It's old news to some of us (me at least) that modern agriculture is fatally flawed, and going back to less intensive practices can equal (if not
better) today's modern practices.
Today's agriculture fights nature at every step instead of "going with the flow", which can only be a bad thing.
I have found that soil (or rather what is in it) is the key. Let me explain...
Healthy soil has a thriving population of micro-fauna - a teaspoon can contain 10's of millions of bacteria. It's these bacteria (and fungi) that
effectively feed plants that grow in the wild. When you put chemical fertilizers on soil or water with chlorinated water (not so much a large scale
agricultural practice, but can apply to small scale plots/gardens), you kill 95% of the micro-fauna, and drastically reduce the diversity of species
in the soil. Your plants are now dependent on you giving them chemicals to feed them.
The other big problem is compaction of the soil, caused mainly by heavy agricultural machinery. By compacting the soil, you remove all the air spaces,
decimating the aerobic micro-fauna population, which results in a mostly anaerobic dominated micro-fauna that is not healthy for the soil. Not to
mention that plant roots don't do so well in anaerobic conditions.
Whilst modern agricultural techniques involve ploughing or breaking up the soil to allow air in, it's only the top foot or two, and below that most
agricultural land has a hard compacted layer that is both anaerobic and basically impenetrable to most plant roots. Besides the wasted soil below this
layer, it also means that plant roots can't get to the water table, so irrigation becomes essential during dry periods of weather - again wasting
resources since a large amount of water evaporates when it's applied to the surface.
Much better to avoid heavy machinery and use animal or manual labor to break up the soil, which does not result in as much compaction if done
I personally have just finished digging a bed for my potatoes (we moved into a new house a few months back). I dug about 2 feet down, and broke up the
compacted soil with a fork for another 10" or 12" below that. It took me a few days just to dig that small (4' x 12') bed (mainly because the ground
was full of glass, metal, stones, and an old tree-stump, all of which had to be removed), and it's back-breaking work, but it'll be worth it. I would
have dug deeper, but we're running late, and I have other beds to dig. We also have quite a high water table here.
180 liters of well rotted farmyard manure went into that bed, and I'll top it up with more organic fertilizer before planting. Now it's just a case of
letting the micro-fauna do their thing.
There is good evidence that growing plants this way results in healthier plants that are more resistant to drought, pests, and diseases, which
translates into better crops, and has the added bonus of being environmentally friendly!
ETA: I see RedbeardedFoo got in there while I was typing my reply, and basically summed up what I was trying to say. Good to see there are others on
here who understand how it works
edit on 10-3-2013 by FireballStorm because: (no reason given)