Growing organic foods is a matter of individual or enterprise preference
“Though organic farming today seems a desirable proposition in increasing food production it is not entirely feasible because enough organic manures are not available in our country to meet the requirements,” says Dr. K. Kumaraswamy, former Professor of Soil Science, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore.
“Growing organic foods are a matter of individual or enterprise preference. If one wants to do organic farming one is free to do it. Organic methods cannot replace conventional farming for improving food security. With an increasing population and a precarious food situation, our country cannot afford to take risks by relying only on organic farming,” he adds.
In an overzealous pursuit and concern for protecting the environment, natural farming proponents often discourage the use of fertilizers and chemicals.
Total organic farming is possible only under subsistence farming as practiced in our country under traditional low-productive agriculture a few decades back.
“It might also be possible under certain special situations such as horticultural farming where sufficient organic manures like farm yard manure or composts are available for recycling, and the consumer would be ready to pay an extra premium for the ‘organic products' to compensate for their comparatively lower productivity and higher cost of production,” he says.
From about 50 million tonnes in 1950 to more than 220 million tonnes today, our country has progressed a long way in increasing food production.
The reasons: raising high-yielding varieties of crops, adopting Integrated Nutrient Management practices involving both manures and fertilizers, and controlling the pests and diseases through integrated pest management practices.
“It would be an unwise and unremunerative proposition to cultivate crops sans fertilizers, using manures alone. What is needed is a judicious combination of organic manures and fertilizers, and not exclusive use of either,” says Dr. Kumaraswamy.
Cannot be sustained
It is true that the quality of the agricultural produces, such as flowers, vegetables and fruits, improves when organic manures are supplied rather than fertilizers. But intensive agriculture on commercial high-productive scale cannot be sustained for long through total organic farming.
“It is because yield levels tend to drop drastically without fertilizers, as the demands of crops for certain nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in comparatively higher amounts cannot be met by organic manures alone.
Although indiscriminate use of fertilizers and chemicals pollute the environment, the practice does not warrant exclusion of fertilizers altogether from the soil fertility management programmes, as the consequences of such withdrawal tends to be disastrous,” he argues.
The distortion in soil fertility and deterioration in soil health are due to improper and indiscriminate use of fertilizers. This can be corrected only with proper and judicious manure – fertilizer schedules based on soil fertility evaluation results.
Integrated soil fertility management using manures, fertilizers, and bio-fertilizers alone can facilitate restoration, improvement and maintenance of soil fertility, guarantees agricultural production at higher levels with high-quality produces as well,” according to Dr. Kumaraswamy.
Agriculture at high levels of productivity can be made sustainable only through such integrated ways using manures, fertilizers and bio-fertilizers in judicious combinations. It will also safeguard the environment and natural resources from being polluted and exhausted, he says.
The philosophy of sustainable agriculture will become a bitter irony, if fertilizer use is reduced or excluded in the name of quality improvement of produces or environment protection, as such exclusion would lead to subsistence farming over the years in the near future.
Fertilizers supply one or a few nutrients only, and not enzymes, vitamins and growth regulators that are essential for the improvement in the quality of the produces.
This is the reason for the better quality of the produces obtained with the application of manures and not due to differences in the nature and properties of the nutrients supplied through manures and fertilizers.
Neither organic nor inorganic but ISFM (Integrated Soil Fertility Management) must be the set rule of sustainable high-productive, good-quality agriculture, if we are to ensure food security in the years to come, according to him.
For details contact Dr. K. Kumaraswamy, former Professor of Soil Science, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, mobile: 94436 52332.