Field trial of growing cereals

by admin on 15/08/2015


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Since Oikos, a national movement of organic producers and consumers in Norway, arranged a trip to a field trial of growing wheat being fertilised by various types of compost, it was only natural to join them. Having arrived at a cornfield, we were met by Anders Næss, organic farmer, managing director of Økologisk spesialkorn a company which sells high quality flour, and project coordinator of Levende matjord meaning Live topsoil. This project has been initiated by the County Governor of Buskerud since it is the standard-bearer county for expertise in soil cultivation in Norway. 

Besides Mr Næss and the County Governor of Buskerud, Lindum AS  and VitalAnalyse also contribute to «Live topsoil». Lindum’s task in this project is to make composts based on food and garden waste. The composts should have high diversity with a high level of bacteria, protozoa and funghi.

Fortunately, a researcher from Lindum was present during our visit and he and Mr Næss showed us the 24 adjacent fields of wheat, having been fertilised with various types of compost at the beginning of the growing season. Actually, only 7 types of compost or fertiliser were being used such that groups of three randomly placed fields had been treated with the same type of compost or fertiliser. An overview of the field trial can be downloaded from this site. Since none of us knew anything about this project beforehand, we were mostly made aware of the amount of unwanted weeds which resided in between the stems, ranging from a lot in the field which had been treated with cow dung to a little in the other fields. Obviously, checking the pros and cons of the various types of compost were not for us. Anyway, a modest attempt at describing soil biology can be found here.

There was also a reference field in each group of 9 fields, which hadn’t been treated with anything, and a field, which had been grown with a mixture of plants: vicia, clover and alfalfa. All of these plants are known to improve the quality of soil.

The purpose of «Live topsoil» is to investigate how various organic fertilisers affect:

Regarding analysis of soil structure and soil biology, this complex field is left to the third partner of «Live topsoil», VitalAnalyse. It is a foundation whose purpose is to, among other things, analyse soil structure and soil biology. One important goal is to develop a set of analyses suitable for studying the validity of the following quotation  by Lady Eve Balfour: «The health of man, beast, plant and soil is one indivisible whole».

The thin layer of topsoil covering parts of the Earth is mankind’s vital battery inside of which are stored nutrients and energy generated over tens of millennia, derived from microorganisms and biological disintegration. Humus is, from a soil scientific viewpoint, organic material which has been broken down into very stable compounds. This stability is important because it regulates water content and acidity in soil, prevents diseases from spreading and creates good living conditions for microorganisms living in the soil. It is in this layer that farmers grow their harvests and where their animals graze. Nutrients and energy from the topsoil have made us the human beings we are by the food we have eaten. Source.

Growing edible plants such that more humus is being made, is of utmost importance in order to improve the topsoil’s inherent fertility and assuring that future generations will be able to live off the land. Good soil structure, which both increases the capability of letting water enter and stay, is a result of a living, humus-generating soil.

«If the topsoil is healthy , the harvest will grow of its own accord», says Mr. Næss. Organic farming is based on increasing biological diversity in the topsoil such that cooperation between microorganisms and plant roots is as good as possible.

Having showed us the field trial of “Live topsoil”, we followed Mr Næss to another part of the cornfield where he and his partners from Økologisk spesialkorn were growing various types of old types of grain next to each other. This project is called Smakskorn meaning Grain of taste. Its objective is to produce a series of organically made everyday products using a type of rye called svedjerug  which was originally imported to Norway by Finns who practised slash-and-burn agriculture from the 1600s onwards. Other types include spelt, naked oat and naked barley, which is a form of domesticated barley with an easier-to-remove hull.

According to this document old types og grain give the following:

  • better yield than modern ones in fields where artificial fertilisers aren’t used.
  • large genetic variation facilitates further development for adaptation to climate change, different growing conditions, etc.
  • taste and baking characteristics suitable for good and tasty bakery products.
  • some old types of grain contain a high level of protein, E vitamin and dietary elements.
  • in general, a lower level of gluten makes bakery products made from old grain types edible for people with food intolerance.
  • many people want to buy flour and bakery products with a rich cultural history.
  • svedjerug can be grown in alkaline soil and one seed may give 1000 new grains.

After having finished a very interesting visit in a cornfield, we should follow Mr Næss to the flour mill of Økologisk spesialkorn, but I had to leave because I should help someone harvest hay.

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