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Learning from farm, learning to farm

Farming like any profession requires dedication, understanding, constant learning and application of new ideas and above all a desire to view it as a part of the greater ecosystem. Here is a case of a young farmer who has nurtured his farm with utmost care and sensitivity to the environment.

It's green everywhere

Artistic by nature interested in creation, visualization of things in the advertisement (ad) mad world I didn’t take schooling seriously and discontinued my pre-university studies. In 1998 circumstances pushed me to farming.

Even though I hail from an agriculture family I was unaware of agriculture. In the beginning, I just watched the activities going around my place then took charge from my family with a condition that nobody should interfere in my work. This created more pressure to show results through yields. I started farming as per the recommendations made by the agriculture universities and departments.

Working continuously on my farm, I started feeling that farming is laborious providing less returns with more inputs. At one point, I felt farming was meaningless, a nuisance where only those who are foolish would remain. I had no sense of joy in the job. I strongly felt that if this was the way to do farming it may not be worthwhile to continue. Rather, I was not sure if I would want to continue for long. But I had no options either to quit.

Green manuring in Paddy

Soon after paddy is harvested in December we broadcast 15- 20 varieties of green manure along with the green gram crop in February. Green gram is harvested in 3 months and at the end of May, again horse gram seeds are broadcasted. This creeper crop doubles the biomass and these climbing creepers acts as first floor and remain till July – August. They all grow at various heights up to 14 feet height. Even a ray of sun light does not enter the dense green manure. Perennial grasses and weeds get suppressed without sun light. Root zone covers the ground soil up to 2 feet in radius. When incorporated into the soil, 3-4 inches of soil is filled with organic matter. Green manures like cassia, indigo, crotalaria, sesbania, sesame, mustard, sun flower, millets, jowar, coriander and many other legumes are used.

The post–rice green manuring is 3 times more powerful than 45 days standing regular pre-rice green manuring. No need of any prepared manures even in the first year. In 2-3 years any kind of degraded soil can be conditioned. This I found to be the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to enrich the soil which is possible for the paddy growers only.

Knowledge, key to farming

As I always used to see, think and do the things differently I thought of alternatives. In 2000, I found the treasure of my lifetime that was Masanobu Fukuoka article in a magazine. I felt his four principles of natural farming i.e. no tillage, no weeding, no fertilizer and no pesticides are true way to do things and were the need of the time. There I found “logic of legumes” grown before, after and along with the crops by Fukuoka i.e “legume logic”.

I started to examine the reasons for zero cultivation to fail. I understood it was lack of cover crops and also an absence of diversity, even in weeds. I felt that the role of green mulching and green manuring has been greatly underplayed in our farming systems. I started hunting for the leguminous cover crops, herbs and shrubs.

I introduced creepers, bush and tree varieties with annuals, bi annuals and perennials on to my farm. I strongly believed that every type of plant had a role to play in keeping the farm healthy. I started planting tubers as their root growth helped in enhanced soil aeration.

The legume crops helped in fixing nitrogen, crop diversity aided in controlling pest and diseases in the main crop, withered leaves from perennial grasses produced the much needed plant biomass, shrubs controlled sun scorching, some toxic plants kept cattle grazers away from my farm, live fencing by fast growing shrubs and trees helped in generating more biomass and served as wind breaks, and bamboo plants helped to maintain ideal microclimate by regulating the temperature in hot sunny days. Finally, forest kind of appearance made many people to stand outside of my farm and admire.

In the meantime I also heard about LEISA, low external input for sustainable agriculture, which attracted me a lot. By that time I was able to realize low input is the key for sustainability. Before practicing LEISA, I first analysed the costs and returns from my paddy field. I understood that I was spending around 45% of my total cost on fertilizers and pesticides. I targeted to cut those White Elephants.

An article from IRRI scientists in an agriculture magazine helped me remove psychological blind spot which I carried in my mind. They reported that pesticides are not required during first 40 days after paddy transplanting as it kills the beneficial pests and destroys the natural balance. Later on just by varietals selection, green manure as feed, water management and some corrections in the practice helped me come out with solutions in dealing with pests and diseases.

Learning from nature

In the initial stages of paddy nursery we had problem of parrots eating sprouted paddy and it was difficult to control this menace. Only later I came to know that they are correcting the seed rate used. They taught me that the high seed rate which I was using (25 kgs of seeds per acre) produce weak droopy seedlings.

I switched over to lesser seed rate of 5 kgs of seeds per acre which produced strong, sturdy, erect plants with vigorous roots, strong enough to face tiny crab bite and water blow after transplanting. Similarly, Glyricedia on bunds and borders checked the activity of field mice apart from producing green manure acting as a live fence. I thought that all these creatures are harming my crops but later I came to know that they are correcting my mistakes and they are saying some thing that we need open heart and mind to understand. I realized each and every step in the practice is not correct, needs correction.

My views on farming

Selecting crops according to the local agro climatic conditions made farming easy. Presently, more than 75% of the work and inputs are saved and I get up to 50% more yield than the average of my area.

Learning from our own observation and applications is important. Data entry by mapping takes a day every year; it helped me to know the whole farm statistically in all respects. For instance, I maintained same expenses for paddy from past ten years. In ten years my profit per acre multiplied ten times.

Apart from farm expenses we need to document each and every thing we observe on farm. This will be our guide for future – things to do and not to do for the upcoming year, each one teaching, reminding and helping to correct our practices – There is lot of learning within us only. Farming needs a lot of commonsense, understanding and a desire to live with all living beings.

There are over sixteen alternative ways towards sustainable agriculture – organic, natural, LEISA, perma culture, bio dynamic, zero tillage, conservation tillage to mention a few. Each is a kind of knowledge, nothing is fine, final and ultimate. Many people went for chemical farming because they thought it as a shortcut but I went for eco-friendly practices in order to reduce unnecessary tasks and not for the sake of a label or a certificate. Books, practices and knowledge are all important sources for our lateral thinking. There is no ready package of practice which can be followed. Cut and paste method is not possible, especially in farming.

Mine is green ‘culture’ instead of usual clean culture. An ideal farm is that where you feel cool air, can sense the aroma of soil, flowers, fruits; can see colorful creatures; can taste variety of vegetables and fruits, and hear the sounds of bees, birds, animals as in the forest. In one sentence, a farm is a place where “You feel all your senses”.

Future challenges

Sun hemp and velvet beans are my major agricultural tools. For all my crop demands and solution for farm I like to see and get only through green manures. My challenge is to grow paddy in natural farming without tilling the land. In my effort to reach that stage, I tried growing paddy on permanent raised beds but have not yet succeeded. Another challenge is to take the practice of horticulture to a level where irrigation in summer becomes unnecessary. These challenges will make farming even more interesting to me.

B N Nandish
Shikaripur taluk,
Shimoga district,Churchigundi,