Sustainable agriculture: A case study of a small Lopez Island farm
Overreliance on fossil fuel based inputs, and transport of inputs and products is seen by many as a threat to long-term agricultural and food system sustainability. Many organic, biodynamic, and low-input farmers limit off-farm inputs, attempting instead to farm within the carrying capacity of their land or local environment. These farmers often accept lower farm productivity because they see reduced reliance on non-renewable inputs as more sustainable. Documentation of low-input agricultural systems through both replicated research trials and case studies is needed in order to better understand perceived and real advantages and tradeoffs. The goal of our study was twofold: (1) to compare liming and biodynamic (BD) preparations in improving pasture on a moderately acidic pasture soil through stimulation of soil microbial activity; (2) to place these findings within the context of a whole farm analysis of economic, plant, and animal health. Treatments included lime, the Pfeiffer Field Spray plus BD compost preparations, and untreated controls. Soil pH, total C and N, microbial activity, forage biomass, and forage quality were evaluated over two growing seasons. Both lime and the Pfeiffer Field Spray and BD preparations were only moderately effective in raising soil pH, with no effect on soil microbial activity or forage yield. Lime significantly reduced forage crude protein but the practical implications of this are questionable given the overall low quality of the forage. While the farm is profitable and economically stable and the animals healthy, the need for future targeted nutrient inputs cannot be ruled out for sustainable long-term production.
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