Farming is a hard gig, whether you’re an organic or chemical farmer. Rain at the wrong time really makes a mess of your crop.
Because we’re certified organic and we simply will not use poisons on our farm, we need to look for other ways to combat damage whether it’s from bugs or weather. I cannot iterate enough on the scale of ‘bad shit’, fungicides are up there as one of the most sinister.
The problem is complex because here you are trying to guess how much damage you’re going to get with a weather incident, and if you’re conventional (chemical based) farming, there is a level of ‘pre rain’ and ‘after rain’ products that are applied and they try to make them as ‘sticky’ as possible so they don’t get washed off in the rain and lose their effectiveness. But these fungicides are often carriers of the highest amount of ‘bad things’ that you don’t want to ingest.
And my thought is… if our fruit gets watery and swollen from rain, because it absorbs the water directly into it, how can the fungicides NOT do the same? How can any poison that is sprayed on to soft leaf or soft skin vegetables or fruit, not actually get in? I’m not convinced it does not.
When I read about fungicides, it’s interesting to note they recommend you have several on hand, to switch out so they don’t ‘mutate’. I am perplexed wondering why no one actually thinks this is a good thing.. rotating so they don’t mutate, and then wonder why so many products no longer work.
So what can we do? As organic farmers, we’re not going to use poisons, but what is our line of defence?
Well, we use nutrition. And think about it.. A plant cannot move. Unlike us, if we are in a bad place, we can, for the most of us, move ourselves out of danger, or physically protect ourselves. But what about a plant? What about a tree? What happens when bad things happen to things that are fixed? They learn to adapt, take what is available to them, make the best use of it, memorise and survive to pass on to the next generation or they die.
When plants get exposed to stressful conditions, they use whatever resources and nutrition is available to protect themselves, and when used up, their physiology changes to the point where they then emit signals that attract them to insects or they die and become biological matter.
After reading and listening and watching information about regenerative farming practices, I’ve now taken on the view that the answers are complex, yet simple. The complexity is in understanding that nature knows what to do, and when able to access the correct nutrition, is able to put up a defence mechanism to protect itself from predators and weather conditions to a greater extent than what we really ever know. So many triggers and responses dependent on the current lifecycle of the plant.
The simplicity is that nature with it’s bio organisms, bacteria, fungi and available nutrition knows what to do.
The marvel is learning how to get the understanding of what a plant needs at any given time and then ensure that it’s properly packed with the ammunition it needs to defend itself, because it can’t move, the soil along with the organisms, bacteria, fungi and nutrition have a complex network that helps pass along information in way which are simply not understood yet, but the small snippets we know and have learnt, are so profound that the more I read and observe and experience, the more I am mesmerised at the cleverness of nature and the stupidity of us mere humans.
So what do we do? It’s simple… we apply specific nutrients before an event, just like a conventional farmer would do, but instead we give nutrition as a preventative tool rather than a poison. Let the plant work it out, and help build up it’s ‘outer wear’. That’s a saying I coined because it’s like thinking about us, having to go out in shitty rainy weather. To stop ourselves from getting soaked, we put on outerwear – a coat, warmth and whatever protection we can garner to minimise our exposure to rain.
That’s what we do with our strawberries. Don’t think for a minute we don’t have damage – because we do, and yes, we need to get in to the fields and pick the damaged fruit off as soon as possible, but our focus on plant nutrition in much more detail which we commenced last year when researching regenerative farming methods, led us to the discovery of the complexities of how plant nutrition works and as we start to scratch the surface and able to record outcomes, the results have been very promising because as certified organic farmers we cannot use conventional methods to protect us from weather incidents.
I’ve attached a couple of photos of our fruit, after close to 50mm of rain over an 18 hour period, including several hours of constant drizzle on fruit which was ready to pick. (don’t get me started on staff shortages!!!). It was very surprising to say the least that some of our crop came through unscathed. It may give us opportunity to claw back some of the losses we will get from having to pay staff to throw the damaged fruit away.