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How to convert from conventional to organic farming

Our experience and that of others, is that the most difficult part of changing to organic farming is the paradigm shift. As somebody once said; An organic farmer is an `oddball with a thick skin` and this is very true. It is very difficult to change from 'chemical' farming to organic as there is very little research done and no real support. In addition to this the NPK ghost continues to haunt, as do all the easy `cures` you are may consider spraying.

One of the first things an organic farmer has to come to terms with is the fact that all problems with growing crops arise from mismanagement of the soil and the environment. This means that the first thing one has to do is get the soil right. Cover crops, mulching and no or the absolute minimum tillage of soil are the keys to good and healthy crops. The perception that organic crops cost more to produce, that they are of inferior quality and that they should be sold for more, are not true. Yes, if one farms in the conventional way by composting outside the fields in bins or heaps and by turning it etc. and then carting it back into the fields, it is more costly - which must have an impact on market value. We use a different method that works well and costs less than conventional methods. The composting of animal waste with earthworms is done in windrows outside the fields and as about 6 cubic m per ha are needed when band placed or broadcasted, the amount of material is less to handle. With enough organic matter on and in the soil the situation quickly arises that very little or even no external assistance is needed.

As in conventional farming one must look for deficiencies in crops and soil and these have to be attended to. Unfortunately we have no source of soft rock phosphate in this country but adaquate results can be obtained with bonemeal. Rock potash is not a vialable source either so KCl (Potassium Chloride) can be used together with lime. Trace elements and minerals can be used as most of them are available in a natural form. No nitrogen deficiency will be experienced with enough organic matter in and on the soil providing it is not ploughed in. Yields as good or nearly as good can be achieved once the soil has recovered.

Published:2006-02-14

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