Masanobu Fukuoka (1914-), author of The One-Straw Revolution and The Natural Way Of Farming, is one of the pioneers of no-till grain cultivation. Trained as a microbiologist in his native Japan, he began his career as a soil scientist specializing in plant pathology. At age 25, he began to doubt the wisdom of modern agricultural science. He eventually quit his job as a research scientist, returned to his family's farm on the island of Shikoku in Southern Japan, and devoted his life to developing an organic farming system.
The essence of Fukuoka's method is to reproduce natural conditions as closely as possible. There is no plowing, as the seed germinates quite happily on the surface if the right conditions are provided. There is also considerable diversity. A ground cover of clover grows under the grain plants to provide nitrogen. Weeds are also considered part of the ecosystem, periodically cut and allowed to lie on the surface so the nutrients they contain are returned to the soil. Ducks are let into the grain plot at certain times of the year to eat slugs and other pests.
The ground is always covered. As well as the clover and weeds, there is the straw from the previous crop, which is used as mulch, and each grain crop is sown before the previous one is harvested. This is done by broadcasting the seed among the standing crop. Much less seed is used than in conventional growing, resulting in fewer but larger and stronger plants.
In Japan, the Fukuoka method has produced similar yields to chemically grown crops and much work has already been done to adapt it to European conditions, including the work of French farmer Marc Bonfils. It is essentially a small-scale style of growing, suited to small-holdings, as it is one of those methods in which attention to detail replaces heavy work. It takes a great deal of skill to work with grain, clover and weeds in such a way that each fulfills its function in the system without becoming over-vigorous and crowding out one of the others. But all the work involved can easily be done by hand, and labor is reduced by up to 80% compared to other methods.
It is not suited to growing large quantities of grain, like those presently produced in the industrialised world by means of large-scale mechanisation. But the vast majority of this grain goes to feed animals, which could be more efficiently fed by diverse forage systems. Very little is directly eaten by humans and that amount could easily be grown by the Fukuoka method.
The timing and circumstances of Fukuoka's conversion from Western agricultural science, to organic methods, parallel the new movement in the 1940s to organic farming and gardening in Europe and the US, led by pioneers like Sir Albert Howard and Lady Eve Balfour.
Fukuoka continues to lecture around the world.
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