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"Striving for sustainable, organic agriculture is to strive to produce food in an environmentally friendly way..."

As a result of a rapidly growing world population and the changing consumption pattern, the agricultural production system has changed a lot. Food quantity was given priority over food quality, and tools such as fertilizers and plant protection products made their appearance to help mother nature in the growing demand for more accessible and always available food. There was an independence from seasonal crops, and even nature seemed manageable, entirely in line with our chosen way of life. 

Artificial fertilizers do indeed promote growth by applying elements that the plant needs. However, a good, organically fertilized soil supplies the plant with the same elements at the time the crop needs it. (Slow release) Too rapid growth due to the application of artificial fertilizer leads to reduction of the plant's natural development, taste and nutritional value. Crop protection products such as pesticides and insecticides offer temporary protection, but mainly have the right to exist because the plant is so weakened in the current monocultures, and can no longer build up natural resistance to diseases and pests. There is no natural selection anymore.

The consequence of this "modern" agricultural production system is a strong ecological imbalance. The increasingly difficult to suppress diseases and pests must be seen as symptoms of this imbalance, and as a guide to a causal relationship. A poorly maintained soil is often the cause of a vulnerable, weakened crop, and diseases in nature take on the function of clearing the weakened plants. Nature corrects our own bad agricultural management. It is up to us to interpret the symptoms well, and to see a causal connection.

As a last attempt in the urge to control nature, genetically manipulated crops (GMOs) are increasingly being used. These seem to offer a solution, and can indeed temporarily solve resistance problems and nutrient deficiencies, but are in the long term highly dependent on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. In order to survive in a natural environment, a GMO crop requires more and more "protection" of chemical agents, and ultimately turns out to be very vulnerable. This opportunistic method of agriculture has major consequences for public health, and it is now clear that the aforementioned "tools" have a negative effect on the quality of our food and on our environment. Contemporary diseases can therefore mostly be attributed to the way in which we produce and process our food.

In sustainable, organic farming systems, environmental factors are taken into consideration in the longer term. The soil is supplied with nutrients in a natural way so that crops retain nutritional value and build up immunity in a natural way. Disease symptoms are seen as an expression of an underlying cause, and not as an isolated phenomenon. If the cause (usually located in a bad condition of the soil) is recognized and improved, the symptoms automatically lose their function.

"To practice agriculture in a sustainable, organic way, a practical and no philosophical attitude is required..." 

A living, fertile soil with the right proportion of air, water and humus is essential for the production of a healthy crop. The addition of organic manure, natural soil improvers and careful soil management ensure this lively, fertile soil. A soil climate is created in which organic fertilizers release minerals naturally to the plant under the influence of oxygen. The most important production component in agriculture, namely the soil is first supplied with nutrients, and then the crop.  

In order not to disturb the soil life it is important to plow as little as possible. The formation of humus is thus promoted, which is food for micro organisms, which in turn are responsible for the soil structure. Humus is slow biodegradable organic matter. Together with the ratios between the available minerals, the humus content determines the health of the soil. 

Microorganisms in healthy soils also have a great influence on the growth process of the plant. Growth is stimulated in a natural way, just like the photosynthesis process during growth. After harvesting, crop residues are processed into organic matter under the influence of micro organisms. The nutrients from the crop residues are made available for a new crop, and delivers a constant, natural supply of nutrients for the plant. (slow release). Carbon dioxide as the main cause of the climate problem is also being retained in a sustainable, organic agricultural system.

In the future, in addition to a better distribution of food, the cultivation of crops with a high nutritional value and the re-cultivation of soils that have been overloaded with artificial fertilizers and pesticides for years will have to be taken care of. Crops with a direct nutritional value intended for human consumption will have to be given priority over crops intended for animal feed. When environmental aspects are respected and agriculture has a circular character, large-scale agriculture does not have to be excluded. The agricultural production system must then be built sustainably and organically. The growing awareness concerns the relationship between food production and health issues and the relation to climate issues make this necessary.

Choosing sustainable, organic production methods is choosing a method in which one follows the natural process in an intelligent way. Understanding and following these natural processes takes a bit more time and effort as we were used to in the last six or seven decades. In order to ensure food production and the preservation of the earth for our children, we must change our attitude towards agriculture.

Dim Boonstoppel

Arnhem, the Netherlands, summer 2020