The Dangers of Voodoo Farming

There’s something about chemical agriculture that is so pervasively attractive to the modern mind that it looks for its cultural properties even in organic farming methods. A sustainable organic farming method balances soil health (which includes microbial health) with plant health and the health of insect and bird communities. When they are in balance, there are few pests. When they are out of balance, the solution is often to create balance. For example, I cured two orchards of peach leaf curl by pruning off all old wood growing below horizontal, with no exceptions except for extremely vigorous new wood that took a short dip before growing upward. Results were 100% reduction in disease, overnight. It worked so well, that I did the same for all twigs with buds harbouring brown rot over the winter. Results were also a 100% reduction in disease. And then there’s this:

One of the things JADAM recommends is to apply caustic soda as an insect-fighting preparation. Yeah? Try this on for size:

Be sure to read that link. How horrible. Thing is, you see, the caustic soda that JADAM recommends has a long rap sheet.

Here, have a quick look:

Skin Corrosion / Irritation:

Category 1 

Human data: A case report showed that a single exposure can induce a permanent alteration in the epidermal maturation process and cause a hyperkeratotic condition of the skin (based on study summary Footnote 1). Another case report described a human subject that had severe chemical burns after exposure to Sodium hydroxide Footnote 2. A 0.5% Sodium hydroxide solution was shown to be an irritant to humans in a 4-hour human patch test Footnote 3, and in 30 volunteers exposed for 1 hour, with about half the volunteers reacting after 1 hour of treatment Footnote 4. Response was so vigorous that exposure for a greater duration was not undertaken at any site. The available human data meet the classification criteria for Skin Corrosion – Category 1 [8.2.2(1)

Category 1 is the highest level of hazard. Another look?

Serious Eye Damage / Eye Irritation:

Category 1

Human data: In a case report, Sodium hydroxide was shown to cause extreme damage in the anterior segment of the eye very quickly Footnote 8. In the worst burns, there is a tendency for the cornea to ulcerate and perforate. In less severe burns, the cornea may become densely vascularized and opaque, resulting in blindness. Another study described the sequelae of alkali burns to the eye as mild-to-severe corneal scarring and vascularization, early corneal slough in the case of massive burns, and early conjunctival slough Footnote 9. Late corneal slough and breakdown can also occur years after the original injury, and may include perforation of the cornea, followed by prolapse of the iris (falling down, or sinking, of the iris) and adherent leukoma (dense, opaque, white opacity of the cornea). Cataracts, inflammation of the uvea (the vascular middle coat of the eye), glaucoma, retinal detachment, inversion of the lower eyelid and the eyelashes, squamous epithelization of the connective tissues forming the eye, adhesion between the eyelid and eyeball, and atrophy of the eye may be later complications. Human data support a Category 1 classification Serious Eye Damage / Eye Irritation.

The irony is that on a functioning organic farm, these treatments are not always even remotely necessary. When there is balance, 100s of species of otherwise harmless wild wasps take care of mites, aphids, and many other pests, as do birds. One would do better to create habitat and food sources to keep them in place for when one needs them. Part of the joy of an organic farm is that you can walk through it and eat anything right there, knowing that it is perfectly safe. I grew up on a toxic commercial farm. I know the difference. It is astounding. But, voodoo? Have a look:

Do we really want JADAM sulphur, when sulphur is already readily available, should it be needed? Do we really want to kill off all bacteria in soil, in order to replace them with a new bacterial mix or risk a horrific wild infection? Do we really want to apply caustic lye, or even plain lye? Is the goal to create a totally dependent environment, which can be sustained only by more JADAM? Is that sustainable? Go ahead, you tell me, because to me this all sounds like this all over again:

Remember this stuff? It claimed to cure all human diseases, including AIDS, cancer, malaria, what have you, some of them overnight. It’s the bleach used in processing wood pulp into white paper, and it will kill you. And would you look at this:

Jim Humble (who wrote that crazy book) retracted it all. I’m sure there’s a lot of good in JADAM, but it should come with a big load of caution, such as: if it sounds like an easy chemical fix, it isn’t. Farming and health aren’t magic. They are, well, farming and health. Here’s how I dealt with a small infestation of plum aphids on an organic farm in Keremeos:

100% effective, but it meant having a band of wild trees along the farm edge to take care of this team member when it wasn’t needed in the plums, and considerable patience waiting for it to come, but come it did. Let’s stop looking for magic, please. Be careful. Look for the consequences, because they’re ultimately what you have to deal with. Those greenhouse workers in Ontario sure know that, Now we all do, too.

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