Veganic Farming: Food Without Manure
Veganic agriculture is currently a niche and not-well documented method of food production. Farmers following such a system avoid using composted manure, blood-meal, or horn-meal fertilizers and any other animal-derived materials, which are otherwise allowed under current organic regulations. It also excludes bee-keeping, even though wild bees and other pollinators are strongly encouraged. Instead, such farms make use of local ecosystem services provided by the flora and soil micro-fauna.
In this study, researchers from the U.K. chose to analyze the available literature on veganic horticulture regarding its current status among other types of agriculture, the foreseeable challenges for intensive veganic farming and the socio-economics related to a potentially large increase in plant-based dieters.
One report had shown that about 25% of organic German farms had no or very few farmed animals in 2004. The common denominators of such farms were lower labor demands, larger farm sizes, and higher natural soil fertility compared to farmed animal operations. Another researcher had interviewed five veganic farmers in 2014 and found them akin to plant-based eaters – the motives of such farmers to exclude animal inputs are ethical, ecological, and social.
Here, it is important to note that the two widely used terms ‘stockfree’ and ‘vegan organic’ farming refer to identical practices. However, the former is typically used when economic motivation is the main driver for farming organically. The Vegan Organic Network in the U.K. is the most established organization attempting to standardize and help upcoming veganic farmers in a systematic manner.
The issues faced by veganic farmers are similar to those experienced in other organic facilities, but with particular attention to finding suitable methods to break pest and disease cycles, and ensuring a sustained fertility of the soil. While using mixed and rotational cropping methods can take care of the former, the more persistent issue of soil health can be addressed by vigilant monitoring and the application of suitable plant-based composts and mulches. Just as is the case with producing feed in conventional farmed animal systems, there will be a significant land demand in veganic systems. However, with veganic farming, it would be grown in a way that maximizes local biodiversity and compensates for any area that was possibly taken away from natural habitats.
Driven by continuous and steep human population growth, agricultural intensification is unavoidable. In the context of veganic farming, the authors suggest that utilizing greenhouses might be the way to go. Greenhouses provide additional value in that farmers can carry out propagation of plants and seed production there, not to mention the benefits of season extension, out-of-season production and a local supply of fresh produce year-round.
Overall, the researchers conclude that veganic greenhouses are technically and economically feasible, although many organic growers may consider the techniques involved to be more challenging. The methods are generally perceived as “knowledge intensive”, requiring a good general knowledge in organic farming and a proper market to succeed in the long run. However, committed consumers, especially vegans and vegetarians who find veganic growing to be appealing, and community-supported agriculture schemes, could provide a good support for growth in the sector.
The fact that there is an academic interest in vegan organic farming should please animal advocates, as we’ll finally have a system to point to when discussing potential solutions to the fix what we’ve ended up with. Yes, veganic agriculture has its own challenges and has not yet been widely adopted, but that should never be a reason to forego innovation and the promotion of change towards more ethical and sustainable agricultural practices.