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Organic Agriculture - Question 1

Organic farming serves as an alternative agricultural system. Australia has about 2.6% of the workforce whereas New Zealand has about 5.6% of the workforce associated with the organic farming practice. Organic farming in New Zealand due to the presence of better conditions than Western Australia (Gillingham, 2020). 

i) Several organic farms exist in Auckland, New Zealand. About 40% of the land in New Zealand is pasture and arable that is used as a cropping land. The topography of the land of organic farms in Auckland is flat and are suitable for farming. The mean temperature of Auckland is 15.3°C. The undulating topography of the region in the south Auckland and the central Waikato is composed of some highly productive lands of New Zealand. The minimum temperature in these regions is about 3-6°C. The Waikato river in the region has deposited the soil and ash material that has made the soils fertile, suitable for agriculture. The soil in this region is composed of volcanic ash, making it free daring and easy for the cultivation of land. Further, peaty loams are present in the region that are applied with several organic fertilizers to ensure good produce (Gillingham, 2020). 

ii) Barriers to adoption of organic farming certification in New Zealand 

For the certification to be an organic farmer in New Zealand the adoption of organic practices that are selected by the government must be fulfilled to ensure the criteria. The government of New Zealand provides a clear distinction and asserts that organic farming standards are not equivalent to food safety standards. The products must comply with the standard regulatory requirements and comply with the Fair Trading Act of 1986 to use their label “Organic” on their products (Government of New Zealand, 2020). According to the Government of New Zealand (2020), “Organic agriculture is based on minimising the use of external inputs. For example, avoiding or excluding the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, antibiotics, growth promotants, genetic modification, and irradiation. Organic handlers, processors, and retailers follow voluntary standards to maintain the integrity of organically produced products” (Government of New Zealand, 2020). To export the organic produce in New Zealand the Official Organic Assurance Programme is required to be met. To establish as an organic farmer in New Zealand., the common constraints that are faced include (Palaniappan & Annadurai, 2018):

  • Excessive use of jargon in the procedures: Organic certification programmes have several jargons that can be overwhelming for the would-be organic farmer. 
  • Excessive paperwork and costs of certification: Organic certified businesses require a lot of paperwork and have high costs of certification issuing costs. 
  • Sales and tax: The organic certification system of New Zealand is focused on the volume of the product the farmer sells impacting the tracking of the sales and the process of taxation. 
  • Cost intensive and limited availability of the resources: Organic farming is different from traditional methods as it employs non-toxic and environment-friendly substitutes in the practice. The availability of the resources required for the process of organic farming that requires a larger investment and has a limited reach as organic farming in New Zealand is still budding (Gillingham, 2020). 

iii) Experiments to sustain organic farming

Experiment 1: Crop Rotation 

Aim: To develop a practice of crop rotation in farmland 

Constraint addressed: Limited availability of organic fertilizers and other resources

Background: Crop rotation is a practice of planting the different crops seasonally and sequentially to improve the land and soil health that eliminates the use of fertilizers by promising the nutrient richness of the soils. Since organic farmers require natural methods to ensure the soil fertility and overall management of the soil, crop rotations ensure the maintenance of soil health and have healthy produce (Palaniappan & Annadurai, 2018). Usually, the rotation is done between a leguminous and a non-leguminous plant to ensure the soil health and well-being (Bubici et al., 2019). 

Research design: The study of the impact of crop rotation on organic farming will be a primary study conducted in collaboration with organic farming lands with similar land size and geographical parameters. 

Research method

  1. Select the land on which the study will be conducted. 
  2. Test the nutrient contents of the soil before plantation
  3. Consider one land as a negative control where the practice of crop rotation will not be performed
  4. Perform crop rotation on another landmass
  5. Take recordings of the soil nutrient balance every month 
  6. Observe the need for supplementary organic fertilizers in both the settings
  7. Compare and analyse the results 

Discussion: Since crop rotation is known to enhance the overall soil quality and replenish the nutrients in the soil through natural cycles it is important to analyse the soil nutrient values in the two settings to deduce the impact of crop rotation on soil fertility. The frequency and the quantity of the organic fertilizers added in each set must also be recorded to analyse the efficacy of the technique and to foresee its application in the organic farms. 

Experiment 2: Digitalisation of Paperwork 

Aim: To develop a digital platform for the officiation of the paperwork associated with the organic farming certification programmes

Constraint addressed: Time consuming and enduring paperwork procedures for organic farming certifications 

Background: The long and consuming paperwork for the organic farming certification can be overwhelming. This can discourage farmers and restrict them from adopting organic farming practices. 

Research design: This study will be a primary study conducted through controlled trials. 

Research method:

  1. Setting up an online platform for registration of paperwork proceedings associated with organic farming 
  2. Selection of individuals for participation
  3. Grouping individuals who have had completed paperwork in person through the generalized certification programmes and into individuals who will adopt the online certification of the organic farming 
  4. Conduct of trial where the online certification will require a visual tour, detailed questioning about farming practice and validation from 3 witnesses about the farming strategy. 
  5. Comparing and contrasting the average time taken for each process 
  6. Interviewing of the participants for the ease and comfort in both the approaches 
  7. Record observations and perform data analysis 

Discussion: The simplification of the process is likely to save time through online certifications and also encourage the farmers to adopt organic farming practices more readily. 

Organic Agriculture - Question 3

The two published studies chosen for this question are:

Study 1: Fu, L., Penton, C. R., Ruan, Y., Shen, Z., Xue, C., Li, R., & Shen, Q. (2017). Inducing the rhizosphere microbiome by biofertilizer application to suppress banana Fusarium wilt disease. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 104, 39-48

Study 2: Xiong, W., Guo, S., Jousset, A., Zhao, Q., Wu, H., Li, R., ... & Shen, Q. (2017). Bio-fertilizer application induces soil suppressiveness against Fusarium wilt disease by reshaping the soil microbiome. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 114, 238-247.

1. The pathogen identified in both studies is Fusarium. Fusarium is a fungal pathogen that affects a wide range of plants and causes wilting disease. The disease is diagnosed with vein clearing in the younger leaves and drooping of the lamina in the older leaves of the plants. It also results in stunted growth, defoliation, necrosis, and chlorosis, eventually resulting in plant death. 

a. Experimental design used

b. Study 1: The study focuses on controlling the Fusarium wilt by the application of the biofertilizer (BIO) in the reclaimed fields. For the accomplishment of this study, a primary controlled analysis is performed where the Fusarium oxysporum sp. cubense(Foc) is being assessed for the wilt caused in banana. consecutive application of biofertilizer (BIO) has been known to control the wilt. This study is therefore based to perform a controlled comparative analysis between the application of BIO and the traditional compost to identify the efficacy of wilt control in the organic farms against Fusarium. The presence of biocontrol inoculant “Bacillus amyloliquefaciens NJN-6” has been used for the analysis. 

Study 2: The research design of the study is primary hand has been done using a pot experiment where the use of chemical, biologically enhanced, and organic fertilizers were used to analyse the presence of disease incidence, pathogen density, and overall changes in the soil microbiome. The antifungal activity of these fertilizers was assessed in this analysis providing a comparative report for the alterations associated with the application of different fertilizers and find their impact on pathogen inhibition. 

c. Biological amendments used in study 1 and 2:

Biofertilizer application application of bio fertilisers change the microbiome of the soil. This change favours a natural antifungal activity in the soil characteristics. The biofertilisers are natural substances that help in the restoration of the fertility soil by inducing microbial changes and ensuring nutrient sufficiency. Bio fertilisers act as a boost for the organic content of the soil and also enhance its structure by the management of porosity and regulation of the organic matter present in the soil. Bio fertiliser is made of living microbes and when applied on the farming lands promotes the growth of crops by promoting the supply of nutrients and increasing their availability (Bubici et al., 2019). Bio fertilisers can also help in the enhancement of the soil by protection from the soil-borne diseases. The application of bio fertilisers us known to protect them from soil-borne pathogens and therefore they are widely used for the development of disease control strategies in the organic farms. Biofertilizers act as biological control agents and help in the protection from the disease by altering the soil microbiota and acting as biocontrol agents enhancing plant growth and ensuring disease prevention (Seufert et al., 2017). 

d. Mechanism to control the disease identified

Study 1: The study asserts that the BIO-amended rhizosphere soils provide protection from Fusarium wilt by increasing the abundance of bacterial and decreasing the amount of fungus present in the soil. This results in increase in the richness of bacterial composition of the soil and results in the suppression of the disease. The study identifies the taxa that plays an important role in the suppression of the disease. These include Sphingobium, Cryptococcus, and Dyadobacter. Increase in the abundance of these microbes have been found to be associated with the suppression of disease in the plants grown on the BIO-amended soils.

Study 2: The study asserts that the changes in the soil microbiome by application of the biofertilisers limits the growth of the pathogen. The study identifies increase in the specific microbes like Lysobacter sp. That function in the management and control of the pathogen. The study also identifies that use of specific biocontrol agents like Trichoderma exhibits suppression by soil structure changes rather than providing an active inhibition of the pathogen for disease suppression.

e. Potential constraints of disease control method used

The use of biofertilisers for the suppression of disease like plant disease like Fusarium Wilt have been highly beneficial. Some constraints that re associated with the application of bioferitilisers for the control of diseases on the organic farmlands include the following (Seufert et al., 2017):

  • Excessive and prolonged application of the biofertilisers can result in uncontrolled nutritional imbalances in the soil that can result into development of metal toxicity affecting plant growth and maintenance in the farmland.
  • The presence of all the nutrients in the fertiliser application is not ensured as the nutrients are provided to the soil through an uncontrolled manner.
  • Biofertilser maintenance also requires more intensive care for storage.
  • Can only be applied to a soil that is receptive and healthy to ensure maximum benefits.
  • The action on the pathogens is not targeted and rather more focused on elimination of pathogen by changing the overall soil microbiota and organic content.

Organic Agriculture - Question 4

1. Options available for the supply of phosphorus

Phosphorus is one of the essential minerals required for plant growth and to ensure the health of farmland for a good produce (Lori et al., 2017). The common phosphorous sources that are used in the process of farming include application of phosphate rock. The application of phosphare rock is highly favourable in the soils that have acidic pH of less than 5.5 and also possess low calcium concentrations (Bustamante et al., 2016). The solubility of the phosphate affected by the pH of the soil and is therefore less effective in the soil conditions with higher pH values. The other common sources of pH that are available in organic farming include manure, and compost. Application of colloidal phosphate or soft phosphate is also used to supplement the phosphorous content of the soil. The soft phosphorous is obtained from bone sources and are found to be highly effective and last longer in the soil than other sources (Jouzi et al., 2017).

2. Constraints of phosphorus supply

Maintenance of adequate phosphorous supply in the organic farms is a major hurdle as supplementation of the phosphorous through synthetic sources is not permitted. Inadequate presence of phosphorus in the soil can result in poor plant growth in the farm as phosphorous is one of the essential nutrients for plant growth. The constraint for phosphorous availability for plant growth occurs as the mineral is released slowly in the soil and therefore has limited availability and therefore requires supplemented phosphorous inputs. The only sources of phosphate that are permitted in organic farming are inclusive of phosphate rocks, recycled phosphate containing materials, and manure (Bustamante et al., 2016).

The major constraints that are associated with the phosphorous supply in the organic farms include the soil pH affecting soil availability and absorption by the plants leading to differences in the extractable phosphorus and soil phosphorous index. The phosphorous supply is also affected by the plantation growth in the soil (Jouzi et al., 2017). The mixed farms face less phosphorous shortage and require less phosphorous feed for the maintenance of the soil. This is to ensure by the legume leys that provide fertility to the crops. A major challenge for phosphorous supply in the organic farms is also associated with more attention given to the nitrogen cycle and with lack of awareness about managed nutrient supply. Organic farmers may be more dependent on P supplies from mineralization of organic P than conventional farmers. This can cause buildup of pools of soil organic P, particularly that bound in the microbial biomass (Schrama et al., 2018).

3. Variability in the sources for organic certification

The sources permissible for phosphorus supplementation in the organic farms is composed of manure, and compost. The organic farming standards in Australia have been established by the Australian Certified Organic (Bustamante et al., 2016). The use of organophosphates is prohibited that uses inorganic phosphorous esters for supplementing the phosphorous content. The use of mined minerals as phosphate rocks is restricted in the organic farming guide of Australia as it is considered as a mined mineral (Van Bruggen & Finckh, 2016).

4. Solubility characteristics

The solubility of phosphorous in the soil is impacted by several factors like soil structure, pH, and phosphorous availability in the soil. Phosphorous possess low solubility in the soil and therefore its availability is a strong determinant of the plant growth and farm health. The plants are able to absorb phosphorous through a dissolved solution in the soil where it exists in a stable form limiting its availability to the plants (Van Bruggen & Finckh, 2016). The phosphorous availability is influenced by the soil pH significantly where acidic or pH levels of less than 5.5 ensure maximum phosphorous absorption from the soil when supplementation is done in form of salts. The common mineral compounds of phosphorus present in the soil include aluminum, iron, manganese etc. In alkaline soils, the fixation of phosphorous is largely seen with calcium. The optimum range for the availability of the mineral in its natural state is between pH 6.0-7.0 (Brahim et al., 2017)

5. Potential for increasing the efficiency for phosphorus uptake and use

To increase the efficiency of phosphorus uptake in the plants several strategies can be used. These include:

  1. Management of phosphorous pools on the land: The management of phosphorous pools in the landmass on the organic farm is essential as it results in the uneven distribution of the compound and can cause poor availability of the mineral. Even distribution ensures adequate availability and promotes plant growth (Jouzi et al., 2017).
  2. Use of plant microbes to enhance the efficiency of uptake: Techniques like root forging, and phosphorous acquisition efficiency is managed to enhance the availability of phosphorus and enhance its uptake in the plant (Schrama et al., 2018).
  3. Mining strategies are also used to enhance the process of desorption, stabilization, and mineralization of phosphorous (Van Bruggen & Finckh, 2016).
  4. Foraging of the top soil is often done to enhance phosphorus efficiency through alterations in the root morphology and architecture (Van Bruggen & Finckh, 2016).

References for Organic Agriculture

Brahim, S., Niess, A., Pflipsen, M., Neuhoff, D., & Scherer, H. (2017). Effect of combined fertilization with rock phosphate and elemental sulphur on yield and nutrient uptake of soybean. Plant, Soil and Environment, 63(2), 89-95.

Bubici, G., Kaushal, M., Prigigallo, M. I., Gómez-Lama Cabanás, C., & Mercado-Blanco, J. (2019). Biological control agents against Fusarium wilt of banana. Frontiers in Microbiology, 10, 616.

Bustamante, M. A., Ceglie, F. G., Aly, A., Mihreteab, H. T., Ciaccia, C., & Tittarelli, F. (2016). Phosphorus availability from rock phosphate: combined effect of green waste composting and sulfur addition. Journal of Environmental Management, 182, 557-563.

Fu, L., Penton, C. R., Ruan, Y., Shen, Z., Xue, C., Li, R., & Shen, Q. (2017). Inducing the rhizosphere microbiome by biofertilizer application to suppress banana Fusarium wilt disease. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 104, 39-48

Gillingham, A. (2020), Soils and regional land use', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved from: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/soils-and-regional-land-use/print

Government of New XEaland (2020). Organics. Retrieved from: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/growing-and-harvesting/land-care-and-farm-management/organics/

Jouzi, Z., Azadi, H., Taheri, F., Zarafshani, K., Gebrehiwot, K., Van Passel, S., & Lebailly, P. (2017). Organic farming and small-scale farmers: Main opportunities and challenges. Ecological Economics, 132, 144-154.

Lori, M., Symnaczik, S., Mäder, P., De Deyn, G., & Gattinger, A. (2017). Organic farming enhances soil microbial abundance and activity—A meta-analysis and meta-regression. PloS one, 12(7).

Okungbowa, F. I., & Shittu, H. O. (2012). Fusarium wilts: An overview. Environmental Research Journal, 6(2), 122-134.

Palaniappan, S. P., & Annadurai, K. (2018). Organic Farming Theory & Practice. USA: Scientific publishers.

Schrama, M., De Haan, J. J., Kroonen, M., Verstegen, H., & Van der Putten, W. H. (2018). Crop yield gap and stability in organic and conventional farming systems. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 256, 123-130.

Seufert, V., Ramankutty, N., & Mayerhofer, T. (2017). What is this thing called organic?–How organic farming is codified in regulations. Food Policy, 68, 10-20.

Van Bruggen, A. H. C., & Finckh, M. R. (2016). Plant diseases and management approaches in organic farming systems. Annual review of phytopathology, 54, 25-54.

Xiong, W., Guo, S., Jousset, A., Zhao, Q., Wu, H., Li, R., ... & Shen, Q. (2017). Bio-fertilizer application induces soil suppressiveness against Fusarium wilt disease by reshaping the soil microbiome. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 114, 238-247.

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