To produce a healthy crop an organic farmer needs to manage the soil well.
This involves considering soil life, soil nutrients and soil structure.
Artificial fertilisers provide only short term nutrient supply to crops. They
encourage plants to grow quickly but with soft growth which is less able to
withstand drought, pests and disease. Artificial fertilisers do not feed soil life
and do not add organic matter to the soil. This means that they do not help to
build good soil structure, improve the soils water holding capacity or drainage.
The soil is a living system. As well as the particles that make up the soil, it
contains millions of different creatures. These creatures are very important for
Feeding the soil with manure or compost feeds the whole variety of life in the
soil which then turns this material into food for plant growth. This also adds
nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Green manures also provide nutrients
and organic matter. These are plants with high nitrogen content that are sown
as part of a rotation and are dug into the soil when young.
It is important to remember, however, that using too much animal manure or
nutrient rich organic matter, or using it at the wrong time, could be as harmful
as using man-made, artificial fertilisers.
The organic farmer must cultivate the soil at the right time and in the right ways
to provide the best living conditions for the soil life and plant roots.
Choice of crops
Each crop and crop variety has its own specific needs. In some places it will
grow well and others it will not. Crops are affected by;
- soil type
- the type and amount of nutrients required
- the amount of water needed
These factors affect how a crop grows and yields. If a crop is grown in a
climate to which it is not suited, it is likely to produce low yields and be more
susceptible to pest and diseases. This then creates the need to use agrochemicals
to fertilise the crop and control pest and diseases.
The successful organic farmer learns to grow the crops and varieties which are
suited to the local conditions. He should grow crops which are suited to his
geography and climate. He should choose varieties which are suited to the local
conditions such as local varieties.