This week continues from the previous week’s ‘Farmer Views on Soil Health’ post.

As we noted, the past several years there’s been more attention and focus on soil health in agriculture.  Not all soils are the same and different places around the world may require different approaches.  Many farmers have been working on and testing different methods for improving soil well before it was on the radar of everyone – to learn more see the Precision Ag, Water, Soil section of the GFN website, and the Soil Health Institute is a very authoritative resource to learn more from if you are interested in the topic.

We queried some members of the Global Farmer Network to get their thoughts on two questions, and posted some brief responses last week from Africa, Asia, North America and Europe.  This week for Part 2 we have responses from Argentina and Brazil in South America from farms where no-till has been practiced for over 40 years, and New Jersey in the Eastern U.S.

 

Argentina – Roberto Peiretti (founding member of Aapresid, Argentian Farmers No-Till Association)

What are you doing to increase the soil health of your farm?

In fact, many things. Below I am listing what I consider as more relevant.

Fully applying the principles on which the No Till System (Conservation Ag) is based on as:

a.) Avoidance of mechanical soil tillage.

b.)  While cultivating and raising and harvesting crops, aiming to achieve a permanent soil covered stage.

c.) Fully applying rotation principle not only for the crops we cultivate if not for the chemical principles we utilize in the Ag, Chemicals, fertilizers, etc.

d.) Utilization as cover/service crops as intensively as the agroecosystem conditions allow us.

e.) Fully returning to the soil the nutrients we pick up out of the agroecosystem by taking the grains and/or other parts of the plants.

f.) Adding as much carbon as possible to the system. Carbon is not a direct nutrient for the soil but is the keystone for a proper (and better) soil functioning.

 

How important is soil health to your farm’s economic and environmental sustainability?

In fact, achieving a good soil health status is central key issue to be able to:

a.) Improve the efficiency (improving the output/input relationship or obtaining more by the same or even more by less…

b.) A good soil health will allow a stronger microbiology to be present within our soils which in turn will speed up the nutrient recycling, the nutrient mineralization and solubilization which at the end of the day means more nutrients available for plants and hence better yields which less cost.

c.) A soil with good health means a soil and agroecosystem more resilient in front of the environmental and biological constraint that in many cases prevent the achievement of a good agroecosystem functioning.

Overall a good soil health allows or facilitate an improvement or increase of the economic performance at farming not only on the present by looking at the future (achievement of a sustainability stage and even land improvement stage while managing our agroecosystem and producing our crops).

*Note – check @PeirettiRobert on Twitter where you will see improving soil is Roberto’s passion.

_____

Brazil – Richard Dijkstra

What are you doing to increase the soil health of your farm?

We’ve practiced no-till since 1976 to control soil erosion. In the first years we had to learn how to no-till because at the time we had not the right machinery, post emergence herbicides, we didn’t know about crop rotation and cover crops.

In addition, we tested different cover crops in the 80’s to look for the best crop rotation for our region. Today we plant 60-70% of soybeans and 30 to 40% of corn in the summertime and in the winter, we plant 30-40 % of cover crops, mostly black oats, 1/3 of Barley and 1/3 of wheat. We can sometimes plant a cover crop after harvesting the early corn (February), so it gives a good mulch until we can´t plant the wheat (June). With these techniques we can see the organic matter increasing every year, going up to 6,5 % in some plots. Also, soil fertility is increasing year by year.

We always use the best genetics available for us, planting GMO and non-GMO crops to use different brands of herbicides, trying to keep resistance weeds far away from our farm. Unfortunately, our neighbors do not do it and they spread the seeds to everyone.

Fertilizing, liming and applying gypsum to our soils in variable rate based on soil samples, and applying nitrogen on wheat based on the NDVI map are tools that make us use only what and where it’s really necessary to apply these inputs.

Also we practice IPM – Integrated Pest Management (MIP – Manejo Integrado de Pragas and MID – Manejo Integrado de Doenças – here in Brazil). With the IPM we can see every year an increase in the biological control of insects. The “natural enemies” are increasing year by year.

By law, we are obliged to leave 20 % of our farm for natural reserve. (We have 27 %), and we need to protect the borders of river – 30 to 100 m depending on the size of the river for permanent preservation.

Every farmer from our cooperative pays US$10.00/hectare to the ABC Foundation, to do research for the farmers, based on the need of them and testing potential new varieties and hybrids, fertilizers, chemicals to give the best result to the farmer.

 

How important is soil health to your farm’s economic and environmental sustainability?

We farm in Ponta Grossa, in the south of Brazil. The climate here is mild, and generally warm and temperate. Ponta Grossa is a city with a significant rainfall. Even in the driest month there is a lot of rain. The Köppen-Geiger climate classification is Cfb. The temperature here averages 17.5 °C. The average annual rainfall is 1495 mm, but some days we can have very heavy rainstorms with 100 mm of rain in one hour. This rainfall, with rolled land and sandy soils is the perfect combination for soil erosion. In addition, our soils are naturally acidic, with very low amounts of Phosphorus and Potassium.

With the techniques we use on our farm, we are controlling erosion, increasing water absorption in our soils, increasing organic matter and soil fertility.

Soil health means sustainability – environmental, social and economically. We are saving water, saving our soils, saving our business.

____

US, New Jersey – John Rigolizzo

What are you doing to increase the soil health of your farm?  

Our farm is located in South New Jersey where most of our soils are sandy.  We can raise anything here – as long as you feed and water it.  Healthy soil is essential.  Unfortunately, nutrients don’t last long in sandy soil.  This means we cannot plan far in advance to build soil nutrition – the soil is too porous. Cover crops have been used in some areas of New Jersey for many years but the value they bring to us is holding soil and water in place.  They just do not help us hold or build up nutrients for long.  Because of that, we fertilize our crops a bit more than you would in other areas – including northern New Jersey where the soil is different than what we are farming on.  Our best efforts occur when we provide the fertilizer and build up the soil health as it is needed or will be taken up by the crops.    

How important is soil health to your farm’s economic and environmental sustainability?  

Soil health is key to our farm’s productivity, but it is a different challenge every year. We need to manage our decisions constantly – sometimes daily as weather conditions change and soil is impacted – too wet or to dry and anything in between.