I wish to communicate about a vicious cycle which we get trapped in when we are farming. As with any vicious cycles, the cause becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. Caught in this trap, we come to think that there is no other way. The more we get trapped in the cycle, the more necessary it seems to get. Even when the degenerative effects are increasingly apparent as the time progresses, we seem to continue doing it until it all falls apart. It is nothing but an addiction. So the only way to break free from the cycle is to fully understand it, following each cause and it's effect carefully, with all it's implications. I wish to communicate about this carefully.
We think tilling the land is necessary because we feel the plants will grow well in the loosened, well mixed soil. Notice though that it means the land is not loose in the first place. We will come back to this later. We might also till because we don't know how to deal with all the weeds that have come to grow in the land where we need to grow our main crop. So, tilling the weeds into the soil seems to work out because it not only seems to kill all the weed plants, but also a fertility boost is obtained when dead plant matter decomposes in the soil. So, we do the tilling, and sowing and our plants seem to grow well quickly. But, we seem to get a severe competition to our crops in the form of fast growing weeds. These fast growing weeds seem to rob the nutrients off the soil while also taking up the growing space of our crops. Having seen this problem, the farmer tries to get rid of the weeds, by directly plucking them off the ground while they are young, which requires a lot of labour, or by using a herbicide - which is supposed to selectively kill off the weed species. The main crop seem to grow well after this task. We ignore the effect of herbicide on the land and ecology because our main crop seems to be alright.
Before I continue, The succession of events need not be in this order or might not happen at all. We are only considering the problem fully as much as possible. So, let us continue on our journey.
So, our main crop is growing, in a weed free environment. A few days later, we start noticing a "pest attack", which seems to attack our main crop by eating it's leaf or sucking it's sap or something. Now, noticing the potential destruction of plant by the insect, we have to act upon it by trying to kill off the insect population or making it go away by using a deterrent. So we apply pesticide over the plant. This pesticide would naturally kill not only the insect we target, but also would kill other insect populations which served other ecological functions. Also, this pesticide seems to go inside the soil, potentially making the soil toxic. So what? our main crop seem to grow well, can't be bothered too much about insignificant amount of toxicity in the soil.
Also, during this period or before this period, we are required to add fertility to the soil so that our main crop grows because the crop seem to suffer otherwise. Notice again that this means that the land is lacking in fertility in itself so external fertility, be it in form of chemical N-P-K fertilizer or organic fertilizer becomes necessary. When we add chemical fertilizer, it seems to make the plant greener and happier overnight and within a week, you can see marked increase in growth in our main crop. But, it may also make the so called weed plants grow faster, which you might have already taken care of using weeding or using herbicides.
With all the labour intensive, input intensive process, violent process, we manage to grow our main crop, and we barely seem to make any money out of it because of all the money is spent on input, labour. And what else? the fertility of the land seems to decrease for the next growing season. So, a person seeing this outcome, for few seasons or a single season, can continue this process for the next growing season, or, investigate thoroughly whether he is doing something dangerous.
I think any sane person, who is unburdened with fear and ambition, would try to understand the problem here at this stage. So let us try to. By no means the cause and effect can be separated from each other. They are all intricately connected but we try to separate it somewhat to try to understand.
First of all, tilling seems necessary because the land itself has become compact and non-porous. So, we till it. But, the implications of tilling are enormous. Because we have tilled and cleared all the plants growing in the field and exposed it to the elements, the land becomes severely prone to erosion from wind, rain. Not only that, the moisture in the soil gets evaporated a lot quicker when it is exposed to wind and sun. Not only that, many other known and many other unknown degradation takes place.
And because the land is disturbed and is made exposed to the elements, Nature tries to heal the land from erosion and from degradation in general by trying to cover it up as quickly as possible. So, the weed seeds which are all over the soil, carried from the winds, from insects, from previous season, from deep inside soil which has been turned to the top after tilling, from action of birds, small animals, large animals, from god knows where else, have a niche to fill in. So they rapidly germinate and fill in the spaces between our main crop seedlings. They are so remarkable in their niche task that they grow extremely well quickly utilizing the loosened, oxygenated soil as a result of tilling. The extra fertilizer we added might have also played a role in rapid growth of these weeds. So, these natural healing mechanism is further disturbed by us when we remove them from the land. Thereby, exposing the soil to the elements, resulting in quick drying up, erosion of top soil and all that.
Now, because our land is barren, lacking in life, it would seem that we have to add external fertility to it. Which we do without considering the disaster it would have in not only to the plant physiology, but also in the soil life, including earthworms, bacteria, fungi and all those immeasurable factors. The plant just grows green and becomes bloated because of few macro nutrients including Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium. It is analogous to giving steroids to grow muscle without considering other immeasurable factors. This bloated plant becomes a prime target of insects which attack it. I feel one of the other contributing factors for insect attack also happens because we are only growing one or two crops in the large area of land which means the natural balance of the ecosystem is severely altered by our actions. This causes one insect to flourish while consuming our crops to bring the system back to equilibrium. In other words, our crop has become a disease which nature tries to remediate. Instead of considering the insect attack as a lesson, we fight it with toxic chemicals which cause more degeneration of the ecosystem, including our main crop.
And having done all this circus, the land has become dry and compacted at the end of growing season. Tilling itself has played a role in making it compacted and non-porous along with other actions because soil particles tend to cling together when we mix it up. The land's original fertility, which is nothing but the relationship and harmony between all the life forms has been severely reduced. This gives an illusion that growing crops is impossible without the act of tilling, fertilizing, weeding, applying chemicals to ward of so called pests. This is the nature of the vicious cycle more or less.
So, if this is all carefully considered by observing nature and also our own minds, it becomes apparent that it is all wrong and against natural flow. So, the cycle is broken.
But this doesn't completely answer the next important question, How to grow crops without getting caught in any such cycles which tend to increasingly degrade the land and increasingly demand our labour and energy? That is extremely interesting but fundamentally simple at the same time. One has to understand the insight of no_till
and begin farming by returning all organic matter back to the land. The farm would heal itself and rich diversity of life would return. There would be true abundance without much energy input and the lies which have been perpetuated would have been exposed for what they are for oneself and for others to see.