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
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Pests? from Chapter 17 Plant-Positive: The Other Side of the Tapestry When faced with an insolvable problem, I stand it on its head. Then I can reconsider it from an inverted view. Very often a valid case can be made for the obverse position. The history of science records numerous examples of once sacred ideas that were shown to be backwards-the Ptolemaic concept of the sun revolving around the earth is a well-known example. Two reversals have been in the news recently. Instead of fearing the big, bad wolf, present-day wildlife managers have come to accept the actions of the predator as intrinsic to the balance of the natural world. The forest fire, once something that "only you" could and should prevent, has reemerged as a necessary component of a healthy forest. In agriculture, most people would agree that the insolvable problem is the use of pesticides. Even with all the evidence about residue dangers, pest resistance, and environmental degradation, how do you get rid of products that are deemed so indispensable to our food supply? Well, let's turn that one on its head. Instead of the pesticides are indispensable and we can't do without them attitude that dominates the status quo, the reverse would be pesticides are superfluous and intelligent agricultural systems don't need them. That is certainly an appealing concept, but is there any evidence to support it? Hold on to your hat. Not only is this concept documented in scientific studies, there is ample practical confirmation from farmers' experience. For over a century a small underground of farmers and researchers have rejected the idea that plants are defenseless victims and pests are vicious enemies. In their experience well-grown plants are inherently insusceptible to pests. They contend that plants only become susceptible to pest attack when they are stressed by inadequate growing conditions. Thus, they see pests not as enemies of plants, but as helpful indicators of cultural practices that need to be improved. Simply stated, insects and disease are bringing a message that the plant is under stress. That message is incomprehensible as long as we view pests as enemies. In essence, we have been trying to kill the messenger. The fact that stress might have a detrimental effect on plants is not surprising in light of the similar effect of stress on humans. When we are under stress we too become more susceptible to the ills that can befall us. And, just as in agriculture, we can either choose chemical aids to mask the symptoms of our stress or we can make changes to correct the cause-changes in our lifestyle or work environment or daily habits. Any reputable stress-reduction program would recommend the latter as the intelligent course of action. I define this thinking in agriculture as plant-positive in contrast to the present approach which is pest-negative. It makes sense. Since there are two factors involved, pests and plants, there are two courses of action: to focus on killing the pest, or to focus on strengthening the plant; to treat the symptom or to correct the cause. Since the former appears to be a flawed strategy, we might be wise to try the latter. One way to visualize this duality is to picture the natural world as represented by an embroidered tapestry hanging from the rafter. The pesticide enthusiasts are all looking at the back side of the tapestry. From that perspective they see loose ends, stray threads, and confused patterns. their science isn't bad, it's just that they can't see the logic of nature's woven fabric. They need to step around to the front side. From there the role of agricultural pests as de-selectors of substandard plants is clear, just as vertebrate predators like the wolf are known to target those animals stressed by illness, injury, or senescence.