Some farmers move toward veganic techniques by default, as manure can be difficult or complex to source in certain regions, or too costly to transport. This can be especially true for large-scale organic farms (including those that produce grains and legumes), where growing cover crops and green manures is often a simpler solution than sourcing and spreading manure.
Growing veganically also provides a much simpler route for farmers and gardeners who want to avoid contaminants. There isn’t enough manure available from organically-raised animals to supply all organic farms, meaning that most farmers and gardeners who purchase manure are acquiring it from conventional animals, and that manure can contain contaminants like pesticides, medications, and heavy metals. Maintaining fertility on-farm using techniques like composting and cover crops is typically simpler than trying to source manure that’s free of contaminants.
While farmers can have animals that produce manure directly on their farm, many veganic farmers find that it’s less time consuming and less expensive to use plant-based fertility techniques instead. If there are animals on the farm, the farmers need to work 365 days a year, whereas plant-based farmers can more easily take breaks, especially in the winter. And there can be more costs on farms with animals related to infrastructure, equipment, feed, and vet bills, as well as more space constraints.
Manure is also more complex to work with because of its pathogen risk, as it can contain harmful bacteria like e. coli and listeria that can contaminate the vegetables and make customers sick. In order to comply with organic standards and reduce pathogen risk, manure may need an extended waiting period before it can be added to the fields. Plant-based fertilizers are simpler to work with, since the pathogen risk is low and you can use them right away without a waiting period. One farmer we spoke with said this was his biggest unexpected benefit to veganic growing, that it reduced his stress levels related to pathogen risk and compliance, and that farming veganically was more relaxing and enjoyable.
And as an added benefit, working with plant-based techniques typically smells better than working with manure. Farms that spread manure can emanate bad odors, often over a significant distance. Beyond the unpleasant smell for farm workers and neighbors, the gasses from manure can also lead to health issues.
When starting to grow veganically, there can be a learning curve and some complexities as farmers transition from manure-based growing techniques to plant-based growing techniques, such as becoming familiar and experienced with green manures and crop rotations. However, from speaking to farmers who made the transition, many of them have happily reported that they’ve ultimately saved time, money, and experienced less stress, and wish they had made the transition sooner.