Holistic Agriculture is an agricultural approach that was originally developed as a means of reversing desertification, but has been expanded to encompass any means of agriculture that recognises its place as part of the whole planetary ecosystem, and seeks to positively transform the ecosystem towards regeneration and health.
"I have been particularly fascinated, for example, by the work of a remarkable man called Allan Savory, in Zimbabwe and other semi arid areas, who has argued for years against the prevailing expert view that is the simple numbers of cattle that drive overgrazing and cause fertile land to become desert. On the contrary, as he has since shown so graphically, the land needs the presence of feeding animals and their droppings for the cycle to be complete, so that soils and grassland areas stay productive. Such that, if you take grazers off the land and lock them away in vast feedlots, the land dies."- His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles)
Biodiversity management of organic farming enhances agricultural sustainability, University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Apr 2016)
Organic farming (OF) has been believed to be capable of curtailing some hazardous effects associated with chemical farming (CF). However, debates also exist on whether OF can feed a world with increasing human population.
Linking crop production with livestock to maximal uses of by-products from each production and avoid xenobiotic chemicals, we have achieved beneficial improvement in soil properties, effective pest and weed control, and increased crop yields. After eight years experiment, we have obtained a gradual but stable increase in crop yields with a 9.6-fold increase of net income. Thus, Biodiversity Management of Organic Farming can not only feed more population, but also increase adaptive capacity of agriculture ecosystems and gain much higher economic benefits.
Soil erosion and phosphorus losses under variable land use as simulated by the INCA-P model, Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research (Mar 2013)
The most favourable scenario for freshwater ecosystems would be afforestation: changing half of the agricultural areas to forest would reduce sediment and phosphorus losses by 44 and 40%, respectively.
Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico, El Colegio de La Frontera Sur, State University of New York, Ohio State University (Sep 2012)
Holistic ranchers have more pasture divisions, higher grazing pressure, greater lengths of time between pasture burns, greater milk productivity, larger forest reserves, lower cow and calf mortality, purchase less hay and feed, and use less herbicides and pesticides than their conventional neighbors.
We found higher soil respiration, deeper topsoil, increased earthworm presence, more tightly closed herbaceous canopies, and marginally greater forage availability in holistic ranches.
These complementary metrics combine to suggest that holistic management strategies are leading to greater ecological and economic sustainability.
Forest Gardens, Holistic Science Journal (2011)
Forest gardens are a type of land use common in many parts of the world, and fast becoming more popular in Britain, for growing a wide variety of edible and other crops in a sustainable and low-input system.
Forest garden and similar agroforestry systems offer a sustainable and low-carbon alternative for growing crops for people, which also protects the soil, stores carbon, and is excellent for wildlife. Oh yes, and forest gardens are very beautiful and being in them surely increases health too!
How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (May 2002)
Hunger and food insecurity are currently problems not of resource scarcity but of insufficient political will or moral imperative to change the way food is allocated— Pinstrup-Anderson et al. have estimated that the developing world alone is producing enough food to provide every person with > 2,500 calories/day. If unsustainable agriculture remains the norm, however, scarcity of resources could soon become a major factor in food insecurity.
Sustainable agriculture is not merely a package of prescribed methods. More important, it is a change in mindset whereby agriculture acknowledges its dependence on a finite natural resource base—including the finite quality of fossil fuel energy that is now a critical component of conventional farming systems. It also recognizes that farm management problems (weeds, insects, etc.) cannot be dealt with in isolation but must be seen as part of a whole ecosystem whose balance must be maintained.
Articles on Holistic Agriculture
Plant People Speak - Indigenous Methods of Plant Harvesting, Holistic Science Journal (2014)
In an era of startling alienation from the soils, airs, waters, plants, and animals surrounding and sustaining us, [indigenous herbalists, healers, and wild-crafters] remind us that the embodied ecological knowledge of local peoples is deep in our blood and bones, though we may no longer feel it. By exploring and honouring the wisdom of our elders – both plants and people – we might begin to practice remembrance.
No-Till Case Study, Brown's Ranch: Improving Soil Health Improves the Bottom Line, National Center for Appropriate Technology (Oct 2012)
Exceptional attention to soil health through the use of no-till farming, diverse cover crops, and intensive rotational cattle grazing have allowed Brown’s Ranch, a North Dakota farm and ranch, to become increasingly profitable. This publication relates details of a field tour with Gabe Brown, explaining his approach to soil management.
Holistic Approaches In Organic Farming Research And Development: A General Overview, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Organic farming seems to improve soil fertility in a way and to an extent which cannot be achieved by conventional farming even if the latter consistently respects some ecological principles.
- Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants, Michigan State University
Strategies to Enhance Beneficials, Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, University of Maryland
One of the most powerful and long-lasting ways to minimize economic damage from pests is to boost populations of existing or naturally occurring beneficial organisms by supplying them with appropriate habitat and alternative food sources. Beneficial organisms such as predators, parasites and pest-sickening “pathogens” are found far more frequently on diverse farms where fewer pesticides are used, than in monocultures or in fields routinely treated with pesticides.
Permaculture is a system based on emulating the patterns observed in natural ecosystems to to create sustainable, healthy, 'permanent agriculture'. Permaculture avoids the pitfalls of intensive, industrial farming, while offering a means of recovery to degraded soil.
Feeding and healing the world: through regenerative agriculture and permaculture (Dec 2012)
What humanity is most immediately confronted with is a “liquid fuels crisis”... Beyond oil and gas, there are limits to other resources of all kinds, and which are tied-in with peak oil since the whole extractive system, of mining, processing and transporting final products of metals and fertilisers is underpinned by oil-refined fuels. Water too is a fragile resource, and along with a lack of rock phosphate and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, will set a decline in industrialised agriculture. Permaculture and regenerative agriculture offer potentially the means to provide food and materials on the small scale, and address the wider issues of carbon emissions, and resource shortages. Thus these methods offer the means to feed and heal the World, and create a truly resilient and meaningful future.
Case Study: Jordan Valley Permaculture Project (2008)
Conclusions: The results show that the application of Permaculture methods and introducing Permaculture techniques like swales, natural mulching, rainfall harvesting, legume cultivation, have a clear role in improving soil properties, increasing soil organic matter content and reducing soil salinity.
Full research paper here
Companion planting began at least 10,500 years ago in North America when indigenous people discovered that squash, maize and beans grew in a perfect symbiotic relationship when planted together [source]. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. See wikipedia for a non-definitive list of companion planting arrangements.
Designing an effective trap cropping strategy: the effects of attraction, retention and plant spatial distribution, Cornell University (2012)
Summary: Trap cropping, the use of alternative host plants to reduce pest damage to a focal cash crop or other managed plant population, can be a sustainable strategy for pest control, but in practice it has often failed to reach management goals.
Articles on Companion Planting
- A Guide to Companion Planting, Cornell University
- Practical guidelines for establishing, maintaining and assessing the usefulness of insectary plantings on your farm, Oregon State University
- The Origins of Companion Planting- The "How" of the Three Sisters: The Origins of Agriculture in Mesoamerica and the Human Niche, University of Nebraska
Farmscaping Techniques for Managing Insect Pests, Virginia Tech University
Farmscaping is a holistic (whole-farm) ecological approach to pest management—particularly for insects. An entomologist, Dr. Robert Bugg coined the term 'farmscaping' - defining it as the “deliberate use of specific plants and landscaping techniques to attract and conserve ‘beneficials’.”
Intensive farming is a system that aims to maximize output and profit per acre through high-yield monocropping combined with the use of mechanical ploughing, chemical fertilizers, plant growth regulators or pesticides, and confining animals indoors. Though industrial farming has a higher output than traditional methods, it comes with deleterious side effects including environmental pollution, increasing erosion, poisoning water with agricultural chemicals, and adverse effects on animal welfare.
Studies on Industrial Agriculture
GMOs and health
An acute exposure to glyphosate-based herbicide alters aromatase levels in testis and sperm nuclear quality, University of Caen (Jul 2014)
The major disruption is an increase of aromatase mRNA levels at least by 50% in treated rats at all times, as well as the aromatase protein.
Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize, University of Caen (Jun 2014)
This report describes the first long-term (2-year) rodent (rat) feeding study investigating possible toxic effects arising from consumption of an R-tolerant GM maize(NK603)
Biochemical analyses confirmed very significant chronic kidney deficiencies, for all treatments and both sexes; 76% of the altered parameters were kidney-related. In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5 to 5.5 times higher. Marked and severe nephropathies were also generally 1.3 to 2.3 times greater. In females, all treatment groups showed a two- to threefold increase in mortality, and deaths were earlier. This difference was also evident in three male groups fed with GM maize. All results were hormone- and sex-dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumors more frequently and before controls; the pituitary was the second most disabled organ; the sex hormonal balance was modified by consumption of GM maize and Roundup treatments. Males presented up to four times more large palpable tumors starting 600 days earlier than in the control group, in which only one tumor was noted. These results may be explained by not only the non-linear endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup but also by the overexpression of the EPSPS transgene or other mutational effects in the GM maize and their metabolic consequences.
Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles, University of Caen (Feb 2014)
Pesticides are used throughout the world as mixtures called formulations. They contain adjuvants, which are often kept confidential and are called inerts by the manufacturing companies, plus a declared active principle, which is usually tested alone.
We tested the toxicity of 9 pesticides, comparing active principles and their formulations, on three human cell lines. 8 formulations out of 9 were up to one thousand times more toxic than their active principles. Our results challenge the relevance of the acceptable daily intake for pesticides because this norm is calculated from the toxicity of the active principle alone.
Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors, Chulabhorn Graduate Institute (Sep 2013)
Glyphosate is an active ingredient of the most widely used herbicide and it is believed to be less toxic than other pesticides. However, several recent studies showed its potential adverse health effects to humans as it may be an endocrine disruptor.
These results indicated that low and environmentally relevant concentrations of glyphosate possessed estrogenic activity.
In vitro effect of the herbicide glyphosate on human blood platelet aggregation and coagulation, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (2010)
The results demonstrate that Glyphosate caused changes in the platelet metabolism with an inhibitory effect on primary hemostasis.
Glyphosate formulations induce apoptosis and necrosis in human umbilical, embryonic, and placental cells, University of Caen (Jan 2009)
All Roundup formulations cause total cell death within 24 h, through an inhibition of the mitochondrial succinate dehydrogenase activity, and necrosis, by release of cytosolic adenylate kinase measuring membrane damage.
A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean: Effects on liver ageing, Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia (Nov 2008)
Several proteins belonging to hepatocyte metabolism, stress response, calcium signalling and mitochondria were differentially expressed in GM-fed mice, indicating a more marked expression of senescence markers in comparison to controls. Moreover, hepatocytes of GM-fed mice showed mitochondrial and nuclear modifications indicative of reduced metabolic rate. This study demonstrates that GM soybean intake can influence some liver features during ageing and, although the mechanisms remain unknown, underlines the importance to investigate the long-term consequences of GM-diets and the potential synergistic effects with ageing, xenobiotics and/or stress conditions.
Pesticide exposure as risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma including histopathological subgroup analysis, University Hospital, Lund, Sweden (Jul 2008)
Glyphosate was associated with a statistically significant increased odds ratio for lymphoma in our study, and the result was strengthened by a tendency to dose-response effect.
Cancer Incidence among Glyphosate-Exposed Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study, National Institutes of Health (Feb 2005)
The most consistent ﬁnding in our study was a suggested association between multiple myeloma and glyphosate exposure, based on a small number of cases.
Glyphosate-based pesticides affect cell cycle regulation, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Apr 2004)
All the tested products, Amega, Cargly, Cosmic, and Roundup Biovert induced cell cycle dysfunction. The threshold concentration for induction of cell cycle dysfunction was evaluated for each product and suggests high risk by inhalation for people in the vicinity of the pesticide handling sprayed at 500 to 4000 times higher dose than the cell-cycle adverse concentration.
Pesticide Roundup Provokes Cell Division Dysfunction at the Level of CDK1/Cyclin B Activation, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (2002)
Roundup affects cell cycle regulation by delaying activation of the CDK1/cyclin B complex, by synergic effect of glyphosate and formulation products. Considering the universality among species of the CDK1/cyclin B regulator, our results question the safety of glyphosate and Roundup on human health.
GMOs and the environment
Genetically Modified Herbicide-Tolerant Crops, Weeds, and Herbicides, Agro ParisTech (Aug 2015)
In their very first years of adoption, herbicide-tolerant crops often led to some decrease in herbicide use. However, the repetition of glyphosate-tolerant crops and of glyphosate only applications in the same fields without sufficient alternation and herbicide diversity has contributed to the appearance of glyphosate-resistant weeds. These weeds have resulted in a rise in the use of glyphosate and other herbicides.
Occurrence of glyphosate in water bodies derived from intensive agriculture in a tropical region of southern Mexico, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (Sep 2015)
Glyphosate was detected in all samples-including natural protected areas. These results emphasize the need for an evaluation of the impact of glyphosate on native species as well as regulate its use.
Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -- the first sixteen years, Washington State University (Sep 2012)
Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. Herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011.
Cross-fertilization between genetically modified and non-genetically modified maize crops in Uruguay, Universidad de la República (2010)
Percentages of transgenic seedlings in the offspring of the non-GM crops were estimated as 0.56%, 0.83% and 0.13% for three sampling sites with distances of respectively 40, 100 and 330 m from the GM crops. This is a first indication that adventitious presence of transgenes in non-GM maize crops will occur in Uruguay if isolation by distance and/or time is not provided.
The Lethal Impact of Roundup® on Aquatic and Terrestrial Amphibians, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Aug 2005)
The global decline in amphibian diversity has become an international environmental problem with a multitude of possible causes... Roundup killed 96–100% of larval amphibians, and after one day, Roundup killed 68–86% of juvenile amphibians. These results suggest that Roundup, a compound designed to kill plants, can cause extremely high rates of mortality to amphibians that could lead to population declines.
A common neonicotinoid pesticide, thiamethoxam, impairs honey bee flight ability, University of Bologna (Oct 2016)
Pesticides can pose environmental risks, and a common neonicotinoid pesticide, thiamethoxam, decreases homing success in honey bees. Neonicotinoids can alter bee navigation, but we present the first evidence that neonicotinoid exposure alone can impair the physical ability of bees to fly. Such exposure may impair foraging and homing, which are vital to normal colony function and ecosystem services.
Magnesium deficiency in plants: An urgent problem, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University (2016)
Recent studies have shown, surprisingly, that Mg contents in historical cereal seeds have markedly declined over time, and two thirds of people surveyed in developed countries received less than their minimum daily Mg requirement... Magnesium deficiency in plants is becoming an increasingly severe problem with the development of industry and agriculture and the increase in human population.
Soil erosion and agricultural sustainability, Stanford University (2007)
Discussion: Given that plowed fields erode substantially faster than rates of soil production and natural soil erosion, a limiting lifespan of an agricultural civilization can be estimated by the time needed for conventional agriculture to erode through the native stock of topsoil.
This simple constraint on the lifespan of agricultural soils predicts reasonably well the historical pattern of a 500- to several-thousand-year lifespan for major civilizations around the world, supporting the argument that it was not the axe that cleared forests but the plow that followed that undermined many ancient societies.
Given time, continued soil loss will become a critical problem for global agricultural production under conventional upland farming practices.
No-till agriculture produces erosion rates much closer to soil production rates and therefore could provide a foundation for sustainable agriculture.
Tillage impacts on soil property, runoff, and soil loss variations from a rhodic paleudult under simulated rainfall, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (Oct 2003)
No-till plots had 34% to tenfold less runoff than from other tillage systems, while conventional-till plots had 1.5 to 5.4-fold times more soil loss than from other tillage systems
Loss of Magnesium from Soil, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources (1957)
Relatively large losses of magnesium from the soil in the long-term fertility trial plot at Riverside-during a 28-year period-were revealed by analysis of soil samples taken in 1927 and in 1955. The losses of magnesium increased with increase in amount of fertilizers and gypsum added to the soil.
Articles on industrial agriculture
Articles on Soil
Soil Erosion And Degradation, World Wildlife Fund
Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years. In addition to erosion, soil quality is affected by other aspects of agriculture. These impacts include compaction, loss of soil structure, nutrient degradation, and soil salinity.
Phosphorus loss, The U.S. Department of Agriculture
Phosphorus, like nitrogen, is an essential element needed for crop growth. It is a basic building block for compounds that store and transfer energy, nucleic acids, and other organic compounds
Tuned in: plant roots use sound to locate water, University of Western Australia (May 2017)
We found that roots were able to locate a water source by sensing the vibrations generated by water moving inside pipes, even in the absence of substrate moisture.
Our results also showed that the presence of noise affected the abilities of roots to perceive and respond correctly to the surrounding soundscape. These findings highlight the urgent need to better understand the ecological role of sound and the consequences of acoustic pollution for plant as well as animal populations.
Physiologically mediated self/non-self discrimination in roots, Carnegie Institute of Washington (Mar 2004)
Abstract: Recent evidence suggests that self/non-self discrimination exists among roots; its mechanisms, however, are still unclear. We compared the growth of Buchloe dactyloides cuttings that were grown in the presence of neighbors that belonged to the same physiological individual, were separated from each other for variable periods, or originated from adjacent or remote tillers on the same clone. The results demonstrate that B. dactyloides plants are able to differentiate between self and non-self neighbors and develop fewer and shorter roots in the presence of other roots of the same individual. Furthermore, once cuttings that originate from the very same node are separated, they become progressively alienated from each other and eventually relate to each other as genetically alien plants. The results suggest that the observed self/non-self discrimination is mediated by physiological coordination among roots that developed on the same plant rather than allogenetic recognition. The observed physiological coordination is based on an as yet unknown mechanism and has important ecological implications, because it allows the avoidance of competition with self and the allocation of greater resources to alternative functions.