Large scale adoption

 

Wicking beds offer many benefits. On a global scale they offer more reliable food production, the ability to combat climate change a method of improving the living standards of low income farmers, and a way for affluent countries to offset their emissions.  It offers farmers a sustainable agricultural system with improved soil quality, that uses less water and make more effective use of both water and nutrients.  It provides communities a way of recycling waste organic material which otherwise presents a hazard to a useful resource.

The farmer obviously benefits from increased production with lower inputs of nutrients and water and improved soil quality.  These are the internal benefits for which the farmers receive revenue. However they receive no financial rewards for the external benefits of reduction in green house gases, mitigating climate change, reduced pollution and providing a convenient way of reprocessing waste materials.  The benefits flow to the community at large.

This will only have an impact if applied on a large scale.

The first challenge is to develop the technology suitable for large scale application at the minimum cost.

Wicking beds have already achieved wide spread acceptance in small scale application.

Typically a bed is formed by making a trench.  The bed must be horizontal, typically running along a contour line.

Ideally this would be created by self levelling laser technology but in most cases the level is tested by simply filling with water.
The trench is then lines with plastics film and the distribution pipe positioned.
Typically the pipe may be standard drainage pipe with slots at intervals along its length.
The trench is then filled with organic waste such as wood chips.

Soil is then places on top of the waste material, often creating a raised bed to avoid flooding in heavy rain.  The crop is grown in the actual bed itself.

This works very well which is justified for high value crops.

The challenge is to create a system which can be used in large scale agriculture at a low cost.

Beds can be made much narrower often with the crop growing outside the bed with water wicking up and over to supply the roots.

Distribution pipes are the major cost in a traditional wicking bed.  Bamboo makes a cheap alternative.
Bubble wrap is another cheap way of allowing flow along the bed.
Even sticks (covered with a layer of film) are very effective in allowing flow.
But separate wicking beds can be linked together so water flows from one bed to the next.  This enables large areas to be irrigated.
Simply an inlet pipe delivers water to the bed and any excess water flows down the outlet pipe to feed the next bed. Even if the water flow rate is very low, water will lowly trickle in feeding all the beds.
If the inlet and outlet pipes are a the end of a bed the liner can be wrapped over the top to prevent silting. The pipes can enter and exit at any point along the bed, in which case a piece of film can cover the junction. 

 

Even with these methods there are still costs in setting establishing the wicking beds, this may not be too much of a problem in developed countries with an affluent farming system; however the bulk of the farming community is not affluent and is based in developing countries where up front cash dominates action.

These less affluent farmers need financial assisting to establishing large scale application.  Carbon trading, even at moderate price levels would pay for these establishment costs.  Money however is only part of the problem; individual farmers are unlikely to have the time or expertise to take advantage of the unfortunately complex process of carbon trading.

Local Governments or specialist companies may have the expertise, or at least can readily acquire the expertise.  They also have access to machinery which would help the installation of the beds.  Local Governments also often have major problems with disposal of organic waste.  Often it end up in land fill or is burned, both negatives for climate change.  This simply needs slashing to provide filling for the wicking beds.

Local Governments are also responsible for native forests which can provide major fuel for bush fires which will undoubtedly be part of the climate change scene.  Controlled burning is often adopted as a solution but this is incredibly wasteful and dangerous.  However modern slashing machines can clear forest undergrowth very rapidly providing filling for the wicking beds.

Sewage is also another problem that local Governments have to contend with.  Most countries do not accept the use of sewage or sewage water in agriculture for fear of pathogens.  However wicking beds can operate on a double pass system.  Sewage can be used to irrigate and provide nutrients in separate wicking beds which are used to grow trees which are then pruned to provide filling for the food producing wicking beds.

Fast growing trees can be selected which absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide.  With the appropriate selection they can also ‘mine’ key nutrients like phosphorous and potassium which are then captured in the prunings.  This would relieve pressure on the world’s resources which are coming under increasing pressure, particularly phosphorous.

Local Governments are best suited to provide a complete package, collecting revenue from carbon trading for the farmers, providing them with organic material for their wicking beds, together with expertise and may be with the use of machinery.


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