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Book Data

ISBN: 9780930031756
Year Added to Catalog: 1989
Book Format: Paperback
Book Art: 128 b&w illustrations, appendices, bibliography, index
Number of Pages: 8 x 10, 352 pages
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Old ISBN: 093003175X
Release Date: September 1, 1995
Web Product ID: 148

Also By This Author

The New Organic Grower

A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener

by Eliot Coleman

Foreword by Paul Hawken


The Biology of Agriculture
from Chapter 1
Working with living creatures, both plant and animal, is what makes agriculture different from any other production enterprise. Even though a product is produced, in farming the process is anything but industrial. It is biological. We are dealing with a vital, living system rather than an inert manufacturing process. The skills required to manage a biological system are similar to those of the conductor of an orchestra. The musicians are all very good at what they do individually. The role of the conductor is not to play each instrument, but rather to nurture the union of the disparate parts. The conductor coordinates each musician's effort with those of all the others and combines them in a harmonious whole.
Agriculture cannot be an industrial process any more than music can be. It must be understood differently from stamping this metal into that shape or mixing these chemicals and reagents to create that compound. The major workers-the soil microorganisms, the fungi, the mineral particles, the sun, the air, the water-are all parts of a system, and it is not just the employment of any one of them, but the coordination of the whole that achieves success.
I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with a Kansas farmer in his sixties who farmed some 700 acres. His methods were considered unconventional because he had always farmed without purchasing herbicides or pesticides and bought only small quantities of lime and phosphorus. I asked him on what theory he based his farming. He said there really wasn't any theory that he knew of. It was simply the same now as it had ever been. he mentioned a favorite book of his, a 1930s agricultural textbook that stressed the value of biological techniques such as crop rotation, animal manures, green manures, cover crops, mixed cropping, mixed stocking, legumes, crop residues, and more. He said he used those practices on his farm simply because they worked so well. The book never mentioned any "theory" and probably never knew one. The booked referred to these biological techniques as "good farming practices."
My Kansas friend assured me that by basing his crop production on those good farming practices his yields were equal to and often far better than his neighbors'. He saw no yield increase from soluble fertilizer when he had tried it. His crop rotation and mixed-farming system made weeds, pests, and diseases negligible problems. When fertilizer prices rose he felt as secure as ever because his production techniques were so fundamentally independent of purchased materials. And as long as those good farming practices worked and continued to make his farm profitable, he would continue to use them. He concluded by saying that, if there were any theory involved, he would simply call it "successful farming."
I have long followed similar good farming practices-biological techniques-in my own system. The secret to success in agriculture is to remove the limiting factors to plant growth. These practices do that efficiently and economically by generating a balanced soil fertility from within the farm rather than importing it from without. They power the system through nurturing the natural processes of soil fertility, plant growth, and pest management, enabling them to work even better. In the words of the song, they "accentuate the positive." When chosen carefully and managed perceptively so as to take full advantage of specific aspects of the natural world, these good farming practices are all the farmer needs. As a further bonus they eliminate such negatives as soil erosion, fertilizer runoff, and pesticide pollution at the same time.

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Format: Paperback
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