Re: more on biodynamics, linear thinking, and right questions

A comment on Valerie's point about stressed plants and 
susceptibility.  I first heard that fertilization practices 
promote susceptibility to disease, as part of an argument on why 
organic sources of nutrition were superior to synthetic fertilizers 
(this was at an IFOAM conference at MIT about 12 years ago).  I 
didn't believe it, and said so publicly.  After the session, a 
distinguished, grey- haired British woman came up and explained to me 
the error of my thinking, to which I politely acceded but continued 
(in my arrogance) to disbelieve.  She referred to a book written by a 
French scientist (I don't read French) summarizing his life's work on 
"human-induced" diseases of plants (and animals?).  There was even a 
name for it, although I've long forgotten it. 

Not long after I returned to the halls of academe, I received in the 
mail a hand-translated copy of the Table of Contents of this book, 
sent of course by my helpful British correspondent still trying to 
improve my breadth of vision.  Just to confirm the rightness of *my* 
disbelieving position, I trotted the pages around to three 
pathologists in my department.  One (the youngest and most "up" on 
modern lit) said "utter nonsense".  The second thought he might have 
heard something about it.  The third said, "sure, here is my file on 
it".  And sure enough, there was the scientific lit in support of the 
notion that fertilization practices (most specifically pertaining to 
N, and particularly forms of N) influence susceptibility to pathogens 
(most particularly fungi, if memory serves).

I use this story in my Crop Ecology class to encourage undergrad 
students not to disbelieve everything that they hear which might 
contradict "conventional wisdom".  This year, I had an "add-on" in 
the form of two excellent articles (citations provided, as asked) 
corroborating the notion that fertilizer applied in recommended 
amounts can have unexpected side effects on the increased 
vulnerability of target crop plants to pest attack.

    (tangential note:  These effects were unexpected because those 
    doing the fertility work had not asked the "right" questions - 
    just the usual "linear" question - does it increase yield?; 
    a more holistic approach such as that espoused by BD and    
    other organic (and some conventional) farmers would be to 
    explicitly recognize that changes to a system always invoke a 
    multitude of responses - not just the one you are hoping 
    for;  for more on the perils of linear thinking, see Clark and 
    Weise, 1993 in the ASA publication Agricultural Research in the 
    Northeastern United States)

The two refs were:

J. Prod Agric 7(4)448-454 - D.D. Howard et al. (1994) - Nitrogen and 
fungicide effects on yield components and disease severity in wheat.  

Agron. J. 86:581-585 - Funderburk et al. (1994) - Modifying soil 
nutrient level affects soybean insect predators.

So - although cosmic influences and transmutation are outside of my 
sphere of belief, I know some outstanding and otherwise rational BD 
farmers (mostly dairy, one veggies) who swear by them.  I have seen 
with my own eyes phenomena which I cannot explain with any 
scientifically accepted theory - such as systematically killing 
large tracts of quackgrass with some BD preparation applied in 
minisculel quantities at a certain stage of the moon.  As a result, I 
am trying to keep an open mind, although references such as those 
noted above are a real comfort to those of us trained in the 
conventional way.

Perhaps scientific support for the notions of BD - such as that for 
soil nutrient x pest interactions - will accrue when more scientists 
are able to believe what they see (and learn how to explore it with 
rigor), instead of just adhering to what they read.  Ann

Dr. E. Ann Clark
Associate Professor
Crop Science
University of Guelph
Guelph, ON  N1G 2W1
Phone:  519-824-4120 Ext. 2508
FAX:  519 763-8933