The relationship between man and the earth has always been intense. We have always depended on the fruits which came from the countryside for our survival and for millennia we used only what the earth could provide us with.
The history of agriculture including the domestication of plants and animals developed about 10,000 years ago. Although previous generations had tried to alter flora and fauna for their own benefit by using means such as fire.
Agricultural techniques such as irrigation, crop rotation and the use of fertilizers were developed soon after the Neolithic revolution but have undergone important advances in the last 200 years. In the last century, agriculture in developed countries has been characterised by increases in production, the replacement of a human workforce with machines, the use of fertilizers and pesticides and selective growing.
Even more recently, agriculture has been related to a number of political issues such as; water pollution, the use of fuel, genetically modified organisms, customs duties and agricultural subsidies.
Increasing controls throughout the twentieth century have regulated developments and today agriculture is once again becoming more in tune with our health and the safety and respect of our environment. At the forefront of this change is ecological farming.
ADVANCES IN ECOLOGICAL FARMING
Today, ecological farming is undergoing an important development due to different reasons. Firstly, there is growing awareness that we cannot carry on damaging farmlands and we have to recuperate it from all the negative effects modern farming methods have left on the environment.
There is also a growing concern about the safety of food which compels us to produce and sell healthy food with the optimum amount of nutrients intact and which adhere to even more stringent quality standards.
Ecological production techniques strengthen good biological processes which already occur naturally. In this way we encourage the biological alimentation of plants and control of the organisms which cause plagues and disease.
Ecological production systems are based on crop rotation. Like this we avoid the effects of intensive single-crop farming which debilitates the soil.
Chemical pesticides are not used to control plagues and disease. Likewise, ecological farming techniques favour the sustainable use of natural resources and avoid deteriorating the soil.
Ecological farming promotes health and well-being in the workforce, consumers and society as a whole. It contributes to a sustainable environmental legacy for future generations.
CONSERVATION OF THE LIVING SOIL
In ecological farming the soil is a vital source of sustenance and not just a support mechanism for the plant. The biggest difference between conventional agricultural methods and ecological methods is the way the soil is treated.
Adequate working of the soil and control of the organic material in it ensure that it is in a peak fertile condition.
Millions of living things per cm3 live in the mineral part of the soil. They are responsible for the transformation of the organic material of the humus and the sustainability of the cycle of nutrients. Amongst other things their activity allows for the correct penetration and distribution of air and water in the soil and the correct levels of nutrients for the plants, their absorption in the root system and a favourable environment which discourages plagues and disease.
Humus is the only agent capable of improving the fertility of the soil and at the same time improve its physical, chemical and biological properties.
In short, the health of the plants and their productivity as well as quantity and quality of fruit produced, depend on the correct biological balance of the soil.
Ecological agriculture in a covered environment is crucial to creating the ideal atmosphere which allows the healthy development of the plants while maintaining as far as possible the ideal temperature, humidity and sun exposure. Standards of hygiene and cleanliness must be very high inside the growing area as well as outside in the immediate surroundings in order to prevent disease and possible plagues from entering.
High, bright, well-sealed greenhouses which are also well-ventilated with double doors and anti-insect screens are essential for successful cultivation.
IRRIGATION AND FERTILITY OF THE SOIL
Ecological cultivation techniques aim to maintain the correct level of nutrients in the soil and to disturb it the least possible. The use of different kinds of organic material (compost, environmentally-friendly manure etc..) natural fertilizers, micro elements, injections of micro-organisms and biodynamic preparations constitute the base of correct treatment of the soil.
This type of cultivation makes very efficient use of water as automatic low-flow drip irrigation systems which also increase oxygen uptake from the root.
These systems work by monitoring humidity and the electrical conductivity of the soil, ensuring that each drop of water is used by the plant.
For the correct preservation of the plants it is necessary to provide an adequate diet so that their metabolism is healthy and balanced. Likewise we have to ensure that the soil is live and balanced in an environment where biological pest control is favoured.
In this way, and as a complement to the previously mentioned principals, methods such as using natural predators, using natural or mineral substances obtained from plants, adhesive traps, grafts to increase root volume and protection against possible soil problems and physical barriers, all geared towards achieving biological control over disease, plagues and extraneous plants. Careful and gentle handling of the plants also protects them against bruising and unnecessary damage which many times are the main cause of disease which can wipe out an entire crop.
Once the crop has finished, vegetable waste and some secondary elements used during cultivation such as biodegradable raffia are collected straight away and put into containers which are sent to a composting centre where they are turned into compost. This ensures that the soil carries on being regenerated.
Other waste products such as plastic, and secondary materials once they have reached the end of their useful life are collected and sent to authorised recycling centres.
All waste material generated by ecological agriculture is disposed of responsibly without harming the environment.