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Archive | Soil Fertility

Sunn Hemp: Soil-Building Superhero with Forage Potential

Sunn hemp, a tropical plant primarily grown as a cover crop or green manure, has increased dramatically in popularity over the last decade. Originally from India, it’s easy to understand what makes it so popular among vegetable and row crop farmers in the United States.

Grazing must be timed appropriately or sunn hemp will grow beyond the reach of foraging livestock.

Sunn hemp possesses many soil-building traits, including high rates of biomass production — over 20 percent greater than crimson clover and hairy vetch in research trials. It is not only resistant to plant root nematodes but actively suppresses them. In as little as 60 to 90 days it can produce 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre and can suppress weeds up to 90 percent.

Sunn Hemp is adapted to a wide variety of soil and environmental conditions, thriving through hot, dry summers and continuing to grow until the first frost. But sunn hemp isn’t just a soil builder — it also offers benefits as a forage producer. Recent on-farm grazing trials have yielded an abundance of information on using this crop for grazing. Continue Reading →

Increasing Soil Organic Matter Through Organic Agriculture

Numerous scientific studies show that soil organic matter provides many benefits for building soil health such as improv­ing the number and biodiversity of beneficial microorganisms that pro­vide nutrients for plants, including fixing nitrogen, as well as controlling soilborne plant diseases. The decom­position of plant and animal residues into SOM can provide all the nutri­ents needed by plants and negate the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers that are responsible for numerous environ­mental problems.

Organic (above) vs. conventional (right). The higher levels of organic matter allow the soil in the organic field to resist erosion in heavy rain events and capture more water.

The year 2015 was declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th UN General Assembly with the theme “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life.” I was particularly pleased with the theme because this is a message that we in the organic sector have been spreading for more than 70 years, and at first we were ridiculed. Now there is a huge body of science showing that what we observed in our farming systems is indeed correct.

“Organic farming” became the dominant name in English-speaking countries for farming systems that eschew toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers through J.I. Rodale’s global magazine Organic Farming and Gar­dening, first published in the United States in the 1940s. Rodale promot­ed this term based on building soil health by the recycling of organic matter through composts, green ma­nures, mulches and cover crops to increase the levels of soil organic matter as one of the primary management techniques.

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Book of the Week: Foundations of Natural Farming

By Harold Willis

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A book, Foundations of Natural Farming, by Harold L. Willis. Copyright 2008, softcover, 367 pages. Regular price: $30.00.

Foundations of Natural Farming by Harold Willis

My, it’s dark down here in the soil. No wonder most people know so little about it. But that’s why we’re here, so let’s learn. Soil is the absolute basis of agriculture, and thus of all human existence, for as we have seen, we either eat plants grown in soil, or animals which eat plants grown in soil. Our soil has been called our most important national resource. Wise use and management of the relatively thin upper layer, the topsoil, is vital for maintaining good health and a high standard of living.

But through misuse, about 7–10 tons of topsoil per acre are being lost to erosion each year in the Midwest (the figure can be much higher in the worst areas). It may take several hundred years for 1 inch of soil to form. Obviously, we can’t keep on sending our topsoil down the river much longer.

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Full Nutrition with Sea Solids & Wheat Grass

Rancher, Farmer and Professor Don Jansen Discusses the Hidden Hunger of Plants, Animals

Don Jansen is shown here in front of the hydroponic garden at Gulf Coast University. The sign tells of an experiment by Ocean Grown Foods, Inc. The nutritional uptake of various plants, weight and production were all made parts of the experiment.

The short biography that usually attends the presentation of an Acres U.S.A. interview is in fact contained in the questions and answers that follow. Here it is enough to point out that our conversation with Don Jansen of Fort Myers, Florida, is really a follow-up to the re-publication of physician Maynard Murray’s exposition of his pioneering work with sea solids, Sea Energy Agriculture, coauthored with Tom Valentine in 1976.

How a college professor with a Nebraska ranching background made the transition from the High Plains to Florida’s hydroponic scene makes for one of the most enlightening interviews conducted by Acres U.S.A. over the past 32 years. Here we proceed to unlock some of the ocean’s secrets as the nutritional center of gravity for planet Earth.

Don Jansen was a student and disciple of Dr. Maynard Murray, and he has now inserted lessons learned on pastures, in fields, gardens and hydroponic beds into the wheat grass juice remedy made famous by Ann Wigmore. Continue Reading →

Farming to Improve Soil Health

Today, you can’t pick up a farm paper or any other ag publication without seeing something about cover crops, minimum tillage and farming to improve soil health.

But what exactly is meant by “soil health?” Much of the soil health focus is on soil biology and fostering a healthy, diverse, living ecosystem in the soil. I agree that soil life is a key component of soil health, but in my opinion, the other important aspect of soil health is the soil’s ability to dish out nutrients to the crop, and then using the right sources of minerals to make up for any shortcomings in what the soil can provide. This aspect of soil health is often overlooked in discussions on the topic, but is equally important in getting you a high-quality bumper crop.

Like many aspects of biological farming, it’s the balance of different components that makes the system work.

I believe that many farmers now recognize that the soil is alive, a teeming underground city of creatures, all doing their own “jobs,” working together. They can be really productive, naturally balancing things out and providing nutrients for the crop that’s being grown. Soil health under this definition is a balance of organisms — no group crowding out any other group, seizing control and causing crop problems. Continue Reading →

Minerals for Healthy Soil & High-Quality, Top Yields

It’s a new century, and there is more knowledge about farming and the role of minerals, and there are more farmers paying attention to it. When it comes to farming, we know what the “base” is: putting all the pieces together including minerals, biology and soil structure — and using crop fertilizers that provide above and  beyond what the soil can dish out in terms of nutrients and biology.

A fall mixed cover the author grew after rye was harvested. He used the cover crop to capture nutrients in a biological form and to cycle nutrients to get more minerals into the following cash crop.

Even though there’s a lot of discussion about soil health, no-till and soil structure in farming right now, not enough attention is paid to minerals.

It seems like so much of agriculture is spending its time and money chasing magic biologicals, foliars or plant protection and not focusing on doing everything you can to feed your crop a balance of minerals and prevent the problems in the first place.

So what is your limiting factor or constraint that interferes with plant production and plant health? You need to understand that your farming practices have a lot of influence on plant health, and plants that are healthy protect themselves — just as you have an immune system that functions well if you are healthy. Reduce stress; eat a balanced diet with a balance of nutrients; eat a variety of foods that are clean without foreign compounds to fight and a good biological balance. If you get all that right do you need to take supplements?

It’s not farming the same way it was in grandpa’s day because there was a lot he didn’t know. He didn’t understand nutrients, soil health or soil fertility, and didn’t have the tools we have. He was stuck with a “plow.” If I asked you to do everything you could to get your soils healthy and mineralized, what would you do? Continue Reading →