Drevlyanska System: farming to restore soil fertility
An interesting and unique farming system Drevlyanska was developed at the end of last century, when organic farming in Ukraine was not even known. The author of the System, now Head of the Organic Production Department of Arnika Business Group,Vladimir Ivanyuk told SuperAgronom.com about Drevlyanska System, its benefits as well as new experiments in agriculture and field crops cultivation.
SuperAgronom.com: Please tell us about the Drevlyanska Agricultural System, what inspired you to create it?
Vladimir Ivanyuk: It was developed in the late 90s of last century in Zhytomyr Region production on very poor soils. When some farms did not have sufficient funds to purchase fertilizers and chemicals, they were not receiving harvest. I was a research assistant at that time, and my friends were working in those farms. I decided to help find a way to increase fertility. And through experiments, crop selection, crop rotation and cultivation, this system was developed.
Its main feature is that it is biological without using any fertilizers or chemicals; productivity is achieved primarily by the selection of different crops, often unconventional. Some crops that I started entering in rotation had been used very little or farmers did not know about them at all, there were even some forbidden crops. I discovered that in order to obtain good yields the rotation must contain up to 50% of legumes. The reason is that legumes are the only plants that accumulate nitrogen from the air.
Fertilizers even in organic production are not prohibited; the ones which are chemically enriched are prohibited. Mineral kainite, sylvinite, phosphate flour are allowed. Nitrogen natural fertilizer can no longer be found in the world, we ran out of Chilean nitrate long ago, and nitrogen can only be replenished from the air. This is exactly what legumes do.
SuperAgronom.com: And what makes Drevlyanska System different from all others, and what are its features?
Vladimir Ivanyuk: Each subsequent non-legume crop should be sown after legumes, and it is important to diversify the legumes range. At the time when I just started working with my system, field peas belonged to the banned crops in Ukraine, although Russia and Belarus were sowing it successfully. We have achieved its recognition. In Polissya neither peas nor soybeans can grow or they grow poorly, so I used legumes – spring vetch or field peas.
SuperAgronom.com: What crops other than spring vetch and field peas can be used in rotation?
Generally, when 10 years ago organic production was launched in Ukraine, Drevlyanska System was used in Polissya: spring vetch, field peas and lupine were sown. These crops fight weeds, and they make good precursors for all other crops. Everyone believed that Drevlyanska System was aimed at areas with sufficient moisture, I had the same opinion. But then, having analysed the development of organic and non-organic production, I realized that the system is suitable for all regions, including those with arid conditions. The principle remains the same: up to 50% legumes should be grown in the system, but they will be different for each area, adapted to soil and climatic conditions. Whereas in Polissya vetch, field peas, lupine may be cultivated, then in Poltava peas, soybeans, lentils, will be suitable, and Kherson in its turn will get mash, chickpeas, Kamuthi (the crops successfully grown in the South, but little known in our country).
SuperAgronom.com: Please tell us why you recommend legumes in the rotation?
Vladimir Ivanyuk: I prefer legumes and recommend filling the rotation with this crop for several reasons:
- The marketing component: the legumes ensure consistently high profit; they will always be appreciated and valued.
- This crop is extremely delicate, so no one can dream of a harvest of over 100 kg / ha. So there is no risk of the market glut and prices will remain consistently high.
- Legumes make it possible to maintain high soil fertility, especially in organic production, given that any soils primarily lack nitrogen. They are nitrogen accumulators, providing themselves and future crops with nitrogen.
- Growing legumes creates optimal conditions for useful bacteria, providing them with nourishing substratum. Legumes can create favourable conditions for bacteria feeding, contributing to high microbiological activity of the soil, which is one of the most important indicators of soil fertility.
SuperAgronom.com: What positive changes can be seen when using the system?
Here is an example from my experience: in 1997 when I was growing field peas and oats mixture, I came to the field in Zhytomyr Region to check the progress. And my mechanics said: "The plow is drowning, it can not be adjusted to the desired depth." That is, the soil became so soft and so good that plow was stuck in it. Glay soils are typical for that area, and due to the legumes and activity of soil microorganisms, the soil became so light and soft that you could easily stick the hand into the soil. Useful bacteria produce vital activity products, which kill harmful microorganisms. When we have high biological activity of the soil, there won't be any pests. There shouldn't be just one legumes variety in the rotation. They should be changed to avoid the disease. In other words, Drevlyanska Farming System has two bases: saturation with legumes (50% of total crop area) and their diversity, preferably 3-4 species and the more, the better. They provide technological gaps, they are sown at different periods of time, and the price ranges and risks are reduced.
SuperAgronom.com: How is Drevlyanska System used now and in what farms?
Vladimir Ivanyuk: It is used in organic farms of Polissya as well as in Volyn, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv Regions. I provide consultations for many producers, but particularly now I am developing the system for the operation conditions of Arnika. The system will be completely different in other regions, for instance in
Odessa, Kherson Regions, depending on climate, soil, resources and marketing. This system functions as a designer item; a certain design is adjusted to the specific conditions – soil, climate, and funds, depending on the specialization of a company.
SuperAgronom.com: Do you have any other designs, what are you working at now?
Vladimir Ivanyuk: We are currently working at rather large and interesting experiment, we sow spring vetch in winter wheat. This technology has not been studied yet, so we expect some difficulties. We have launched the experiment to study binary crops or mixes of cereals and legumes. We have 30 varieties of wheat and some were mixed with legume crops: vetch, field peas, and two varieties of lentils, red and green. Out of different varieties we will find those, which will better keep lentils or vetch. We hope to find the best option of legume-wheat mixture. Threshing does not cause any difficulties, harvesting is performed by one combine. There is an issue of further product separation, but modern machinery copes with this task without any problems. We may face another problem of crops multi-ripening. Such studies have not been performed by anyone in the world, so we do not know if this problem will occur. This is a large scientific production experiment.
SuperAgronom.com: What is the purpose of this experiment?
What do we want to achieve through this experiment? First of all, all legumes accumulate nitrogen, and wheat growing close to the legumes will be fed by nitrogen. Secondly, if mixed together diseases and pests less affect these crops. Thirdly, thickening of crops will be more effective in weed control. Overseeding will not cause any difficulties; modern seeding machines easily do the job. Harvesting can be difficult, because the technology has not been studied.
Extremely intensive crop rotation together with intensive crops (corn, soybeans) does not improve the soil condition. We are already in the process of preparing small experiments and we will be expanding them, we are preparing the seeds to sow nutritious green manure crop. For example, having harvested wheat, we instantly sow legumes. We have unintentional positive experiment, vetch crumbles and we do not do anything about it, so we can sow any crops in spring already.
Perhaps if vetch crumbles, we will leave it and sow some crop. After peeling, and quality disking we immediately sow vetch or field peas, and keep them until spring because biological growing standards require the use of cover crops. Then we overseed crops (corn, soy or hemp) where the remains of the predecessor keep out weeds and hold moisture. Further, bacteria decompose these plants and provide nutrition for the next crops.
As a result, several objectives are achieved at the same time:
- Nutrition for the next crop;
- Mulch, which preserves moisture;
- Mulch, which controls weeds.
And we have no possibility with such state of livestock to saturate the soil with organics, so we fill it with legumes. With high legumes filling, farms will mix legume crop rotation with some other crops, such as buckwheat, in order to prevent the development of harmful bacteria. This is done to avoid legume soil fatigue.
Both climate and economic conditions are changing now. Now we aim at Europe and strive to offer the world our organic products: corn and soybeans have gone to New Zealand, the US, Switzerland, we can gradually fill the world markets. The needs in each market are different and we have to meet them all if we want to make profit. Organic farming and use of niche crops are the most promising areas of work in this context.
Thank you for the interesting conversation!