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bioregionalism

The Future of Our Food System

in 2018/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Spring 2018

Excerpts from The Future of Our Food System: Report on the Southwest BC Bioregion Food System Design Project by the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). Reprinted with thanks to Kent Mullinix and the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at KPU

Foreword to The Future of Our Food System

William Rees

Society is only three square meals away from revolution. —Leon Trotsky (i)

H. sapiens is an enigmatic species. Humans have evolved high intelligence, making us uniquely capable of reason and logical analysis; no other species can plan ahead, using available evidence to shape its own future.

But there is a problem. Humans are also endowed with behavioural predispositions that were once adaptive but have become impediments to survival today. In particular, humans are inherently short-sighted. Most people favour the here and now over future possibilities and distant places, a trait that economists have formalized as “social discounting.” This built-in myopia dilutes our ability to plan for the future.

To complicate matters, humans are myth-makers. While other species take the world as it comes, people socially construct shared perceptions of reality. Much of what we take to be “truth”—our various cultural narratives, religious doctrines, political ideologies, and academic paradigms—are largely products of the human mind. These stories are massaged and polished by social discourse and negotiation and ultimately elevated to the status of received wisdom by common agreement.

Most importantly, people “act out” from socially constructed beliefs as if they were ultimate truths. This is not a problem when a cherished myth resonates well with external reality, but what if our construct is little more than a shared illusion? Allegiance to ill-conceived myths and paradigms—the denial of contrary evidence—has presaged the collapse of countless social organizations, governments, and even whole societies since the dawn of civilization.

What has all this got to do with food? Food is the ultimate resource, yet myopia and denial are defining characteristics of society’s prevailing approach to food security. Food (and, often, agricultural land) is treated just like any other commodity, subject to the vagaries of market economics. And markets are intrinsically short-sighted—prices reflect current supply and demand with no capacity to factor in likely future conditions.

Moreover, contemporary neoliberal economics is “hands-off” economics, socially constructed to minimize government intervention (so much for long-term planning) and to optimize a single value: efficiency (who can be against efficiency?). Efficiency, in turn, demands local specialization in a few commodities supplemented by trade for everything else. This creates monocultures and potentially unsustainable producer and consumer dependencies. Meanwhile, increasing competition in global markets drives producers to externalize ecological costs such as soil and water pollution and bid down local wages. In short, the economic paradigm that is shaping what (and even whether) we will produce and consume in coming decades ignores such values as community cohesion, equity, regional self-reliance, economic diversity, and ecological stability while simultaneously inhibiting public planning for global change.

Little sign of high intelligence here, and too bad, given that significant change is a certainty. This is the Anthropocene. Global warming and increasingly unpredictable climate is already upon us, biodiversity is plunging, soils are eroding and water tables falling, an energy crisis has been headed off only by a slowing global economy but will return (particularly significant because “modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food” (ii), sea level rise and desertification are likely to destroy vast areas of agricultural land and displace millions of desperate people, and such trends can only increase geopolitical tensions and the likelihood of resource wars.

Meanwhile, most of the official world remains in a socially constructed bliss-bubble. Blinded by the prevailing myth of perpetual growth and continuous technological progress, we are not quite able to admit that these trends may herald a global food crisis. Consider the following burst of (effectively self-cancelling) optimism from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization:

“Barring major upheavals coming from climate change and the energy sector or other events that are difficult to foresee—such as wars or major natural catastrophes leaving long enduring impacts—world agriculture should face no major constraints to producing all the food needed for the population of the future, provided that the research/ investment/policy requirements and the objective of sustainable intensification continue to be priorities.” (iii)

What this really says is if none of the highly likely events that could prevent it from happening actually happens, and everything needed to make it happen does happen, then world agriculture will have no problem producing all the food needed for future populations. This is an impossibility theorem; there will be “major constraints” in meeting global food demand.

This is why everyone concerned about food and food security in Southwest BC—anywhere, actually—should be interested in the present study: The Future of Our Food System assumes from the outset that the system must adapt to changing biophysical and geopolitical realities. It is increasingly unwise for any region to become excessively dependent on potentially unreliable external sources of supply or to commit an excessive part of its own productivity to external markets. With cool intelligence and a steady eye on the future, this project explores alternative scenarios for expanding food production and processing in the bioregion and asks whether regional self-reliance can be increased while minimizing ecological costs. These are questions every bioregion should be asking.

The Frazier River is an important salmon habitat for the lower mainland of British Columbia. A lovely scenic river.

In the case of Southwest BC, the answers raise an ominous yellow flag. In baseline year 2011, the bioregion’s 2.7 million people had only .06 hectares of arable land per person, including grazing land; by 2050, when the population is expected to be 4.3 million, the ratio falls to only .04 hectares per person. This actually compares unfavourably to the already (arguably inadequate) global figure of .20 hectares arable land per person, exclusive of grazing land. Tellingly, it currently takes about .50 hectares per person of arable land to produce the average North American diet.

We should therefore not be surprised (but should be alarmed) that under the most optimistic scenario, with most of its arable land in production, Southwest BC could become only 57% food self-reliant by 2050 (assuming a standard recommended Canadian diet). This is twice the performance available from business as usual but leaves the region’s people heavily dependent on imports from elsewhere—imports that may well not be available.

It is clearly time to rethink the region’s entire development trajectory—indeed, the world’s development trajectory. The predicament revealed in The Future of Our Food System is typical of modern urbanizing regions. Food (in)security may well become the defining anxiety of the early Anthropocene. The only question is whether the world community can abandon its dangerous illusions, accept the evidence of a gathering storm, and apply humanity’s much-vaunted high intelligence to planning a way through.

There should be enough incentive: if the world fails to maintain the three-meal buffer, chaos and anarchy will not be far behind.

A ripening strawberry crop in BCs Fraser Valley district in summer

Excerpted from The Future of Our Food System:

What Is a Food System?

When we talk about food—its origin and availability, quality and safety, and how it affects our lives and communities—we tend to immediately focus on agriculture and defer to the farming sector for information, answers and direction. But farming is only one component. Food system characteristics and outcomes are dependent on many other multi-faceted, extensive, and interdependent elements that are as equally important as farming.Indeed, it is increasingly acknowledged that the direction and outcomes of our food system should not reflect agriculture and food business interests alone. The American Planning Association, in its 2007 Policy Guide on Community and Regional Food Planning, had this to say: “Food is a sustaining and enduring necessity. Yet among the basic essentials for life—air, water, shelter, and food—only food has been absent over the years as a focus of serious professional planning interest. This is a puzzling omission…”(10).

Many are becoming aware of the concept of food systems. Examination and discourse around food’s relationship to community, economy, and environment has shifted from agriculture to the food system as a whole. Lisa Chase and Vern Grubinger describe a food system as “an inter- connected web of activities, resources and people that extends across all domains involved in providing human nourishment and sustaining health, including production, processing, packaging, distribution, marketing, consumption and disposal of food.” The authors go on to say that our food systems are reflective of and responsive to the social, cultural, economic, health, and ecological conditions in which they exist. These interacting conditions occur or are imposed at multiple scales, from national and provincial to city and household. These conditions, regardless of scale, must be compelled to work in concert to achieve the characteristics and outcomes of the food system we want for our communities and a sustainable future.

What Is a Bioregion?

Bioregions are generally defined as areas that share similar topography, plant and animal life, and human culture; they are not just geographical or political areas delineated by lines on a map but are conceptual as well. Bioregionalism adheres to the notion that human settlement and land use patterns must be viewed as integral, functional components of ecosystems rather than as separate, unrelated entities. (12)

What Is Needed for a Sustainable Future?

Our food system is far from sustainable. It is dependent on diminishing supplies of oil and fresh water and threatened by global warming. Its adverse environmental impacts, such as groundwater contamination, habitat destruction, soil degradation and loss, and enormous greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming are undisputed.(1) In BC, as elsewhere, food price increases, food insecurity, diet-related disease, and the economic marginalization of farmers and loss of revenue from the local economy is also of concern.(2) In Southwest BC, we spend an estimated $8.6 billion on food annually,3 but much of this does not stay in the local economy because it is spent on imported food or in non-local food system businesses.

Climate change, food and energy price instability, and dietary preferences are limiting the capacity of our food system to provide sufficient food. Our food system future seems tenuous, and perhaps the only thing we know for certain is that our population will continue to grow, requiring more food to sustain it. We need to purposefully address the challenge of providing food for all, in sustainable ways, well into the future.

A sustainable future requires a sustainable food system.

Some argue that localizing food systems will better ensure a sustainable, resilient food supply into the future. Local food systems are characterized by greater food self-reliance, which is defined as the ability to satisfy local food needs with food grown locally. Local food systems are purported to have greater social benefit,(4) reduce negative environmental impacts associated with bringing food from farm to plate,(5) improve community health, nutrition, and food safety,(6) and strengthen economies.(7)
In BC, food security experts have identified food self-reliance as a key climate change adaptation strategy(8) and argue that increasing local fruit and vegetable production capacity makes sense in a future where imports may not be as available or as cheap.(9)

Organizations across the province have mobilized around the themes of food, land, culture, and ecological sustainability. Increasingly, local governments and the private sector are supporting local food systems as vehicles for community and economic development. In Southwest BC, many local governments have introduced policies supportive of food system localization and residents are increasingly interested in the concept.

Despite a growing interest in food system localization, there remains little information about how or to what degree it can realistically address our food system sustainability concerns. We are at a critical moment in history where issues of climate change, food security, energy, and local economics are rapidly converging. The choices we make about our food system could potentially mitigate some of these issues or make them worse.

Click for more information on the Southwest BC Bioregion Food System Design Project, including the Project Summary The Future of Our Food System.

References

From Foreword to The Future of Our Food System:

i. W. J. Gingles, By Train to Shanghai: A Journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway (Bloomington, Indiana: Author House, 2006), 137.
 ii. A. Bartlett, “Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis,” NPG Academic Series, 1998, 10, http://www.npg.org/forum_series/ ForgottenFundamentalsEnergyCrisisApril1998(web).pdf.
 iii. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050, 2012 Revision (Rome, Italy: FAO, 2012), 20. (emphasis added)

From The Future of Our Food System:

1. Lester R. Brown, Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Security (New York, New York: The Earth Policy Institute, WW. Norton & Company Inc., 2012).
 2. Brown, Full Planet, Empty Plates.
 3. Statistics Canada, “Table 203-0028: Survey of Household Spending (SHS), Detailed Food Expenditures, Canada, Regions and Provinces, Annual Dollars, CANSIM (database),” 2016, http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/a05.
 4. Brian Halweil, “Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market,” November 2002, http://www.worldwatch.org/system/ les/EWP163.pdf.
 5. John E. Ikerd, “The Globalization of Agriculture: Implication for Sustain- ability of Small Horticultural Farms,” XXVI International Horticultural Congress: Sustainability of Horticultural Systems in the 21st Century (Toronto, Ontario: ISHS Acta Horticulturae, 2004), 399–410, http://www.actahort.org/ books/638/638_51.htm.
 6. Kamyar Enshayan, Wallace Wilhelm, and Kate Clancy, “Local Food, Local Security,” Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 19, no. 1 (February 12, 2004): 2–3, doi:10.1079/RAFS200359.
 7. Gail Feenstra, “Local Food Systems and Sustainable Communities,” American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 12, no. 1 (1999): 28–36.
 8. BC Food Systems Network, “Building Food Security in British Columbia in 2013,” http://bcfoodactionnetwork.com/sites/default/ les/Building%20 Food%20Security%20in%20BC%20in%202013%20Sept%2020.pdf.
 9. Aleck S. Ostry, Christiana Miewald, and Rachelle Beveridge, “Climate Change and Food Security in British Columbia,” http://pics.uvic.ca/sites/ default/ les/uploads/publications/Food%20Security_2011.pdf.
 10. American Planning Association, “APA Policy Guide on Community and Regional Food Planning,” 2007, https://www.planning.org/policy/guides/ adopted/food.htm.
 11. L. Chase and V. Grubinger, Food, Farms, and Community: Exploring Food Systems (Durham, New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire Press, 2014).
 12. P. Berg, “Bioregionalism (a definition),” The Digger Archives, 2002, http:// www.diggers.org/freecitynews/_disc1/00000017.htm.

How to Think About Bioregionalism When Growing Seeds

in 2018/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Seeds/Spring 2018

B.C. Eco Seed Co-operative

Meagan Curtis

For some, bioregionalism may seem like a practical concept useful for creating ecological dividing lines between regions, but the concept’s meaning extends into social, cultural, and economic realms. One of the foremost ecotheologians of the 20th century saw bioregionalism as critical for the next era of human life on earth, feeling it should encapsulate “a self-propagating, self-nourishing, self-educating, self-healing and self-fulfilling community.”[1] With “bio” standing as its prefix, the concept refers to anything within a region relating to life. This means that it is not just the ecology of our region we need to consider, but also factors such as ethics and economics that are dominating that region.

For the BC Ecological Seed Co-operative (BCESC), our focus is on vegetable, herb, grain, flower, and cover crop seed that is ecologically grown, open-pollinated, regionally adapted, held in the public domain, and GE-free. We want to increase the quantity and improve the quality of ecological and organic seed grown in BC and believe that seed sovereignty is an essential part of sustainable bioregional food systems. This means that when we think about growing resilient seed—seed that performs well in an uncertain climate—the co-op considers a variety of factors from ethics to ecology.

The Bioregional Ecology of Seed

Most of the seeds we use in our BC bioregions, for our gardens or on our farms, are not descendants of native species from our bioregions. With the notable exceptions of berries, pumpkins/gourds, sunflowers, various herbs, and wild rice, most of the crops we grow across the country stem from a very recent part of Canada’s history. [2]

Immediately it appears there may be a disconnect between the ecological emphasis in bioregionalism and the vegetable seeds we grow and produce. This is further complicated by the fact that as seed producers, we know (and maybe even enjoy) the fact that seed is shared across regions, countries, and continents. Seed always has and will continue to travel across borders – if not purposefully, then in the hair of animals, on the boots of travellers, or by the prevailing westerlies.

Right now, most seed bought by gardeners and farmers is not seed originally grown in their bioregion, not even within their own country. By growing seed within bioregions across the province on farms with published locations, the BCESC is working on localizing seed so that buyers know where the seed is coming from and are assured that it performed well in that particular region. In this sense, BCESC seed is regionally-adapted as well as regionally tested as our members trial seed from other member’s farms across the province.

Sitting at approximately 944,735 km2, our province happens to have quite a few different bioregions. Therefore, it should not be assumed that because a lettuce variety does very well on the coast at UBC Farm, it will not perform well in Southern Ontario or that it will perform fantastically in the Okanagan. A certain bioregion in BC may be more similar to a bioregion in another country than to some within our own province. Because of this, the co-op grows its seed with wide spectrum selection in mind in order to create horizontal resistance,[3] making it suited for multiple bioregions across the country. Our growers use large population sizes and shy away from selecting narrowly for one trait so that a wide diversity of traits are preserved and the plant is theoretically more resilient in the end. This means that although BCESC seed is grown and adapted to a bioregion, it also carries enough diversity to potentially thrive in other regions. In the end, the diversity our plants carry emerges from regions and then flows across regions as the seed’s resilience is shared within our province and beyond it.

The Ethics and Socio-Economics of Resilient Seed 

Aside from ecological considerations, there are multiple tangible social, economic, and ethical benefits to investing in seed grown within your bioregion. The transparency within an organization like the BCESC means that a dialogue is possible with seed producers and growers in a way impossible in other circumstances. BCESC can respond to varieties that growers in their region would like to see preserved, improved, or increased. For the same economic reasons that we tell people to eat local, we should buy local seed. The economic sustainability of inhabitants of a given bioregion is critical to a healthy society. BCESC’s purpose is to be able to offer farmers the quantities of seed they are looking for. We also offer packet size seed for those with a smaller area or who want to test a variety.

Difficult issues relating to agricultural and food sovereignty can be overwhelming to consider at the international, national, or even provincial level. What may be more available to us is the opportunity to think about, and work on, the socio-economic and ecological health of our bioregion. Working at this level, we may more effectively create the kind of life and systems we want to see flourish. Resilience within a bioregion may also mean transforming our cultural norms and adapting our social relations in order to foster cooperation and collaboration. Bioregionalism indicates to us that perhaps feeding ourselves and future generations in uncertain climatic times involves not only ecological solutions, but social, economic, and ethical as well.

The full range of BCESC inventory is available online at bcecoseedcoop.com. You can also find a selection of packets in racks in local communities across BC:

Vancouver: Figaro’s Garden, 1896 Victoria Dr.

Langley: Cedar Rim Nursery, 7024 Glover Rd.

Nelson: Kootenay Co-op, 777 Baker St.

Prince George: Ave Maria Specialties, 1638 20 Ave.

Smithers: Alpine Plant World, 3441 19 Ave


Meagan Curtis is member of the BC Eco Seed Coop in Port Alberni—on Instagram @mtjoanfarm. Inspired by EF Schumacher, her farm has three goals: health, beauty, and permanenc—productivity is attained as a by-product.

Photos: BC Eco Seed Coop

[1] Berry, T. (1988). The Dream of the Earth. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press. https://gaiaeducation.org/news/cosmopolitan-bioregionalism/

[2] For the origin of geographic origins of our food crops – where they were initially domesticated and evolved over time, see: http://blog.ciat.cgiar.org/origin-of-crops/

[3] Resistance based on the result of continuous selection in the face of adversity based on many genes working together resulting in a healthy plant (Morton, F. (2018). Horizontal Resistance: An Organic Approach to Selection. Wild Garden Seed Catalogue. p. 100: https://seedstory.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/franksessays-1.pdf )

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Footnotes from the Field: Seeds of Resilience

in Current Issue/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/

Ask an Expert: Fostering Resilient Soil Ecosystems

in 2018/Ask an Expert/Crop Production/Current Issue/Spring 2018

Emma Holmes, Organics Specialist, BC Ministry of Agriculture

Studies examining soil microbes are showing huge potential to improve growing practices. A number of soil microorganisms have abilities to increase soil fertility, aid in nutrient and water uptake by the root system, and protect crops against pests and disease.

Soil Bio-fertilizers

If you grow legumes, you are likely already familiar with Rhizobia, the family of soil bacteria that form symbiotic relationships with legumes to convert atmospheric nitrogen to a form of nitrogen that is plant available. Producers have been inoculating their legume seeds with rhizobium since the ‘50s and it is estimated that 70 million tonnes of N are fixed annually by Rhizobia (Zahran, 1999). There are significant potential gains to be had from reducing dependence on nitrogenous fertilizers by increasing biological nitrogen fixation including reduced input costs, pollution prevention, and improved yield and crop quantity (Kelly et al., 2016).

But it is not just legume crops that see big returns in partnering with soil organisms. Farmers around the world are using bio-fertilizers to cut back on expensive fertilizers, build their soil quality, and better protect their waterways and aquifers.

There are six main types of biofertilizers:

Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixers (e.g. Rhizobium) form nodules on the roots of legumes and can fix 50-200 kgs N/ha in one crop season.

Asymbiotic Free Nitrogen Fixers (e.g. Azobacter) live in the soil and fix significant levels of nitrogen without the direct interaction of other organisms.

Associative Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixers (e.g. Azospirillum) form close relationships with grasses and can fix 20-40 kgs N/ha.

Phosphate solubilizing bacteria (e.g. Fusarium) convert non available inorganic phosphorus into a plant available form.

Algae biofertilizers (e.g. Cyanobacteria) can provide plants with growth promoting substances (ex. Vitamin B 12) and fix 20-30 Kgs N/ha.

Mycorrhizal fungi refers to the symbiotic association between plant roots and soil fungus that enhances plant soil and nutrient uptake.

Growers in the Fraser Valley have reported that using a bio-fertilizer has allowed them to reduce their N fertilizer application by as much as 30-40% while seeing similar yields and higher product quality. The bio-fertilizer is called TwinN, a freeze dried microbial product that contains a group of asymbiotic free nitrogen fixing bacteria called diazotrophs. Along with N fixation, the diazotophs in TwinN have also been shown to increase root growth and root hair density and decrease root infection. It is thought that the colonization of the plant with beneficial bacteria protects the host plant from harmful bacteria (similar to the use of probiotics to promote human health).

Soil FoodWeb

Dr. Elaine Ingham, a soil microbiologist who previously worked with at Oregon State University and the Rodale Institute, is now the president of Soil FoodWeb. She has dedicated her career to help producers grow crops better by directly observing and promoting life in the soil.

Soil FoodWeb features comprehensive guides and online courses on making compost tea and analyzing soil samples using a microscope. Commercial growers using the Soil FoodWeb management programs report substantial savings in crop production input costs, reduced water usage, and increases in yield and quality.

Korean Natural Farming (KNF)

Koran Natural Farming looks very holistically at the entire farm system, including the people in it, and uses inputs that are generally close at hand and relatively inexpensive. Unlike bio-fertilizers, which involve bringing in microbes from another region or lab, KNF focuses on fostering beneficial Indigenous Micro-Organisms (IMO) within the ecosystem in which the crops are grown.

For more information, check out this link to a video on KNF Indigenous Micro-Organisms: https://vimeo.com/35078856

RootShoot in Vancouver provides 2-day workshops on KNF that includes a detailed explanation of the actual making of inputs including indigenous microorganisms, fermented plant juice, fish amino acid, and lactic acid bacteria.

Measuring Soil Diversity

The Plant Health Laboratory in Abbotsford can conduct a nematode assessment for $16-$32 (depending on turn around time). Nematodes are used as biological indicators of soil health because the number and types present in a soil reflect changes in the microbes they consume, and the soil’s physical and chemical environment.

Independent Soil FoodWeb consultants can analyze bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, and fungi using microscopes.

Managing for Soil Diversity

As the complexity of the food web increases, productivity of the soil tends to increase. Strategies for supporting robust soil biology include:

  • Supply organic matter, which acts as a home and food source for soil microbes. Composts and manures can also provide an input of beneficial soil microbes.
  • Leave crop residue to break down in place. Surface residue encourages decomposers and increases food web complexity.
  • Plant winter cover crops to act as a food source for bacteria in a time when food is otherwise scarce.
  • Create a diverse landscape that supports diverse niches of life.
  • Reduce tillage, which can disrupt sensitive organisms such as fungi. Over the long-term, tillage can deplete soil organic matter and thus reduce soil activity and complexity.
  • Minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Even organic products can reduce the populations of fungi, nematodes, protozoa, and bacteria.
  • Minimize fallow periods, which can result in starvation for many creatures in the soil food web.
  • Minimize compaction and improve drainage to support aerobic microbial populations.
  • Cultivate beneficial indigenous micro-organisms
  • Apply compost teas and/or bio-fertilizers.

Emma Holmes has a B.SC in Sustainable Agriculture and M.Sc in Soil Science, both from UBC. She farmed on Orcas Island and Salt Spring Island and is now the Organics Industry Specialist at the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

Emma.Holmes@gov.bc.ca

References:

Kelly,  et al., (2016). Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation and the Challenges to its Extension to Nonlegumes. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 82(13). Retrieved from: http://aem.asm.org/content/82/13/3698.full

Zahran, H.H. (1999). Rhizobium-Legume Symbioses and Nitrogen Fixation under Severe Conditions and in an Arid Climate. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 63(4). Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.ih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC98982/

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