Friday, March 27, 2009
Masanobu Fukuoka, in 'The Road Back to Nature':
I don't plow my fields, but I do sow clover. This is the easiest way there is to grow rice. With the arrival of spring, the clover grows thick and fast. I sow rice seed in this clover and later flood my field to weaken the clover and favor the rice. Then I drain the water and leave the field to itself.
A week or two before harvesting the rice, I take anywhere from about four to ten quarts of barley seed, place it in a basket, and scatter it over the field. This also takes about an hour. After the rice is harvested and threshed, I scatter the straw back over the field.
The straw and clover do more for the fertility of the soil than large tractors. So this is certainly not a primitive method of farming from the past. It may seem primitive if all you pay attention is the the word "no-till," but it is in fact a biological method of farming that uses plants and animals rather than heavy machinery. If you think of this as a means for raising soil fertility using microbes, as cultivation with plant roots, then it becomes the most advanced science.(p217 and p223, 1987, Japan Publications Inc, New York*)
The current scientific methods of farming are based on the fragmented and incomplete knowledge derived from reductionist examination of tremendously complex systems. Based on this incomplete knowledge, we intervene drastically, throwing the systems off balance. To make these unstable systems productive, we have no choice but to keep pumping in more and more energy. (Most organic farming practices are just a little more efficient energetically, since they use contrived 'natural' interventions in place of chemical interventions.)
The goal of sustainable farming is not to farm in a primitive manner and be satisfied with low yields, but rather to get the highest possible yields with lowest energy and effort input, and to improve the local natural resources at the same time. To do this, we need to use natural components to create the most stable, productive, self managing systems and then avoid interfering with the natural processes.
* I will post an overview of 'The Road Back to Nature' soon. The excerpt above is quite atypical for the book, which, while certainly worth reading, primarily examines the philosophy of farming and modern lifestyles in Japan and Europe and America (with a healthy dose of 'get-off-my-lawn'!). Fukuoka's 'The Natural Way of Farming' is the one that has detailed information on natural farming techniques.
Also, when Fukuoka speaks of 'sowing' he means just scattering seeds on the field, rather than drilling them in the ground. The rice is also not transplanted from growing beds.