The FTS Sustainable Farming School

The typical reason for a farmer to change from chemical agriculture to organic agriculture is the financial squeeze between rising input cost and stagnating revenue for his products. They hear that there is better pay for the organic paddy and see a way out.

Often they have no knowledge about the why and how of organic agriculture or some anecdotal knowledge from their neighbors that have already turned to organic. Their heads are still full of the decade long preachings about the need for NPK, Urea, chemical plant protection and so on that has been preached by the agricultural extention officers.

What they then learn quickly is the negative list: You must not apply such and such. While the International Organic Certification Systems also aim to give a positive blueprint sustainable and organic agriculture it is a pitty that the Audits mostly focus on negative lists, things you must not do to be organic. This is the crux with any system of law that it has to rely on policing that penalizes behaviour that is against the rules but can reward positive actions only by a "you are still a member of the club".

Based on these large group mechanics of social interaction "new converts" to organic agriculture learn firstly the "what not" but not the "why not" and as important the how to do it differently and why.

This is where our farmers school comes into play. We remind on the many reasons to be proud to be a farmers, we not only give the fact that farmers are the foundation of society but also give the why and the history of their important role. They learn about the big picture: energy balance of Urea Production, the limitations of Phosphorus, the cost of conventional agriculture under full cost considerations but also about the local application: The changes in their soil brought about by the typical local Urea and NPK application, the role of organic matter and how to rebuild it, how to increase soil fertility, cost monitoring and easy methods to record cost and profits to determine the development of financial results.

If you want to learn more you can find our internal guidance document of 2016 HERE that we used in preparation of our farmers school.

At our Farmers summer meeting 2015 Bruno gave an educational / motivational speech to lay some groundwork for new members and clarify our position on agriculture, its part in society and the role of organic farming.

Beware: It is a long but hopefully interesting read. You can reach the page via this link

This Link gives you access to our guidance document for the development of the Organic Farmers School

Guidance document for the development of FTS Organic farmers school

The aim of the the training is to share know how of the fundamentals of organic farming, certification and trade. We need well trained people to work for the network and FTST.

Many groups think that big size is the most important factor to be successful. Get as many members as possible with as many rai as possible. They go soft on inspections and even fraud documents to fulfil the organic regulations on paper.

Our focus is on quality. Good agricultural practice, members that do not fraud, no compromise in practice and documentation. This way we have built a reputation as one of the very reliable partners and are sold out every year.

Yes, we also grow in size but foremost we will always focus on quality and productivity.

For that we need well educated members. To increase your production and lowering the cost at the same time needs knowledge, this we hope to provide the better knowhow will also enable you to take more responsibility in and develop the network better.

Training will be divided to small group of around 30 people per 1 group, in total will be about 10-12 groups. Members in one group should stay together to build group coherence. It will be good to mix people from different villages to build more links inside the network.

Members have to attend the training once a month, about 2 hours a day while they are free from farm work. 2 month each during planting and harvesting will be without trainings.

The training will be grouped together day after day so that each month also has some training free weeks for the team.

Training subject will begin from learning the organizations that they are participated and member’s roles, organic & Fairtrade rules and benefits, principles of organic agriculture, soil and yield improvement, seed selection and more topics that will be useful for organic farming practice.

Training will be both in the classroom and field training depend on which is more suitable for that subject. In field trainings smaller sub groups will be set up of about 10 people.

Trainings will have complete scripts in writing that will be reviewed by Bruno.

Each training will have one segment in which of the members talks about a practical aspect of his work (best of breed).

Each training will have a segment that brings in the broader perspective by Bruno.

Member who did not attend in any class must try to find the order training day and join the other group to cover the class that he/she missing within that month.

The questions asked during the classes will be recorded systematically and answered latest during the next training session which will always start with a summary of last session topic.

After each training round the teaching expertise should be at its best regarding the subject.

Each training classes will be record in order to reuse them for the next training class and to incorporate the know-how, questions-answers and to produce our training documentary for future usage.

Afterwards a transcript will be made to allow usage in other settings also.

Training topics will be finalized over time.

Training material will be collected in Evernote “Organic Farming Knowhow”

FTST and Network will seek for experts in many different fields as source of know how and as co trainers to educate our member in order to learn from as many sources as possible. We must take care to not introduce conventional thinking and principles by external experts.

will have 1 hand book which have listed the training subject, member who finish 1 class will get stamp on that subject. Minimum attendance rate of participation is 70% and this is needed to qualify for selling right of their paddy end of the year.

On the soil improvement and seed selection, each group will gain small amount of free funds to work on their trial project together. The funds is finance by FTS network if the board agrees, otherwise be FTST.. Production from trial project will be distributed among members of each group fairly.

Only member who have participation rate 50% and above to be qualify in funding project.

We will provide snack and beverage for attendees, members have to cover cost of travelling to the training locations by themselves.

Payment to external trainers, documents, tools and training materials, training location and personal are providing by FTST.

Speech Manuscript 2015 : Laying the ground

This speech was given in a somewhat shorter form at the 2015 fall farmers network members meeting.

It gives a good insight into our ideas, goals and plans for our engagement in Amnatcharoen and may contain the one or other information you may be able to use on your own.

Since I was 17 years of age I have worked in the organic food industry.

The last 40 years were an exciting journey.

Would I again be choosing a career path I would choose the same.

I have worked in many national and international organisations of the organic industry but earned my money always as an organic entrepreneur.

Together with my parents I did run one of the first organic meat processing plants in Germany

Later I produced organic vegetarian products

Later I set up a large plant for the production of organic rice milk and soy milk.

Because we bought large quantities of rice and soya for that plant I also started to trade organic rice and soya to other industries.

One of my customer was a large baby food plant that needed very pure rice.

For that I went to Thailand and identified Isaan as the place where I could get this pure rice.

Ananya and I looked at many provinces, I supported and sponsored a lot of groups and in the end decided to focus on Amantcharoen.

Today this babyfood customer still gets his rice from me but I source it out of India because he needs non aromatic rice.

While I did not find, what I originally looked for I found something much better:

A beautiful country with charming people, an exciting project and last but not least a wonderful wife to marry.

Until now I have not made any profit from my engagement here in Thailand but I am confident that in some years I will have earned my investments back and then will start to make a moderate profit too.

What is the opportunity for organic products in the world market ?

Let me say only a few words regarding the opportunity for organic products in the world market.

A lot of people look for organic products.

At the moment the demand for organic Hom Mali is higher than production.

A situation like this encourages more production.

Some of the producers will try to take shortcuts and cheat to offer certified organic.

Earlier or later these will fail.

The ones that do a diligent and thorough job like you and us will survive.

As the frauders put price pressure on the market we have to increase our cost competitiveness also and we have to build our long term relations in the market.

This is what we concentrate on and why we work today with you, the 350 who work with us after starting with 1200 famers when we came to the province.

Let me now come to the main topic of my talk.

What is the impact of industrial agriculture

When we talk about industrial agriculture we not only talk about NPK, Urea, insecticides and herbicides but about a system that stands for easy solutions.

Too little yield? More NPK and Urea

Insects? Spray insecticides

unwanted herbs? Spray herbicides

The professors, producers of chemical fertilizers and sprays did show amazing results. Yields increased at moderate financial layout. Easy solutions that show good results and allow a whole supply industry to flourish will build strong a support base and advocacy so that soon all professors and agricultural schools tell the same story all over the world:

You need NPK fertilizer and agrochemicals to do successful agriculture and if some helps some, more helps more and A LOT helps most.

The growth in agriculture needed in fact three important components to develop as it has done:

First - development of easy and cheap international trade and transport

Second - development and introduction of agricultural machinery to replace human and animal labor

Third - the development of the Haber Bosch Process to produce large quantity of Nitrogen fertilizer

The rise of international trade

Without substantial international trade there would hardly be a market for Hom Mali rice around the world.

It is beneficial to many to exchange goods that are can be grown or harvested or mined at one or a few regions in the world only.

So if only the countries in our region: Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam can produce highly aromatic rice of the Hom Mali type consumers in other parts of the world are happy that they can buy it.

Before the development of the sugar beet. people in Europe were so happy when they could buy sugar, grown in sunny, southern countries.

Pepper was so precious that it was weighted in gold when it arrived in Europe. it was served only on the table on the rich and then often only the a few selected folk sitting at the table of the ruler and all the others at the many other tables in the feast hall could only look on.

But times have changed. International trade has become so efficient and cheap that Pepper today is in every kitchen cupboard in Germany.

Until the 1970s you or your neighbors had to grow the food for the animals if you wanted to produce meat or milk or eggs. The excrements of the animals returned to the land where it was grown. Efficient recycling of nutrients took place.

Today the feedstuff for the pigs, chicken and cattle that are raised for example in Thailand and China is grown in Brazil, large parts of precious rain forest have been cut down to grow the soya to export to make into cattle- pig- and poultry feed.

In Argentina some of the largest underground reserves of water that is as old as the oil reserves in the Middle east are depleted to grow feed crops for the lasting hunger in Europe and America and the growing asian hunger for meat.

Where the animals are fed in the industrial installations you find all over Thailand you have the same problem that you have in the skytrain in Bangkok when winter comes: one catches a cold and soon many many that ride the Skytrain are ill also and spread the flue further.

To prevent spreading of disease a lot of medication is given to the industrially raised animals.

They are also feed a lot of hormones because that makes them grow bigger faster with less food.

But I mean that is fine, isn't it. Everybody is happy. Everybody can eat more meat and buy it cheaper. Why should anything be wrong with that?

Eating a prison chicken and a local chicken side by side gives you part of the answer.

But the more important points are these:

Profits are made privat, cost are made public

The excrements of the millions of animals that are raised in Thailand in animal prison camps stays in the country and it is way too much to be metabolized by the soil and the plants in the fields. Large amounts seep into the ground water making it poisonous.

In northern Germany, close to the ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven where the big ships with feedstuff arrives a large animal industry has established itself. Chicken stables that grow more chicken than you have people in all of Ubon Ratchathani are very common.

Over some decades now so much excrements have flooded the fields and seeped into the groundwater that in some regions as big as from here to Ubon no single well gives drinkable water any more. If you would drink it regularly you would turn blue and die from inner suffocation because the nitrate in is would block you oxygen uptake.

There are huge huge cost involved. Who do you think paid for the pipelines that needed to be built to bring in water from far away regions of Germany? The big corporations that mostly owned the animal prisons farms? Your bet! First they position the groundwater, then the taxpayer has to set up infrastructure so that the same companies get healthy water to feed their animals.

Some of the craze is starting to get more balanced but a very important principle of industrial agriculture is as follows:

Valuable Resources are plundered to supply the agri industry with cheap inputs, the adverse effects it has on the environment are put on the shoulders of all.

The belief that industrial agriculture is a blessing to all, is a myth repeated by those that do not know better and a blatant lie by those that know the facts but, because they make the profits from, it play down the negative effects on the world around them.

Also here in Thailand the most of the NPK thrown on the fields do not end in the rice but in the runoff. In the ponds, in the streams and rivers. A lot of the feeds planted in Brazil killing the Amazonian Rain forest that is so important to keep the words climate in balance do not end as meat on our table but are again exported by large conglomerates.

What they leave here with us is groundwater that is undrinkable, hormones in the drinking water that unbalance the male and female growing cycle.

Polluted rivers that carry the heavy overload of fertilizer into the sea where algae grow as never before sucking the oxygen out of the water and killing fish, shrimps and other form of life.

A lot of the runoff of US industrial agriculture ends in the Gulf of Mexico. The dead zone - an area where no fish, no shrimp, no jellyfish, even no plant can live - has grown to the size that the whole of Amantcharoen province can drown in it 5 times over. It is a dessert made from water.

The sea plays a most important role for the life on land. Without live in the seas there will be no life on the land.

The huge damage done is not paid by the the people that did the damage: It is not paid by the fertilizer industry that created a system that makes 90% of the stuff put on the soil wash off or gas into the air producing greenhouse gas, It is not paid by the college professors that taught the farmers how grow more while killing their land slowly and it is also not paid by politicians that were not brave enough to go against the agro-financial-complex to initiate more sound systems in which the cost are on those that reap the profits.

As long as an international system prevails under which a lost of cost stay covered up and the profits only go into the pockets of a few while the cost are on the shoulders of many that life today and more that will live in the future we only can do what is in our sphere of influence to make things better at least where we life.

The influence of the introduction of machinery into agriculture

Some technical innovations are a huge blessing. Think about when the use of iron tools began. Imagine yourself harvesting your field without a sickle made from steel, imagine yourself working the field only with tools from wood, horn or stone.

The early technological inventions were a blessing for the farming community

but

The same time the sickle was invented the sword of steel and the arrow with an iron tip were invented too.

Tools to make a living and tools to kill went hand in hand.

This principle is true for all technical inventions. See the bright side but do not overlook the dark side too.

If something looks too good you possibly overlooked something important

Lets come to the recent innovations that have played an important role in the change in agriculture here in Amantcharoen:

Who of you has still plowed with the buffalo?

Who of you has threshed the grain still by hand?

Who of you has pounded the rice still by hand to get the husk of so you can cook it?

When did you start using the mechanical buffalo?

Today there is hardly a farmer that has no mechanical buffalo, right?

But now the next step of mechanisation is at our door: combine harvesters.

How many of you did buy a combine harvester for your own farm only?

Why not?

Too expensive! Too big!

"Before the motor is warm I am done with my whole farm"

How do you do it then? You rent the machine and pay per usage.

Not a bad system overall, the only problem is that you suddenly have another party that wants to make money from your farm. Where before you if one would not want to come to harvest you could find many other to do the job. The combine harvesters are not so many, so potentially their price is high and potentially the money remaining for yourself may become less if the savings are not bigger than the cost.

If I see the big combine harvesters used here and compare them to the ones used in Italy or California I must smile.

While the combine harvesters here are big in relation to the farms they are tiny compared to

Here we see a principle of industrial agriculture:

bigger investments, less work, more concentration of resources and usually more profit and property concentrated in the hands of a few.

We will look at this aspect of industrial agriculture more when we meet during the following year for our monthly learning sessions,

A short remark about my position to combine harvesters

Using combine harvesters needs harvesting at a much earlier stage.

The big machine handles the rice plant more rough and if the plant is already too dry too much grain is lost in the field.

You end with a lot of very wet grain. Finding enough surface to dry it is not easy and if the weather is not very good you will need to sell the wet grain at very low price to a mill that has a dryer.

I am convinced that combine harvesters squeeze the farmers profit out at both ends: at harvesting cost but more importantly at selling price.

Our own problem is that we will loose the organic paddy that needs to be sold to a mill with dryer. You loose the organic premium, the network loses the fairtrade premium and the support allowance we pay per ton of organic paddy we buy.

We are now working to find a middle ground. I have identified machines that are about 100K THB that you can put in front your iron buffalo and cut about 1 rai in one hour. I have found another machine that cost about 250k that does the same but also binds the grain into bundles at the same time.

We are working to get one machine each to do some trials during this harvest. I hope they arrive in time.

My vision is that the network will have a pool of machines and will rent the service out to members at cost which should result in cheaper total cost than combine harvester and giving a more stable and easily handable product.

Human feeding experiment as a parable to industrial agriculture

Let me compare plant nutrition with the nutrition of people

NPK is Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (with the chemical symbol of K)

These are the 3 main nutrients for plants.

What are the three main nutrients for humans:

Protein, Sugar and Fat.

If you feed to a group of very underfed person ( a group coming from a hunger region of Africa) a small amount of balanced mixture of pure protein, pure sugar and pure fat you will see wonderful results. they will not continue to starve and eventually die but will put meat on the bones, get stronger, build muscle.

Great! It works, so let's feed them more protein, sugar and fat. See and behold: They get even better. You have solved the problem: Feed the right mixture of pure proteins, sugar and fat to starving people and you will have them back on their feet in no time.

Because more helped more, you give them as much as they can eat.

Hm.

People start to get fat.

They start to have sores on their legs.

Less babies are born.

The few babies that are born are weak and ill.

Teeth start to fall out.

Hair start to fall out.

If you stay far enough from them things still look fine. They still look much better than the mere skeletons they were when they started the feeding project.

After some years you have to stop the project because too many people die of heart disease, cancer, diabetes or just get weak and perish from a flue or a multitude of other illnesses.

This experiment was realy done. Not with humans but with animals that have a similar physiology: pigs, rats, monkeys.

NPK fertilizer als the easy solution to the problem of plant nourishment

NPK fertilizer on the field has pretty the same effects.

Put it on an undernourished field and you will see positive results.

Put it on too much and too long the field will die.

If you do not use NPK fertilizer you will not get the highest possible crop. Full stop.

But what if you use it, will you get good yields consistently?

One farmer came to us these days and asked if we do not want to buy his land. He can not grow anything anymore. His land is too high and the rain he gets runs off quickly and can not feed the plants.

Wait a minute. Why did he not try to sell 20 years ago? Why does the land do not bear fruit anymore only recently?

Agreed, rain is unpredictable and has gotten more unstable the last years but if I look around I see a lot of fields that have a lot of rice growing.

Because our time is limited let me today only take a closer look at the N of NPK.

Nitrogen is everywhere. 4 out of 5 parts of our air are Nitrogen.

Nitrogen is the most important building block of proteins. Without proteins there would be no life.

Nitrogen is also the most important ingredient in explosives.

The invention of the HaberBosch Process about a hundred years ago in Germany made it possible to take the Nitrogen out of the air and with a lot of energy from natural gas or coal make it into a form of Nitrogen, that you can hold in your hands called Ammonia.

The first big plants were built in Germany to produce ingredients for ammunition and bombs during the first word war.

A really big boost in the production of Ammonia was the second world war when all parties needed much more explosives than they could mine from deposits in nature.

After the war this production capacity was put to usage in agricultural and the so called industrial agricultural revolution began.

For some decades a picture of agriculture evolved that reduced the soil simply to something to grow the roots in so that the plants did not fall over while the chemical NPK and Urea which is another form of chemical Nitrogen fertilizer would nourish the plants and give them healthy growth.

Watch out: Whenever you find a very easy solution to a large scale problem in the living world be sure that your solution is too simple.

Lets come back to the farmer that offered his lands to Ananya because he could not grow anything anymore.

What had happened?

Because he treated his land like nothing but dirt, his soil became nothing than dirt.

Let’s talk for some minutes about healthy soil.

Soil is more than dirt. In a healthy soil you have a multitude of life from all families of life: animals, plants, fungi and single cell organisms like bacteria.

If you stand of intact living soil under the surface that is covered by a single foot of yours more than 400 kilometer of fungi will be found. In a spoonful of healthy soil you will find millions of single cell living beings. Under a square meter of healthy soil you will find thousands of small and smaller animals, some you can see with your normal sight, for some you will need a very good magnifying glass.

From the roots of former generations of plants, from plant residues that have been pulled into the soil by the animals that life in it and from other plant material you may have plowed under you will find a healthy percentage of organic matter in the soil.

A good soil has 2-5% of humus and 5-8% of total organic matter of which humus is a part.

What is the average organic matter here in Amantcharoen?

Give me a guess!

According to the office of land development it is 0,4%!

We are far away from the minimum of 2.5% that is considered even in industrial agriculture to be a sustainable level.

Organic matter comes in two forms.

One form is humus. Although it is possibly the most important part of a healthy and productive soil it is not fully understood until today.

What we know is that it is broken down parts of plants, animals and bacteria which are not chemically altered. Humus in the soil is the barn and stable of the soil. It stores and buffers water and nutrients and gives living space to bacteria, fungi and small animal life. It makes the soil porous so that air and nutrients can pass through. Humus suppress diseases and in the clay rich soil type we have here the humus is mostly attached to clay.

When air can circulate into the soil it will bind other nutrients in forms that are readily available to plants.

Humus is very stable and will survive normally for hundreds of years. About half of organic matter is normally humus.

Another 10-40% are bacteria.

Less stable forms of organic matter will decompose within years or a few decades and will release the nutrients over this time.

In healthy soils most plant nutrition is not brought in by pickup or pushcart but by microbiological and fungal processes and from digestion of remains of plants and animal excrements. When I say animals am not talking cow or buffalo but worms, bugs and such.

I concede that the excrement of a small bug is very very small compared to a cow dropping but hundreds of thousands of small animals can still produce a lot of excrements and the nice thing is that it is finely dispersed throughout the soil just by itself.

Healthy soil is very complex and very hard to understand. It is so complex that analysing it, describing it scientifically is not a very rewarding because it is too complex. There is also no industry interested in healthy soil. If on the other hand you work about a certain form of chemical fertilizer that can be produced, bought and sold you will find easily funding for your scientific work.

That is the reason why we have a vast amount of studies and publications on chemical fertilizers but still one basic building block of life, humus is still little understood.

Remember just a few facts:

Humus is about half of organic matter in the soil.

A very healthy soil has 2-5% of humus and 3-8% of total organic matter.

Im Amant Charoen we have an average of 0,4% of organic matter in the soils

I talked about Humus as the barn and stable of the soil. The bacteria and fungi are your mini mini farm animals. Please remember that also.

Urea: burn, burn away

The N in NPK is usually very reactive while the Nitrogen in the air is in a very stable form which does react with almost nothing under everday living conditions when transfered with a lot of energy input by the Haber Bosch process becomes a first a toxic gas and then is made into Urea.

Urea is the most potent form of chemical Nitrogen fertilizer. You all know that it really works well.

So, if it works well why do we want you to not use it?

Is it because it is not made by nature? Because we believe that anything artificial is bad?

Let me tell you why: Urea degenerates protein. All living being have a lot of protein.

Urea is put on the fields in small granules. These drop and where they drop you have a high concentration of Urea. All life closeby is impaired. Bacteria and fungi are killed, not a lot but quite some and with every application the dying continues.

After the Nitrogen fertilizer is dissolved it is metabolized by bacteria and becomes more reactive. A part is taken up by the plants. The amount depends on a lot of factors but depending on time and amount of application it is between 10 and 50%. The rest of the very reactive Nitrogen looks for other reaction partners.

Part of it is eaten by other bacteria and released as Greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Other reacts with the Humus and breaks it down!

Would you break down your stable willingly? Where would your cow, your pigs go? Either wander off or if the weather is to harsh they may die.

Same here. When the urea lowers the humus content less bacteria and fungi can live in your soil. Less water is stored, less nutrients are stored. A little to long between rains and your plants dry up because the soil can not hold the humidity to feed the plants.

Humus also holds the soil together. Less humus means more soil is swept away in heavy rains.

While Urea and Nitrogen fertilizer in itself are plant nutrients the application of them to the soil reduce the natural fertility of the soil.

THAT is the reason why we the rules of organic agriculture do not allow the application!

We do have alternatives

One bag of NPK fertilizer costs about 400 Bath.

One bag of organic fertilizer you buy costs about 350 bath.

The nutrients in one bag of organic fertilizer is much much less.

Still the price may be o.k. because the organic fertilizer has a different function then chemical fertilizer:

it gives not only nutrients but improves the living conditions in the soil. It brings more animals and builds the stables for them to live in and do their beneficial job for you.

Last year we invited different subgroups to produce organic fertilizer for themselves and the network supplied funding to do so.

The group that took up the challenge did produce excellent quality fertilizer at a cost of 100 Baht per 30kg bag.

This excellent cost is also possible because the Department of Land Development gave us some of the ingredients needed for free. Thank you for that.

I heard from the network committee that production will be enlarged if enough are interested to participate and if the funding can be secured.

The most important jobs for all of us over the next years are

beside following the organic and fairtrade certification rules and producing good quality paddy is

1. to build the humus content and content of total organic matter in the soils

2. to improve the soil as living space for the billions and trillions of small living creatures that will serve you if you serve them.

3. to improve the technology of production so that the agriculture becomes more attractive for the young, easier to manage for the old and more profitable for all.

Our training program

The training we you all will be invited for 2 hours every month over the next year will address all these issues.

We will learn from you and you will learn from us and together we will gradually and steadily improve in many many many small steps that in the end will bring us forward a lot.

And remember: You would not ripp out wooden beams or planks out of your house to burn when there is a cold day during wintertime. The same way do not use Urea or NPK on any field, it may look like a shortcut to success but only is your longterm loss.

END OF SPEECH MANUSCRIPT

Activities financed with the Fairtrade premium

According to the Fairtrade regulations (see Fairtrade.net) beside a fair price to the farmer additionally a Premium is to be paid to the farmers organization. In our case of Organic Rice it is set at 870 THB/mt of Paddy purchased.

This money is to be used for projects that the General Assembly of FTS Network votes for. As the availability of high quality organic fertilizer is a bottleneck the vote was to invest the accumulated funds into fertilizer Production.

According to the Fairtrade rules 15%

Fertilizer production

Community Projects