The origins of the current fertilization model
There was, less than a hundred years ago, a general awareness among food producers that organic fertilization was, in a way, unsurpassed. At that time, it was never imagined that, one day, agronomic science would be completely swept away by the turbulent waters of a new and billionaire business: agribusiness.
The industrial revolution, world wars and later the population growth that occurred in the 20th century, were the precursors of agribusiness, as we understand it today. The necessity (and the opportunity) to produce food on a large scale has given rise to what we call industrial agriculture. Gradually, the chemical vision of agronomy was established in the field and in universities, the result of the industry's efforts to sell its products.
This new model was driven by the so-called “Green Revolution”, under the argument (the same one used today) of its essentiality to end hunger in the world. As a result, there was a huge increase in the amount of food that we started to produce. However, hunger only increased, as the adopted model helped to concentrate the income in the hands of a few, in addition to excluding the small ones from the countryside.
It has become obvious, to any more observant observer, that the current model of food production will never solve the problem of hunger in the world, since the causes are much more related to issues such as public policies, international conflicts, widespread incompetence and corruption in the public administration world, social inequalities, etc.
Most of us today have a hard time seeing issues in a systemic or holistic way. We prefer, in general, to work with systems that can be calculated, compartmentalized and understood through the Cartesian and reductionist vision that is taught to us in schools and universities.
So, the set of experiences and traditions of farmers, in dealing with plants and soil over the centuries, was largely forgotten, even run over, by the new model of producing food, called agribusiness. Perhaps this is how we forgot about organic fertilization and adopted highly soluble mineral fertilizers.
However, it is curious to note, after a few decades of use, we begin to understand that strictly mineral and soluble fertilization no longer meets our desires, both in the search for results and for sustainability. Why?
Part of the answer lies in the increase in the doses used, due to the increasing productivity. The saline, acidifying and life-suppressing effects of the soil have become critical and evident in these new dosages.
It was then that the maker companies started offering new alternatives, such as gradual release fertilizers and organominerals. The latter, in theory, in addition to slowing the chemical aggressiveness to the soil, supply some organic matter together, which is essential for the functioning of tropical soils.
Well, we know that this search for more efficient fertilization, necessarily involves the question of costs, to become viable. In this sense, we began to work, about nine years ago, on the possibility of the producer himself making his fertilizer on the farm, from his environmental liabilities and those of his neighbors, plus good rock powders found in the region.
The types of organic fertilization
Definitely, the soil is not a mere “alphabet soup”, of the NPK type etc… .and this simplification almost always leads us to make mistakes that time reveals.
“Organic fertilization” is a generic term, which includes several materials. Here we will classify in a simple way some main ones:
Organic materials (animal waste, manure, beds and vegetable waste).
Organomineral fertilizers (organic materials composted or not, mixed with mineral fertilizers).
Organic compounds (organic materials submitted to the composting process).
Organic compounds enriched with rock powders (organic materials, added with rock powders and later composted).
Organic mineral complexation (mineral fertilizers chemically linked to complexing organic substances).
Biofertilizers (organic fertilizer, achieved through anaerobic digestion of organic material).
Each field, each soil and each final objective has its details and, therefore, its specific fertilization needs. Therefore, the best strategy must be decided together: by the technician and by those who know these needs closely. The easy way of “cake recipes” should be and need to be avoided, otherwise it will happen serious mistakes.
How to make a well made organic fertilizer
And what does a well-made organic compound mean? It means that the whole process followed more or less rigorous production patterns. These standards go through:
Choice and analysis of good raw materials;
Suitable machinery, equipment, yard and labor;
Balanced recipe (C / N ratio, mineral elements, bioactivator, etc.);
Daily control of parameters (eg temperature, humidity, odor, aeration);
Complete analysis of the finished compound (chemical, biological, organic, sanitary).
The matured organic compound, produced by aerobic microbial activity, has a number of advantages, in relation to the use of non-composted organic material. The latter has drawbacks, such as excessive humidity, unpleasant odor, the need for high doses, attracts flies, among others. In addition, it may contain disease transmitters and invasive plant seeds.
In raw material, or composted at random, mineral nutrients may be present in a unbalanced way. Some of them, like potassium and nitrogen, can get lost quickly.
But, perhaps the two highest values of a well composted organic compound are:
The tenor of organic acids, amino acids, phenolic compounds and complex and varied organic substances, resulting from the microbial activity on the materials.
The very range of beneficial microorganisms it has, which makes it also a powerful multi-inoculant. Additional benefit that is lost when, when granulated, the fertilizer is subjected to high temperatures or acidulations.
Therefore, this set of inoculants, coupled with complex organic substances, alters the efficiency of absorption of mineral elements in the soil for the better, as it favors its biological activation, or bioactivation. Consequently, the total amount of application required for these mineral elements decreases.
Is it viable to make your own compost on the farm?
It is perfectly possible for us to make our own fertilizer on the farm, from the waste we generate there. There are companies and consultants specialized in this. And as with any activity, the results range from terrible to excellent. That is why it is important not to be deceived by conversations or appearances constructed by marketing. It is best to seek to know better the results already obtained by the company or consultant, in other farms.
A good tip for those who intend to prepare a quality fertilizer for their crops on the farm, is not to be content with “more or less”. If you make a fertilizer that you do not fully trust, you will end up using the fertilizer you bought, just in case. Then your costs will go up, instead of falling. It is also good to discuss with your consultant about any mineral additions to be made, if necessary.
When we make compost on the farm, with science, with discretion, we have a fantastic tool to boost our business. This is because, at the same time that we reduce costs, we acquire certain immunity in relation to the variations in price and availability to which the fertilizer market is subject, every year.
We also acquired greater flexibility to produce a fertilizer that is more suitable for each situation, on our property, in addition to giving a noble destination to the waste produced. And the possibility of producing fertilizer cheaply, makes it possible to apply organic matter in much larger quantities than if we were to buy an organomineral, for example. With this, we managed to change, for the better, fundamental properties of the soil such as CTC, carbon content, the ability to absorb and retain water, compaction, among others.
Advantages of organic fertilization
In a well summarized and simplified way, we can say that organic fertilization tends to present better results in the field, when compared with strictly mineral fertilizers. This is a general statement, we recognize. However, the details and specifics of this discussion are long for this moment.
So, we can mention and comment on some advantages of organic fertilization:
Increases productivity. There are countless scientific works that prove this thesis.
Reduction of production costs. This is much more true when we make compost on the farm.
Improves soil fertility over time. This factor also depends on the quantity offered, which is a function of cost.
It reduces the infestation of nematodes and some soil diseases, due to the competition generated between the organisms, in a favorable environment.
Increases the water absorption and water retention capacity of the soil. Organic matter and the activity of organisms are responsible for this competently.
Increases the population and diversity of soil organisms. It is the most important thing you can do on tropical soils.
It improves the quality of food and sometimes, their selling price, depending on the culture, such as coffee, fruits and vegetables.
Decreases the use of substances that are aggressive to people and the environment. Less water contamination and a clear decrease in the need for pesticides, often toxic.
If you want to start your own production of fertilizer on the farm, I suggest that you keep your reasoning free and independent. Keeping an open and lucid mind, without the contamination of external interests, is important to reach a better place than where we already are.
I will end this with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry words:
“The future is not a place where we are going; but a place that we are creating. The way for it is not found, but constructed. And the act of doing it, changes both the director and the destination ”.