HUMUS (fwd)

Forwarded message:
>From bigblue.oit.unc.edu!news Wed Mar 22 22:14:15 1995
To: sustag-public@ces.ncsu.edu
Date: Sun, 19 Mar 1995 23:05:00 +0600
>From: jim.mcnelly@granite.mn.org (Jim Mcnelly)
Message-Id: <36.1697.1470@granite.mn.org>
Organization: Granite City Connection St. Cloud MN 612-654-8372
Sender: london@sunsite.unc.edu
References: <48782.hansm001@maroon.tc.umn.edu>
Subject: HUMUS

Thomas Hansmeyer writes:
References: <48782.hansm001@maroon.tc.umn.edu> 

HH> This is a very interesting debate.  In thinking about and discussing
HH> soil quality, organic matter is usually mentioned within the
HH> research circles.  (stuff deleted)

HH> I guess I am asking if the
HH> Luebkes needed to import Carbon from other sources?  Which gets into
HH> further debate as to whether enough carbon exists within the current
HH> system to allow all of agriculture to increase the OM to healthy
HH> levels, 5% or so.  


I operate under the assumption that native soil levels were much higher 
than the current averages, so that some of the atmospheric CO2 which 
stimulates the global warming debate was once in the form of soil 
carbon. It seems rather ludicrous to debate whether or not we 
"should" decrease atmospheric CO2 in order to increase soil humus 
levels. Many of the forgotten pages of debate over atmospheric warming 
deal with "carbon banks" such as the biosphere and humusphere as "sinks" 
which are capable of reducing global CO2.

The Thompsons from Iowa have made arrangments
HH> with the local village to use the carbon, in the form of organic
HH> waste, as a cost effective amendment to their soil.  Would all
HH> farmers need to compete for these contracts, or could the carbon be
HH> produced on-farm.

If you are looking at the long term mass balance of available carbon 
such as residuals from the public sector, I am afraid that the volume of 
organic material landfilled, about one wet ton per capita, is inadequate 
for the demand of our acreages of soil needing organic matter. It is 
doubtful that even half of the landfilled organic waste can be recovered 
into a usable form without carrying with it all manner of pollutants and 
undesirable particulates. The composting process itself converts up to 
1/3 of its volume into heat and CO2, so even 50 million tons of organic 
matter to be recovered annually is a liberal estimate.

My numbers may be off, but it is my understanding that we have upwards 
of 350 million acres of farmland, so this represents about 1/7th of a 
ton per acre. Sustainable compost demand would be more in the 5 to 10 
tons per acre annual range. To bring soil humus up to ambient, which I 
claim is a sustainable level, would require upwards of 200 tons per 
acre. This represents a "topsoil debt" as high as 7 trillion tons of 

Focusing on recovering the wasted organic fraction which is 
thoughtlessly landfilled seems a reasonable place to begin development 
of a carbon management infrastructure in modern agriculture. This 
material is capable of being subsidized in the form of transportation, 
landfill and disposal fees whereas on-farm organics must pay their own 
way. I look at diverting urban organic matter from landfills to farms 
as an important first, and more than symbolic step toward increased 
interdependence between agricultural producers and consumers.

But you are correct, Thomas, in pointing out that ultimately farms must 
eventually be responsible for their own carbon debt and annual carbon 
requirement. This may occur within various bio-regions where certain 
farms might become biomass cultivators capable of supplying the carbon 
requirements for farms within their region. But unless our mentality 
concerning renewable carbon gets some infusions of entepreneurism, the 
fossil carbon commodity infrastructure will continue to supply the 
chemical dependency addiction with few compunctions.

I am intrigued by the discussion related to types of microbes and other 
means of determining the organic fertility of a soil. I would add to 
the discussion some questions concerning phosphorus limits which are 
increasingly becoming an environmental driver (revenue source) related 
to non point water pollution. 

The synergistic interactions of a healthy soil ecosystem including 
microbes, fungi, earthworms, and the various other organisms which 
thrive in a healthy humusphere may have values related to soil tilth, 
water holding capacity, pH buffering, nutrient availability, and cost of 
tillage. Unknown or currently unquantified values such as growth 
hormones, pheromes, anti-biotics, disease suppression, and pest 
retardation may be unexpected but indicated assets resulting from humus 
rich environments.

In summary, other values of humus such as water quality, energy, waste 
disposal, and atmospheric warming might increasingly become economic 
levers in which to wean agriculture from the dependency on fossil carbon 
and help make the transition to renewable carbon based farming. To me, 
the focus on renewable carbon should be at the heart of the sustainable 
agriculture debate.

Mr Compost~~~

Jim~ McNelly

 * RM 1.3 02460 * What profit to gain the world and lose your soil?

   Granite City Connection (612) 654-8372 28.8K 3 Lines
   Email: jim.mcnelly@granite.mn.org (Jim Mcnelly)