Started early for the farm today. A tractor was arranged to do pre-sowing weed removal from both the plots. After the land is ploughed and made ready for sowing, a few brief spells of rain can lead to a burst of all sorts of weeds. In a near miraculous way, freshly turned soil can look like a green carpet within two days. It is remarkable that this burst of life is always waiting to happen. But these are also the kind of plants which when not removed when they are barely coming up, can take in all the soil nutrients meant for the crop. So, in the way that current practice of farming works, these must be removed.
In the university days, ideas of Fukuoka appealed. But several years later, this week, I realise that he didn’t speak of populations. Neither did he speak of much variety than growing rice and vegetables on a farm which he believed must not be ploughed and seeds must be broadcasted which will sprout when it is time. How can that proverbial ‘one straw revolution’ happen in high population density areas or in the times of changed weather patterns? Maybe, these are uncomfortable questions for the believers in one straw. It must however be set in perspective with the prevailing farming, climatic and socio-economic conditions. I think it is an admirable way to live, perhaps deeply satisfying. It could be spiritual for some, as early practitioners of Fukuoka’s ideas of farming felt. I am not going after these sentiments.
This is our third cropping season. We have added about four acres more to our cropping area. It is a newly acquired plot with loamy, black soil that has seen sugarcane and cotton cycles. It sits next to a large reservoir waterline. Some parts get inundated in seasons of heavy rain. As opposed to the first plot’s rocky and light, loamy soil this one retains water and is regarded to have higher fertility. Nevertheless, we sow with application of fertilisers like a 10:26:26 combination of N,P,K. We have sown soybean this year in both the plots. Area under soybean cultivation is approximately seven acres. At a conservative yield of 5 quintals per acre we are looking at 35 quintals of soybean production if all goes well. At the declared minimum support price (MSP) for Kharif crops in 2019-20 by the government the harvest should be worth INR 130,000 approximately. This from a 16 weeks cycle involving 12 weeks of sowing to harvest duration of soybean.
Land preparation included two rounds of using a tractor driven cultivator to turn the soil and aeration. Since there was profuse weed growth seen after the first few rounds of light rain just ahead of sowing, we used a cultivator with metal bands to turn the soil and uproot the weeds that were beginning to grow. It takes about INR 500 per acre of soil turning and mixing using a tractor. The seeds are sown by a tractor operated furrow and seed drill rig. It broadcasts about 100,000 seeds per acre on the minimum side. The yield is estimated at this density, assuming that our agro-climatic zone will keep the climatic elements as expected i.e. frequent showers after sowing, optional moisture and rain during growth phase and all of this within the specified temperature range. The seed variety we have used is JS 9305. ICRISAT’s trials on the same seed variety had yielded 10 quintals per acre (). We decided on this variety because last year’s yield was good. Moreover, inputs and crop care intensity was not expensive or time consuming. So, the above is a quick narrative of effort that goes in for a soybean crop.
A delayed weeding which is to happen after the first two weeks of sowing can lead to the entire inter-plant spaces being taken over by fast growing weeds that are not economical to remove later. This also reduces the yield of soybean crops. We saw this happening in a neighbouring plot last season.
In this kind of a pre-determined agricultural system wherein pre-designed seeds optimized for industrial value chains are plugged and crops obtained, how does the idea of zero tilling farming and Fukuoka’s one straw farming ideas fit? Not very well. I don’t mean this as a criticism of his ideas. It would take for me to practice it and know it with much in-depth reading if I were to critique it. I am only examining the common notions and virtue signalling that artisanal, hobby farmers do with ideas of ‘organic’, ‘zero-budget’, zero-tilling’ and similar kinds of farming styles. There is much information that is left out by the proponents of these styles. Among the key are the following –
- Time taken for a crop from sowing to harvest.
- The supply chain of farming inputs to post-harvest processes in these styles.
- Production and yield pressure that artisanal and lifestyle farmers do not experience
- The food and other crops demand pressure that is felt from household consumption and industry – crop intensification is a necessary evil, if one were to acknowledge.
- The pressure on land and resources which underscores the choices of farming methods and crops.
- More importantly, artisanal and lifestyle farming is different from farming for the market. – supplementing ingredients on a dining table vs farming for cash income
I am logging these ideas here because these are early years of my foray in farming. A decade down the line, I would like to re-read and examine if my ideas and experience at that point is any different from today’s. I am merely speaking of socio-economic and agro-climatic realities of the day in this country. This is not a value discussion on what’s better for the future of earth. For now, I do not see these niche farming ideas helping the farmers of today answer the realities that they see every day, every season on their farms as opposed to the thinkers and intellectuals surmising on agriculture by sitting on a data dashboard and making ‘field-visits’ on an odd day.