THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE
Integrated Production is a term that appeared in the 70s, after the IOBC (International Organization for Biological Control) has set the principles.
It is a scientific and technical movement, which takes its source in the 60s, which is a proposal for rationalization of agricultural production (as practiced 50 years ago). It can currently be situated between the Conventional Production and Biological Production. The cause of this "invention" is relatively simple.
To understand it, we must situate us in the context of agriculture and agrochemical of these years. We were then in the position of an agrochemical booming, triumphant, an agriculture where productivity was the top priority, where agricultural research was beginning to emerge from research centers to be communicated to farmers, and where progress productive were dazzling.
It should be added that the opposition to this strongly productivist movement and almost completely devoid of environmental concerns was reinforced at the same pace. But despite this, the Organic Production was still in an initial stage, with huge unresolved technical problems because of a lack of solutions and knowledge.
On the other hand, the environmental consequences of agricultural practices of the time were bad known, and not distributed, nor to the public, nor to farmers.
However, studies conducted by researchers from around the world began to show that a good knowledge of the crop and its agronomic, physiological and disease problems, associated with simple observation and measurement methods, make possible to obtain excellent technical results, both in Organic Farming than in Conventional Farming.
The most direct consequences were firstly a much lower use of pesticides and fertilizers, as applications were better targeted, and secondly, a very positive impact on the environment.
In the beginning, was taken into account mainly the aspect of plant protection. It was called IPM (Integrated Pest Management), a term still used in English. But soon it became clear it was better to use the word "protection". We started talking about Integrated Pest Protection.
Finally, the observation of interactions between plants and their environment showed that be limited to the only aspect of plant protection was far too simplistic. This allowed the evolution of the concept to that of Integrated Production.
What is it? The rationalization of crop management, always preferring natural resources and prevention techniques, to use chemical intervention as a last resort when other techniques have failed. Everything is taken into account to integrate the management of economic, ecological and ecotoxicological aspects, in addition to agricultural issues.
In this context, the objective of the farmer is to ensure that the equilibrium of plant, the optimal functioning of the soil, and the respect for the ecosystem that represents the farm and its environment, allows limit or avoid the need for intervene by unnatural means.
Many unbalanced situations lead to sprays that could be avoided by a good overall management. Here are three cases, very different from each other, to illustrate this key point, but there are an infinite number of situations like this.
For example, a well leveled farm or whose outflows have been well studied, will avoid areas where the drainage of rain or irrigation is difficult. These areas can cause waterlogging and weakening of the crop and/or entry of fungi or soil bacteria that can attack the crop, forcing the farmer to carry out chemical treatment, or to overfertilize the crop to correct its weakness. This work, preliminary to sowing or planting, avoids the risk of future pollution and an unnecessary expense.
Another example, some soils are inhabited by microscopic worms called nematodes, which can severely attack the crop. In areas where nematodes are naturally present, it’s necessary to avoid sensitive crops, or graft the plant on resistant rootstocks. In this way, the production is not affected, and it is not necessary to carry out highly polluting and expensive treatments.
Finally one last example: an excess of nitrogen, an element essential to the plant for its photosynthesis, can lead to excessive vigor attacks which can promote many types of parasites (fungi, mites, aphids, leafhoppers, etc.). A good control of the nitrogen supply avoids these attacks and the sprays they would cause, or at least to limit them sharply. When I started as a young advisor in the 80s, it was normal that the orchards are sprayed against mites several times per year. Currently, thanks to better overall nutrition, and especially to a good orchards management, it is rare to have to do more than one intervention, and it is common not to do at all.
These three examples illustrate the basis of the method, which can be summed up in five words: knowledge, analysis, reasoning, prophylaxis, prevention.
Then we must add that the transition from Conventional Farming to Integrated Farming is basically a problem of will and training. It's easy. Insofar, as I explain below, the chemistry is avoided whenever possible, but this is not a rejection criterion, the transition is not a big sacrifice for the farmer, as this will be the case for Organic or Biodynamic Farming (see my articles on these two modes of production). He will have to implement some monitoring and control processes, train himself if he is not, and train his staff, but the technical and human investment is directly "paid" by the savings coming from the reductions of water irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. A farmer, even if he is not interested in environmental issues, has an economical interest in using the methods of Integrated Production. This simple observation gives a huge power to the method, and explains its widespread use, first in the industrialized countries, and gradually in developing countries.
The main obstacle to its full generalization is the lack of training. In some cases, this lack is compensated by the introduction of networks of consulting and technical development, but it is still not the case everywhere.
There are a number of certifications in Integrated Production, but currently there is no specific market. For what reason? Well simply because the traders, particularly supermarkets, are very reluctant to propose a third product line. I've already talked about that. The communication on bio is kept to a minimum ("Organic = no spray" and that's enough, even if that is perfectly false, and sometimes very directly, "No organic = poison," which is outright lying and scandalous). If there is no explicit communication means that it is Conventional Farming. And you, poor ignorant and manipulated consumers, you do not ask questions. You buy "unsprayed", or just buy food. Some of you think that perhaps you are poisoning, by ignorance and mostly because of a negative communication from the organic movements, extremely effective, even if it's based on a totally false postulate.
Those who sell you the food are considering you as idiots, unable of understanding, and/or unable to learn. But what you nobody explains to you, is that a vast majority of food sold as Conventional Farming, is grown using methods of Integrated Production, even if they are not always certified.
Specifically, what does this mean for your food?
It is produced according to rules of agronomic management, environmental protection and respect for the consumer.
Does this remind you something? Oh yes, this is what is said about organic products. No? But I'll add something, you may believe it or not. The majority of chemicals used in Integrated Farming are no more dangerous to health and the environment, than many organic products. And one more thing, food from Integrated Farming is much more and much better controlled than the same food from Organic Farming.
And I'll tell you a secret, since we are talking about sensitive subjects. Late October, I had a very interesting and informative meeting with a leading agricultural analyzes laboratory at European level. We were talking about pesticide residues. Do you know that a large amount of organic products have been chemically sprayed once or several times during the production cycle? Laboratories know that, since they are who make the analysis. But they don't speak, because confidentiality rules forbid them to speak concretely, and the results are sent only to the owners of samples. These sprays are always applied away from harvest, so as to leave no residue on foods.
Why this situation? Because of the tyranny of the market. For a farmer in Organic Production, if he has to solve a problem that has no organic solution using a chemical, he immediately loses the right to sell the food as organic. He has made all efforts to produce organic food, and he will lose all economic benefits. This kind of situation is common, and currently, the organic solutions do not cover all the needs.
This is why Integrated Production receives a clear success with farmers, even if you do not know it, because nobody speaks of that. The farmer in Integrated Farming does not need to lie or to hide some not allowed truths, since the use of chemicals, even if it is regulated, is authorized.
Integrated Farming is, at present, the only way to produce healthy food on a large scale, while respecting consumer, environment and farm workers. The methods that refuse chemistry cannot produce significant quantities and on large areas, without suffering intractable problems involving the survival of farms, or without deception.
So that you understand everything that the farmer makes every day in the fields to properly manage his crops, I'll give you a list of actions that can be performed within the framework of this productive method. It is obvious that all this must be added to the normal work of fields, whether mechanized or manual plowing, pruning, harvesting, etc.
I will not try to make you believe that it is done only in Integrated Farming. This is not the case, organic and biodynamic farmers do that also. But if I talk about that in this chapter, is to make you understand that agriculture is not the same than 30 years ago. What I am describing here is the reality of the huge majority of food that you will find both on markets than in stores. If it's not organic, it is very likely of Integrated Production.
- Observation: no intervention takes place without prior observation of the situation. This is true for pesticide sprays, of course, but also for nutrition, irrigation, tillage or interventions on the crop itself (size, thinning, harvesting).
- Analysis: This is both to analyze properly concrete situations, and the samples sent to the laboratory. We will thus be able to analyze soil, irrigation water, leaves, twigs, flowers, fruits, roots, diseased parts, pesticide residues, heavy metals, sanitary risks. This means the precise measure of all possible elements for their incorporation into the final decision.
- Prophylaxis: This is one of the pillars of the method. All means to balance crop or avoid the problems are prioritized. It may be the choice of rootstock, the introduction of non-cultivated areas to enhance biodiversity on the farm (fallow land, hedges, etc.), drainage, manual or mechanical cleaning of infested areas, the selection of resistant varieties, forming orchards to promote a good ventilation of the canopy (thus reducing excessively humid conditions favorable for disease development), the establishment of vegetal coverage to limit soil erosion and/or compaction, etc.
- Prevention: once in place the necessary prophylactic measures, it is to manage the crop, not to create favorable conditions for the development of parasites. This is for example the nutritional balance (neither too much nor too little, and always at the right time), ventilation of the canopy by pruning, the choice of products or techniques used to not affect the useful fauna, etc.
- Non-chemical methods: it is, for example, encourage the installation of natural predators on the farm, through the installation of nest boxes or perches, as well as the implementation of biodiversity areas, or the non-chemical methods of control such as insects mass trapping or sexual confusion, and installing anti-insect nets. It may also involve the use of auxiliary insect releases.
- The use of thresholds for pesticide sprays, with dynamic tracking of diseases and both populations of pests and their predators. The thresholds take into account the two antagonistic populations in order to delay or cancel the spray if the dynamics of the predator ensures natural control without damage.
- The use of organic pesticides when their efficiency and ecological profile characteristics are equivalent to or better than available chemical pesticides (this is not always the case). This may be sprays with bacteria, viruses or fungi, without any negative impact on the environment or useful organisms. It can also be natural extracts of various plants, whose pesticide efficacy is proven. But these products are not always safe for the user, the environment or consumers, so they must be handled with the same precautions as chemical pesticides.
- The choice of chemical pesticides is done according to specific criteria of efficiency, persistence (duration of action), of side effects on the environment (soil, water, air, wildlife, beneficial insects), on natural predators and human health, and on risk of residues on the final food.
- Soil management: it is a fundamental basis. The plant lives and feeds on a floor that it did not chose, but in which it is able to find everything it needs. The mineral elements which are its food are dissolved in water and it absorbs them through the roots. If the farmer fails to properly manage the soil, it will deplete and erode, in short degrade. A good soil management will first maintain its fertility, its aeration, its moisture level and all the criteria that will enable microbial life to maintain its full activity in the soil. It goes through a reincorporation of all previous crops remains (straw, prunings, etc.), to make, if necessary, soil aeration work (unpacking, scarification), and to provide both proper irrigation and drainage. An enrichment of the soil with organic matter (compost or manure) and basic elements (calcium, sulfur, magnesium, for example) is possible to recover a degraded soil or to enrich a poor one. The fertilizer inputs are used only to offset the elements that have been extracted from the soil by the food product (grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.). They must be made at specific times and in specific amounts, calculated as appropriate. This is probably the most complex issue. I will devote one or more specific posts about that. But we must never forget that a poorly managed soil, will grow fragile crops, poorly fed, susceptible to disease and pests.
Methods and means:
- Training: it is the basis. All operators and stakeholders must be properly trained in their specialty. Without training, it is not possible to do Integrated Farming. It is indispensable to know the crop, its characteristics and needs, its agronomic conditions and climatic risks, and its pests and diseases in great detail. In cases where the knowledge of the crop is insufficient, the farmer will be advised by one or more specialists.
- The monitoring methodology: every culture has its own problems and its own requirements. Every culture has specific protocols. Surveillance is variable depending on the cycle moment of culture and risk. A good knowledge of the culture and its phytosanitary problems is the way to adapt the monitoring methodology.
- Technical management: it begins by establishing the appropriate strategies in each situation. It requires well prepared in charge persons, or specialized external stakeholders. It must be established, in advance, a list of risk situations, and possible interventions to face the problems. This is the mean to react quicker. Intervene at the right time and in an appropriate manner is an important success factor.
- Material equipment: all machines and tools that will be needed in every situation. It is spraying machines adapted to the crop, anti-drift nozzles to ensure that sprays cannot accidentally contaminate neighboring crops, tillage tools adapted to the soil and to the situation of each farm.
- Specific monitoring equipment: Specific monitoring equipment: it is equipment of phytosanitary monitoring (magnifying glass, microscope, monitoring traps), of weather measurement, of soil moisture probes, of sensors of photosynthetic activity, of micrometric measurement of the plant growth, of sap flow sensors, or leaf water potential. It can also be overflight of crops by plane or by drones, equipped with thermal cameras and infra-red (to determine the inhomogeneous areas where the plants are not healthy).
- Soil analysis: it is used to know the structure, texture, chemical composition, the risk of erosion or compaction, fertility, nutritional deficiencies, blockages or excess risks, thus adapting cultural methods (tillage), the type of fertilization, adaptation of the irrigation system, the choice of rootstock by crop, etc.
- Water analysis: it is mainly used to know its chemical composition in order to use all the elements available in the nutrition plan. All waters are not the same (as you can see by comparing the mineral waters). For example, the presence of nitrates in the irrigation water will reduce nitrogen inputs to the crop in the same proportions. An excess of iron or limestone in the irrigation water will lead to obstruction of drip systems, so it will be taken in account in the project and in the maintenance of the irrigation system.
- Analysis of plant organs: it is the way to know the chemical composition of the plant, so to know its nutritional status. For each crop, there are plant analysis protocols that determine the time of sampling, the type of organ to be picked, the analytical methodology to be used, and the standards for interpreting the results. The leaves can thus be analyzed, also twigs, fruits, roots, flowers, and virtually all plant organs.
- Phytosanitary analyzis: it may be used in case of unknown or questionable symptom. This is sometimes the only way to solve a pest problem or to select the appropriate treatment. Only knowledge of the disease or parasite, as in humans, allows choosing the effective treatment.
- Analysis of residues: this is the only way to know at the time of harvest, if the foods that will be traded, are in accordance with the legislation in force (if this is not the case, we must delay the harvest, and if this is not possible, we must destroy the crop), or if they are in accordance to retailers standards that require lower levels. Analyses are also made in destination.
All these techniques and methods, implemented in combination, are primarily tools for decision making. Thus, the farmer disposes the objectives means to respond in an appropriate manner to each situation.
The overall goal is: I intervene whenever necessary, in the most appropriate manner, so as to be optimally effective, avoiding causing collateral imbalances, which could lead to the need to intervene on a problem that I should have caused myself.
In other words, I try to analyze all the interactions involved, before taking the decision of the relevance and type of intervention.
Integrated Farming has taken the best part of all production systems, by getting rid of ideological sides. This is a very pragmatic system, and above all very technical. The ideology has given way to technique.
Some countries, such as Spain, have registered the Integrated Farming as a goal of the current National Action Plan for agriculture. The aim is to replace totally the Conventional Farming by the Integrated Farming wherever this is not yet the case.
In my opinion, this is clearly the future of global agriculture, much more than the Organic Farming. The tendency, however, is to introduce always more organic products and techniques in Integrated Farming. Will we one day use only organic products in agriculture? Honestly I don't think so. Chemistry offers different possibilities, that Nature does not know. The problem is to forget dogmatism, while requiring chemical companies and users, regulations that avoid environmental abuses.
The future challenges are to respect the planet to avoid destroying it, but also to feed the global population that continues to increase. For the next 50 years, if one knows properly distribute the available food to people who need it, the world produces enough to feed everyone. By the other hand, longer term, when combined reduction of arable land (progression of cities, desertification areas) with the increase of the population, it is imperative to learn to produce more.
Produce more does not necessarily mean pollute. This is where the Integrated Production interferes.
Because if it is done well, it is much more productive than the Organic Farming and does not deteriorate the environment more, and indeed, in many cases, it deteriorates it less.
It is possible that in 50 years, things have changed, but it is true in the present state of knowledge.
So be confident, if you are concerned about the quality of your food, nothing currently requires you to buy organic, whatever some people tell you. You can buy normal products without risks. They have never been so controlled, and are not dangerous to health. And at the same time, they were grown with a minimal impact on the environment.
The Integrated Farming, but if I tell you that this is the future !!!