food Web soil health method is based on the concept that Comprehensive Soil Analysis samples demonstrate that the majority of soils around the planet have all of the mineral nutrients a plant needs, it is just a matter of releasing those minerals to the plant in a bioavailable form. Compost teas are cultured in such a way that when applied to the soil the microorganisms released are capable of transforming the minerals into plant bioavailable forms. Composts are also applied. The outcomes are dependent on the qualities of the individual compost teas. The addition of composts measurably enhance the nutrients that are stabilized for slow release to crops, and humus and organic matter are increased in the crop root zone.
  • Standard composting according to time, temperature, and turning produces a product that when applied to the soil, measurably enhances fertility, the nutrients are stabilized for slow release to crops, and humus and organic matter are increased in the crop root zone.

The health principle emphasises that the healthy farming eco-systems is dependent and built on the foundation of healthy soils and cannot be separated from the soil health. The health of plants, animals, and people are interdependent on the health of the soil and plant and animal matter being returned to the soil fertility in a manner respecting Ecological Biomimicry. “How would Mother Nature do it?” Is a relevant question to ask when evaluating our farming and soil fertility practices. The more we can quantify our current practices and have the conversation on sharing the best ecological biomimicry practices across the board, the more we’ll be able to benefit every level of planet health.


Marjorie Harris is an agrologist, consultant, and verification officer in BC. She offers organic nutrient consulting and verification services supporting natural systems.

Footnotes from the Field: the Ladybugs of Snowy Mountain

in Footnotes from the Field/Pest Management/Summer 2017

An Ecological Partnership in Biological Control

Marjorie Harris, BSC, P.Ag.

A magical event takes place each spring in Walter Harvey’s orchard. As the sun warms and thaws the landscape into frost free days, the Ladybugs that spent the winter huddled together in the cracks and crevices of Snowy Mountain’s rocky faced peak emerge in the thousands, taking flight down into the blossom filled orchards below. Along with the Ladybugs, Bumble Bees and other wild bees leave the rocky shelter to join the spring blossom feasts.The ladybugs come in such large numbers to Walter’s orchard that so far this year out of 10,000 trees he has only found a handful of black cherry aphid clusters. When clusters are found Walter cuts them out and drenches them in barrels of water to stop further spread. The Ladybugs are very aggressive at eating the aphids during all life stages from egg to larva to adult—the final result is that very seldom over 25 years has Walter had aphid problems.

During winter hikes several hundred meters above the valley floor up to the rocky faced peak of Snowy Mountain, Walter has observed the Ladybugs crowded into crevices by the hundreds, “It’s a really remarkably beautiful sight,” Walter says, speaking in tones of wonder when considering the complexity of nature. Through biodynamic practices Walter is careful not to interrupt the beneficial organisms’ ecologically balanced systems at work in the orchard and makes efforts to support their natural life cycles.

Grasshoppers sometimes nip overripe fruit and live mostly on the ground in the grass. Physical control methods are frequent mowing, occasional rototilling, and cover crop rotation. However, Walter reports that the orchard hosts a huge population of Praying Mantis who do much of the grasshopper control. The Ground Mantis is the only species native to the Okanagan Valley while the European Mantis was introduced to in the 1890s specifically to control grasshoppers. Both species are present in the South Okanagan. Walter is careful to respect and not disturb the papery egg cases hardened to stems, twigs, trees, or posts, each of which contains hundreds of eggs.

Predacious wasps control leaf roller larva, coddling moth, and nematodes. The Mud Wasp domain is in the grasses and the Yellow Jacket Wasps control the tree canopies. Walter has installed 150 Wren houses around the orchard that are filled yearly. The Wrens are insectivores that provide additional control for leaf rollers and aphids throughout the season.

Nematodes are further controlled by disrupting the soil stage of their lifecycle. In the orchard drive row, Walter rotates cover crops of rye, clover, vetch, and oats to prevent catastrophic nematode populations from emerging. A large flock of free range ducks are run through the orchard after harvest is complete; they eat insect larva, eggs, and nematodes before the winter freeze.

Walter finds that most years his insect allies outnumber his insect pests and his experience echoes that of ancient farmers. Natural enemies were first recorded to be actively employed as biological controls in plant protection in China in 304 AD where large black predacious ants were gathered up and carried to citrus trees to control tree pests. The historical evidence is clear that biological controls have played an important role in plant protection since ancient times and the knowledge and use of these farming tools spread to Yemen and Egypt relatively quickly.

The main groupings of biological controls are: predators, parasitoids, and pathogens. Predatory insects eat pest insects; parasitic insects lay their eggs inside pests and the larvae develop within the host, killing it; and pathogens such as fungi or bacteria consume the pests.

How can these biological controls be encouraged to move into your garden?

First is food: many predatory insects dine on pollen when insect pests are in short supply. Keep a healthy supply of some of these favorite pollen rich producers growing in abundance: Angelica, Calendula, Caraway, Chives, Cilantro, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Dandelions, Dill, Fennel, Feverfew, Marigold, Scented Geraniums, Sweet Alyssum, Tansy, and Yarrow.

Second is water: provide water features throughout the garden containing fresh non-stagnant water.

Third is shelter: Vegetated buffers or clumps of natural flora and fauna that give thick cover provide good homes to beetles, birds, and amphibians.

Fourth is respect to lifecycle: know where the eggs for next year’s progeny will be and carefully sustain them. Protect beneficials from management disturbances, pesticides, and adverse environmental conditions as much as possible.

Table 1: Common Natural Enemies of Crop and Garden Pests of the Pacific Northwest

Marjorie Harris, BSC, P.Ag. IOIA V.O.; EcoAudit Ag-Grow Service; Email: ecoaudit@telus.net

Photo credit: Marjorie Harris

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