Re: BIO-CONTROL MATTERS-> Humus
Abstract: Response to post about the role of humus in Nature
Farming and S.A.
Keywords: humus, microbes, Nature Farming, the Luebke
method, soil test
I saw your posting (below) on sustag-public concerning the
concept of humus as the basis for sustainable agriculture
as versus designer microbes, companion planting, etc.
[Sustag-public is a gateway for Usenet news to be posted on
an Internet mailing list, and vice versa]. Thanks for bringing this
issue to light. A couple of comments:
Firstly, it was revealed on sanet-mg that the NatureFarm posting
was a working draft by folks associated with this project.
It was posted onto sanet-mg by a third party without prior
notice or approval from the authors.
Secondly, here are my two cents on the matter of humus in
Nature Farming and S.A.:
In the 1994 Proceedings of the Oklahoma Horticulture
Industries Show, I compared Nature Farming, traditional organic
farming, biodynamic farming, and Reams biological farming as
viable sustainable farming 'methods' that conventional
veggie growers may want to adopt during a transition to
low-input sustainable agriculture.
Here is an excerpt on Nature Farming:
"Nature Farming was developed in Japan in the 1930s by
Mokichi Okada, who later formed the Mokichi Okada
Association (MOA). Nature Farming parallels organic farming
in many ways but includes special emphasis on soil health
through composts rather than organic fertilizers, when
possible. Kyusei Nature Farming, a branch group, emphasizes
use of microbial preparations in addition to traditional
Nature Farming. Nature Farming is most active in the
Pacific rim, including California and Hawaii."
"Since the late 1980s, Nature Farming has gained wider
recognition in the United States through the coordinated
efforts of MOA and the Rodale Institute in the formation of
the World Sustainable Agriculture Association (WSAA). The
WSAA and MOA sponsor annual conferences on Nature Farming
and sustainable agriculture. Kyusei Nature Farming conducts
on-farm research in California."
One MOA worker in Hawaii explained that in fact they
even make special composts for different purposes. Thus,
in terms of how the foundation of Nature Farming is laid,
it appears that humus indeed forms the basis of production.
Likewise, while not being familiar with all the particulars
of Effective Microorganisms (EM) used in Nature Farming,
on viewing the number of research papers available through
Kyusei Nature Farming that deal specifically with microbes,
it appears that these microbial additions to soils are
important also for the role they play in the formation of
All of this stuff on humus is important, just as is the advanced
work being done on biological controls by Dietrick, Grossman, BIRC,
Kyusei Nature Farming, etc.
More on humus, the Luebke influence:
The Luebke farm family of Austria have infused a reawakening
amongst farmers and landgrant workers as to the importance of
humus through their seminars and conference appearances.
The Luebkes teach a 3-day seminar on humus management, and a
4-day seminar on Controlled Microbial Composting (CMC). The
Luebke system is based on the use of forage- and
covercrop-based crop rotations, green manures microbially
incoculated at plowdown, CMC compost prepared with microbial
inoculants and rock dusts, and proper tillage (spade plow).
Whether a farmer is financially capable of purchasing a
Sandberger compost turner and adopting the whole CMC compost
preparation method is secondary to the fact that they come
away with a deeper understanding of the vital role soil microbes
play in the formation of the clay-humus crumb, and how they can
manage their soils to increase this effect.
For example, the Luebkes improved a clay soil on their farm
from 2% O.M. to 15% O.M. in a ten year period using humus
Most interesting to me as a farm advisor and sanet
participant, are the soil health evaluation procedures the
Luebkes employ. These include percent O.M., the colorimetric
humus test, the circular chromatography test, and the buffered
One of these in particular, the colorimetric humus test,
has merit for wider adoption, and indeed has already been
adopted by several commercial soils labs in the U.S. after
it was re-introduced by the Luebkes. In fact, this method
was developed in the U.S. decades ago but fell out of usage.
The colorimetric humus test is done by extracting a soil or
compost sample with a weal alkali solution (sodium
hydroxide), filtering the solute, and then comparing the
color of the extract against a colorimetric scale of
standardized liquid-filled test tubes. The result is a
relative number from 0-100.
The idea behind this test is that it gives an indication of
the degree and amount to which organic matter in soil has
entered a humified state. When the humus number is compared
against percent O.M., it provides a ratio that can be evaluated.
Ideally, the ratio will be 1 part O.M. to 3 parts humus.
Too little or too high humus readings provide an indication
of a soil out of balance.
This test is especially insightful in combination with
the chroma and buffered pH test. In one instance,
it was apparent the soil was constipated...plenty of soil
humus, but no microbial activity to make the goodies available
At the very least, it demonstrates that sustainable
farmers are getting useful information about the condition
of their soils via other methods of soil evaluation in
addition to or as an alternative to standard university soils
So, McNelly, you have a good point and I think farmers,
landgrant workers, and s.a. advocates should be thinking about
humus. That's why I've summarized these few ideas and
post them here for others to 'mull' over. :-)
Jim McNelly wrote:
> After a long and informative note on Naturfarm, I was surprised to find
> no reference concerning the organic matter concentration in the soil.
> Is this typical of many of the new generation of sustainable farmers?
> Forage and dairy farmers I have met at sustainable ag conferences speak
> longingly about organic matter levels, and how to import organics from
> off farm to build up soils to native levels around 7% humus, or at least
> to a more sustainable level around 3% to 5%,
> If I read many of the early proponents of both organic and sustainable
> farming correctly, compost, humus, and natural ecosystems were stressed
> over other influences such as pest control, disease suppression,
> watering and so forth. The (older?) model held that if the soil was
> improved, other values would follow. Perhaps it is just me, but does it
> not seem that more and more farmers on the sustainable front are talking
> about companion planting, beneficial insects, designer microbes, drip
> irrigation and other techniques.
> This is not to put down such practices, but more to make the observation
> that these efforts might be considered to be a substitute for humus and
> organic matter.
> Does anyone else think that organic matter levels in the soil are being
> neglected in much of the sustainable agriculture discussion?
> Mr Compost~~~
> Affordable In-vessel Composting
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> Jim~ McNelly
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