Natural Cyclic Sustenance approaches the idea of plant production where the whole ecosystem is the goal, not simply the plant that catalyzed the creation of the ecosystem. It focuses on root causes, compounding factors, and cascading effects to achieve its goal, instead of addressing a problem on simply its visible scale. In this way we can generate long term solutions to problems in a plants life cycle, rather than focus on one harvest at a time, as well as recognize that processes occur on many different scales and the more scales that get utilized, the more established consistent quantity and quality become. A result of the clandestine, high risk, and fleeting nature of the cannabis production in the past, certain attitudes in regards to time frames, demands, and profits have become established into the mental framework of growers and many sustainable agriculture practices that have been adopted by mainstream farmers are overlooked. As cannabis steps forward into mainstream agriculture these long term strategies reveal themselves as viable options moving forward.

When looking to achieve the proper function conditioning of natural riparian areas, one looks to the limiting factor, identifies it, than looks to create an environment that bolsters that limiting factor. If water quality is the issue, focus on the plant life in the stream and on the banks, as they are going to act as a water filtration system. If plant life is the issue focus on catching sediment and creating venues for growth. If sediment is the limiting factor, focus on what is going on up gradient in the watershed. In this way you create a support system rather than a balancing act and you truly realize the cycle of a functioning ecosystem that produces extreme quality.

Using this perspective we can strive to create the proper function condition of the cannabis environment. Rather than attempting to give the plant exactly what it needs when it needs it, we attempt to mimic and catalyze the cycles in nature that will generate the desired end product over the course of generations. Many of the problems associated with current production facilities in terms of loss of yields due to insect and microbial pressures, overestimation of THC/CBD/terpene contents/yields due to unregulated pesticide/nutrient use in illegal grows, underestimation of costs due to economic assumptions based on illegal operations, and mediocre terpene profiles due to genetic selection based on THC content are mitigated by utilizing these cycles. An IPM strategy based on permitted pesticide applications reveals itself as a fleeting and costly solution. Understanding the science behind how nature uses equilibrium to deal with herbivore pressures reduces costs, increases efficacy of IPM strategies, as well as lowering the acceleration and pressure of insect and microbial pests. Plants, especially cannabis, have natural defense system to react to and defend against stress pressures in its environment.

But to maximize these defense systems, the environment in which the evolved in should be mimicked. These plants have been evolving in tandem for millions of years with every chemical finding its niche, where as the cannabis genetics of the past fifty years have been selected for what will get the grower the most money without going to jail, leading to unstable hybrids and qualities that can only be achieved by practices surmounting to plant abuse, essentially removing the medicinal value of these plants. How can a plant be medicinal where the second most concentrated compound in its flowers are a pesticide or a fertilizer? Just as with all plants, nature finds a way to create the strongest varieties, why would marijuana be any different? Overtime this will lead to established ecosystems designed at promoting a cannabis forest, creating the highest above ground biomass possible, potentially generating multiple revenue streams, and lowering overall costs throughout the lifetime of the operation.

This means taking into account the climactic environment, the soil environment, and the biotic environment. Neither are more important than the other, and they all come into play when creating an ecosystem. Each compliment one another and focusing how they fit together in the big picture rather than focusing on maximizing one component will ultimately lead to a successful and consistent harvest cycle after cycle. Conventional farming methods are notorious for having unstable yields throughout decades of plug fertilizer inputs, and are even more notorious for having a stable increase in nutrient demand. As a result, it largely relies on the hope that those nutrients don’t run out of the root zone before the plant has a chance to utilize them. Natural cyclic sustenance looks to tie up these nutrients in the fluctuating geologic, chemical, and biotic environments that makes up the cannabis ecosystem. This means looking to natural systems to identify the components in this ecosystem so as to create the most resilient and low input growing environment possible. This will reduce costs, but also create a plant more rich in terpenes, aromatics, saponins, and over all quality in experience than a conventional or hydroponic factor production facility. Mainstream medical acceptance of cannabis will spur interest and research into components of cannabis that are not THC and CBD. This will increase the value of genetics that can express those qualities. Additionally, the value of less problematic environments that provide venues of genetic expression without the macro and micro stresses of harsh IPM practices,salt build up, and other short comings of conventional methods will increase exponentially.

There are over 400 individual compounds in marijuana that range in usefulness over dozens of industries. By a creating a product with multiple avenues of usefulness you also create an economic buffer against market fluctuations. For instance, THCV is a noticeably and somewhat annoying appetite suppressant. It cannot be synthesized more efficiently by any other process than the production of cannabis. This compound would be worth millions in the diet and nutrition industries. Normally certain strains are able to create levels at the 0.2% – 0.5% levels, but an organic grow called TJ’s Organic Gardens were able to achieve a level of THCV at 1% the total mass of the flower. This doubling of these types of compounds are only possible through methods that strive to mimic natural situations that require the production of these compounds. This also means that by relying on organic methods, a farmer can further the evolution of the plants genetic expression. Conventional methods have selected phenotypes that display a penchant for discreteness and high THC production rather than the raw aromatics and flavonoids that can be brought out of many strong, land race genetics that evolved in natural situations with infinite vectors of stress that brought out and strengthened novel genetics in this plant. Conventional methods also suppress the natural process that stimulate the production of these compounds in the plant. Plants evolved to produce these compounds inside of them due to environmental cues, more specifically stress. Stresses like drought, physical abrasion, insect and animal grazing, fungal and bacterial pressures, and even sound (Appel et. al.) can influence the chemical make up of a plant, usually increasing plant defenses through a systemic acquired response or a induced system response.

Determining soil fertility poses a daunting task to agronomists and soil scientists alike. Can production be the sole indicator of soil fertility? If you post record yields one year and than yields trail off in the following years, does that indicate a fertile soil or a robust nutrient program in the first year? If you have five years of consistent yields with little to no nutrient additions despite having lower total NPK values than a fertilized field, what does that say about the fertility of a soil? Plants have evolved in millions of years of varied conditions. In that time they have selected mutations that help them flourish to their potential. In almost all ecotypes, nature will have higher above and below ground biomass than that of a farmer or agronomist. It achieves this by integrating a web of life to bind nutrients into the soil in ways that ensure they play active roles in a productive ecosystem. Nature almost treats nutrients like a bank account, always adding in the way of plant detritus, animal scat and eolian dust back to the ecosystem what plant growth, animal grazing, and water flow remove. In these high production agriculture facilities, decades of removal cannot be compensated for by simple anion addition.

Traditionally, nutrient levels and ratios have been the metric for soil fertility. Roots have an amazing ability to control the pH of the rhizosphere, rendering it independent from the overall soil pH. In this way the plant has the ability to solubilize molecules and dictate what it uptakes, as long as the stores are there. In addition, plant roots and mychorrizae have the ability to make nutrients available to bacteria. In this way they support microbial activity that bind nutrients in organic matter, keeping it in the root zone. The mechanism of solubilization of these molecules is through enzymatic activity generated by root exudates or bacterial activity. This enzymatic activity makes available molecules and nutrients to plants that normally would not be soluble in soil solution due to being tied up in complexes. As a consequence of their insolubility, complexed molecules are not subject to runoff unless it is due to loss of structure and colloidal runoff occurs. And this becomes harder when complex proteins are rendered insoluble due to a correctly balanced geochemical cation ratio. This is ingenious when you consider the fact that soluble nutrients need to be restored multiple times throughout the year to compensate for runoff of nutrients. If nutrients are not yet complexed in a manner available to enzymatic catalyzation, these nutrients are most likely tied up in soil fauna which means they are active in current nutrient cycling.

This is the true failure of conventional farming, an inability to prevent nutrient, and for that matter soil, runoff. And for that matter herbicide and pesticide runoff. This effects regional, national, and global water quality, which is a large variable in loss of arable land around the world. It also throws out the balance of natural support systems that keep in check the pressures against environmental stresses. In terms of conventional farming, the farm field is a verified monoculture. It is one species, as any more species would encourage competition for nutrients and light, leading to a less vigorous crop reduced yields, bankruptcy, etc. But in nature you rarely, if ever find a monoculture of species. Typically you will find an ecosystem that is dominated by a single or a collection of plant or animal species, but there really are multitudes of species present, supporting and benefiting from the dominating species. Traditionally considered predatory pest species exist naturally in nature, and they normally predate upon the weakest phenotypes in an ecosystem, as natural plant immune systems protect plants from herbaceous attack. But in natural ecosystems, these pests also have predators which keep population numbers in check. Calculated, sterile environments, where plants are not being selected for their ability to fight off pressures or a rich, diverse chemical profile, tend to breed plants, although other wise seem healthy, that are susceptible to environmental pressures. Pesticides kill off pests and predators alike, either through direct contact and consumption, or the bioaccumulation in pest individuals who than transfer toxic pesticides to predator species. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers accumulate in the environment and a lot of predators will feed upon pollen or detritus in the absence or in addition to prey. This will also transfer toxicity through the food chain leading to an imbalance, which leads to yield loss.

These types of practices can also lead to the unknown factors and known confusion of neighboring farms and land managers. Land condition outside of the control of the land manager can still have extreme effects and mitigating these detriments are easiest with preventative measures. Prevention can lead to, over time, lowered input costs, as you work with nature, a common resource, rather than fight against it. Also by acting in a responsible manner you encourage land managers around you to act in a responsible manner. These cascading effects are the same principles that govern natural cyclic sustenance.

Appel, H. M., and R. B. Cocroft. “Plants Respond to Leaf Vibrations Caused by Insect Herbivore Chewing.” Oecologia, vol. 175, no. 4, Feb. 2014, pp. 1257–1266., doi:10.1007/s00442-014-2995-6.

Categories: Musings

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