Sunday, August 21, 2011

Agronomists on Polycultures for Biomass

I'm glad to present this paper which was sent to me by James Giese of the American Society of Agronomy, since, as the paper states, the topic of polycultures in farming has been making the scientific literature lately. Any discussion of the monoculture/polyculture debate is encouraging.

This particular paper contains interesting nuggets of information from various studies as well as the agronomists perspective, although I was disappointed that its focus was upon the economics of biomass production for fuel since I am not optimistic about biomass as fuel due to insurmountable logistics problems even if the technology were there, which it's not.
Polycultures in modern farming are studying the enhancement of production through biodiversity's beneficial relationships between plants, discouragement of pests, retention of water, and enrichment and preservation of soils.

I'd also like to see a discussion of biodiversity restoration of
our original prairie ecosystems through mandated fence-row, waterway, and wildlife corridors throughout the entire farming region of the Midwest, with some added agroforestry. This could give bees and butterflies the habitat which they require, and other symbiotic wildlife eating bugeaters, too. It would help attract young people back to the farming regions which have become environmental wastelands.

Policymakers are throwing money at cellulosic ethanol which no doubt prompted this paper's focus, and farming comes down to policy, which in turn, creates or dictates economic feasibility. In that department, we have a long way to go. ---KM

The following is an excerpt from "Do Polycultures Have a Role in Modern Agriculture?"
....the concept of “diversifying” the farm landscape with perennial species and polycultures has taken root in the scientific literature, fueled by the push toward cellulosic bioenergy crops, such as switchgrass, miscanthus, and prairie plant mixes.

Proponents argue that while today’s simplified agricultural systems excel at producing corn, cotton, and other vital commodities in massive amounts, they come at the price of degraded water quality, vanishing wildlife habitat, and increased pesticide use. Sowing plant diversity back into farmlands, they say, could reduce these costs by providing ecological benefits, such as natural pest control, carbon storage, and nutrient retention. Others see diversification as crucial to agriculture’s future resilience. continue reading...[pdf]