“A more natural an organic agricultura has come to stay supported by innovation together with a progressive paradigm change

Borja Camí has been working as an agronomist at the Asociación de Defensa Vegetal de Frutales del Baix Llobregat for 7 years. Currently he is a freelance advisor and trainer at Cooperativa Asesoramiento Arreu S.C.C.P, mentoring farmers and new production projects. He is member of the editorial board of the informational magazine “La Fertilidad de la Tierra”, specialising in organic horticulture.

He is a usual participant in our training days, we would like to revise some of the most relevant aspects we deal with when he takes part in our courses.

Can organic horticulture be profitable?

Of course, organic farming is profitable, nowadays several production techniques have become more normalized and professionals have overcome freights and doubts which may have existed 10 or 15 years ago. Profitability in organic farming, as in any other production field, or even more, requires being efficient in the crop productive path, according to its production scale. It is true that sometimes, new investments are required to change crop designs, above all, when it comes to preventing weeds and mechanical weeding, which can be paid off in the same year if they are efficient.

High productions are reached when crops go well and we check, in most of the cases, that crops’ agronomy is much more important than imputs to be applied. A more natural and organic farming has come to stay, supported by innovation together with a progressive change of paradigm. We will make a learning effort during the first and second years of the conversion process, learning the reward is pleasing if we do our best and with the accurate criteria. Finally, I would like to remark that comsumers, distributors, manufacturers and producers have to decently value farming activity in economic terms, as any other business.

How can it be distinguished from conventional?

Does land fertilize plants or do plants fertilize land? This is an example of the radical change of agricultural approach, towards bearing in mind a global vision and the best possible handling to work on crops. In practice, at first sight, sometimes it is not so different but, on other occasions it is. For example, some days on the ground in organic farms, farmers ask us why crops look so efficient and productive as conventional if they are really organic.

When crops’ agronomy, which is very similar no mattering its certification, is consolidated, we will go on to difference-making techniques: flower intercropping, crops associations, vegetal covers ended as green fertiliser or innovating by means of mulching and biological control by insects, birds or bats, as well as taking care of and boosting local pollinators, vertical handling and even reducing farm work, revitalizing and rebalancing soils, supply of organic amendments to increase regular carbon… We consider that we belong to a global whole, boosting sustainable farming using available resources.

Which prevention methods can we count on to favour pest control?

The first method means knowledge and observation, in the second place, there is patience with nature or the other way round. I have seen a lot of transformations, and the initial doubts on how to control some pests are successfully overcome and, in case of appearing we understand them as indicators and we track them. Sometimes unbalances can be understood and controlled, but sometimes they can’t, in the whole rotation process results have always been profitable. Crop planning, selecting varieties which can adapt and have characteristics which make them less sensitive, a farming environment suitable for airing and a season planning when crops are most convenient, are important criteria to horticultural organic farming.

Single-crop farming must be stopped to change to permanent multi-crop farming, with contiguous flowers, even leguminous plants, which can be commercially used. A field without flowers and without diversity is too big a risk in organic farming. Breaking landscapes of only one crop is a radical help to rebalance fields, for example, by means of flower intercropping in large farms, as well as hedges and mulchings. A kind management of working soils must also be done, trying to mix power and production with strengthened crop, growing healthily, together with ground microorganisms, which also play the role of functional biodiversity.

We will also stop treating some pests which can be regulated by auxiliaries, such as several greenflies. A little damage rate must be assumed, like some illnesses such as mildew or powdery mildew which can be treated by a preventing and reinforcing strategy. I am not keen on the new phytosanitary and/or revitalizing products versus the arrival of new zero-waste or organic products catalogues, but, obviously, currently, they are a necessary tool to be reasonably applied.

Are traditional varieties of seed more advisable?

In the last years I have had the chance to make up with local and traditional varieties, and when I have my meals at home, I have got used to vegetables with a strong personality and I feel lucky about this. I think we must continue reinforcing local and genuine diets, although this does not only mean choosing one variety or another one, but it also involves the whole food chain and this, depending on the farm type, makes it more difficult, but not impossible if wee keep on working.

Las semillas tradicionales son menos homogéneas en cuanto a cosecha, suelen ser más rústicas y eficientes en condiciones de bajos insumos (agua, abonado y desherbado), cultivadas adecuadamente tienen un mayor porcentaje de materia seca, por lo tanto, son un recurso (genético y agronómico) a tener en cuenta en el contexto de cambio climático y recursos limitados. La selección moderna de variedades altamente productivas junto con el regadío y el resto de altos insumos, ya casi habiendo tocado techo, bien manejado, es una realidad productiva también en ecológico. Aunque, por ejemplo, hay cada vez más estudios sobre la eficiencia del agua (kilogramos de cosecha por metros cúbicos invertidos) que indican que con menos agua aumenta la eficiencia, aunque en proporción baja la producción total, siendo en general más eficientes las variedades tradicionales que fueron seleccionadas en un contexto de menos insumos.

Traditional seeds are less homogeneous in terms of harvesting. They are usually ruder and more efficient in terms of low imputs (water, fertilising and weeding), they have a higher rate of dry material, so they are a resource (genetic and agronomic) to be considered in a climate change and limited resources environment. Modern selection of highly productive varieties, together with irrigation and the rest of high imputs, almost having reached their top, appropriately managed, is a productive reality, in organic farming too. Although, for instance, there is more and more research in water efficiency (crop kilogrames per cubic metres used) which state that by reducing water, efficiency increases, although proportionally, total production decreases, being traditional varieties more efficient in a context of lower imputs.

Finally, adding varieties update is sometimes an essential tool regarding total or partial resistance to mildews, powdery mildews, greenflies (spinachs, lettuces and cucurbits) and some soil virosis or pathogenes in low rotation farms (solanaceae), to mention some examples.

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