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Archive | Soil Fertility

Consider Biodynamic Growing

Viticulture and dairy are two of the best areas of agriculture for revealing the virtues of biodynamic growing — viticulture because quality is what wine excellence is all about and dairy because every tank of milk is tested for quality. Biodynamics is about quality and self-sufficiency. Both depend on life force to attract nitrogen from the atmosphere rather than using nitrogen fertilizers.

Peter Proctor workshop in apple orchard in India.

Chemical agriculture is largely a 20th century phenomenon based on the great 19th century chemist, Justus von Liebig’s premise that plants only take up nutrition as soluble salts — an assumption he repudiated toward the end of his life. However, by then the fertilizer industry was making great strides by capitalizing on his error.

The shortcomings of ‘chemical’ agri­culture became the starting point for bio­dynamic agriculture and was why Rudolf Steiner introduced his Agriculture Course in 1924. But, by then the chemical approach had become dominant with the discovery in 1909 of the Haber Process, which produced ammonia from natural gas and air. Meanwhile, biodynamic agriculture became pigeonholed and marginalized as a cult of true believers rather than a truly scientific method born ahead of its time. Continue Reading →

Natural Weed Control

Growers are only limited by their imaginations in implementing non-toxic weed control methods on their farm. The most obvious way is to take the chemical farming approach and find an organically approved material to do the killing. Very strong vinegar has been the most marketed material. The important factor in vinegar formulas is to have a surfactant that strips away any waxy protective coating on the plant surface and that allows the desiccation or drying out of the plant. Salt provides the same mode of action and may be included in the formula.

Natural weed control

Flame is an even more modern and harsher approach. The mechanical approach is the most widely used by growers around the world. Cultivators are a modern version of hoe, hoe, hoe or hand pulling. Rotary hoes or spiked harrows are special adaptations of the cultivation approach. Using plastic films, whether degradable or not, is a form of smothering that is similar to mulching by any material. Here the weed is denied sunlight to prevent nature’s germination response.

Repeated cuttings in a fallow situation of a perennial weed may weaken a plant over time by using up any stored energy. Every attempt is also made to prevent the reseeding of an offending species. Treating isolated patches is worth the effort to keep them from spreading. If a field is overwhelmed to a point of not having an economic crop worth harvesting, be sure to take the whole field down before the offending weeds go to seed. Keep in mind that there are seeds in your fields that may have been there for years. Just lime or activate the calcium in your soil and watch clover appear in uncultivated ground that you haven’t spread clover on since you bought the farm.

Continue Reading →

Glyphosate: A Toxic Legacy

Journalist and Author Carey Gillam Shares Decades of Research into Monsanto and its Ubiquitous Weed Killer

Carey Gillam is a Kansas-based journalist turned glyphosate geek. Her first book, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science, fills a gaping hole in the literature and is getting excellent reviews. Erin Brockovich says Whitewash “reads like a mystery novel as Gillam skillfully uncovers Monsanto’s secretive strategies.” Publishers Weekly says, “Gillam expertly covers a contentious front” and paints “a damning picture.” And Booklist calls it “a must-read.” Gillam brings more than 25 years in the news industry covering corporate America to her project investigating Monsanto’s premier product and the malfeasance that surrounds it. During her 17 years employed by the global news service Reuters, she developed her specialty in the big business of food and agriculture. Besides covering topics like economic policy, corporate earnings and commodities trading, she was pulled away to write about presidential politics, natural disasters and a range of other general news and feature topics. Two years ago she became Research Director
 with U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer group that pursues truth and transparency in America’s food industry. Gillam says she always knew she “wanted to be a journalist, to build a career on the simple pursuit of truth. My work is based on the belief that by sharing information and ideas, airing debates, and unveiling actions and events critical to public policy, we help advance and strengthen our community — our humanity.”

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch Continue Reading →

Electrical Conductivity: The Pulse of the Soil

Soil consultants have traditionally used electrical conductivity to measure salinity. Conductivity can tell us much more about the physical structure and health of the soil, though, and can help  indirectly measure crop productivity.

electrical conductivity - the pulse of the soilWhen we walk into our home on a dark night, the first thing we usually do is turn on the lights. With the flip of a switch we complete the electrical circuit, initiating the flow of electricity to the light bulb and illuminating our home.

In the human body, electricity controls the flow of blood from the heart to all the organs. In the same way that flipping a switch turns on a light, electrical signaling in the body tells the heart when and how often to contract and relax. These electrical signals can be altered by the intake of nutrients. For example, the intake of high-salt foods can lead to a higher pulse rate. A higher pulse rate forces the heart and other organs to have to work harder in order to function properly. This extra work certainly puts added stress on the body. In contrast, consuming a balanced form of energy can reduce the stress put upon the body.

Waking up in the morning and only consuming caffeine does not give you the same energy as waking up and eating a balanced breakfast. While both inputs may increase your readiness in the morning, they affect the human body in different ways physiologically. Inputs into any biological system, whether human, animal, plant, or soil, affect the system in unique ways. Continue Reading →

Homemade Fertilizers

With the economy and farm finance more and more problematic, interest is growing in running farms with fewer, more accurate and less expensive inputs and homemade fertilizers can help cut costs and keep fertility on the farm.

homemade fertilizer

Vermiwash made in a small biodynamic apple orchard in the
Himalayan foothills of Uttaranchal in sight of Nanda Devi, India’s second highest
mountain.

Formerly we’ve overdosed with a plethora of harsh fertilizers — especially nitrogen. As a result we’ve burned up the better part of our soil carbon, and this has reduced our rainfall.

By burning off carbon, we have created droughts even as ocean warming has sent more evaporation into the atmosphere. We have ignored that few things have more affinity for hydrogen than carbon, and if we want rain to adhere to and permeate our soils we need to build soil carbon.

We thought salt fertilizers were cheap, and the stunning results encouraged us to wish away any hidden costs, no matter that earthworms disappeared simultaneously with the food chain that supported them. Our soils got hard and sticky as magnesium stayed behind while nitrates leached, carrying away silicon, calcium and trace minerals. The soil fused when wet, shed water when it rained, and we continued to get less for more.

As if this wasn’t enough, the mind-set we were sold was get big or get out. As our net margins dried up and our future prospects evaporated, our water dried up and our land became exhausted. Continue Reading →

Microorganisms for Fertility

The use of microorganisms for fertility is an exacting process using inexact tools in the production of food, fiber and fuel. Each farmer’s fertility program for plant growth is tied to the desired response of the plants. A simpler way to put it is; how much would you like to produce, at what rate and at what cost to the environment and to the farmer using the inputs? For field crops, newer genetic combinations are race horses in the sense of their yield potential, but also in their need for attention whether fertility or otherwise.

A field in Hoven, South Dakota, using 12.8 ounces per acre MicroAZ-IF Liquid, treated (left), untreated.

This has been a large part of fostering a reliance on petrochemical industries for growing plants. Our challenge is to grow these plants using different techniques, relying on more natural production strategies — particularly in the use of fertility products.

Microorganisms for Fertility: Fundamentals

Microorganisms are a fundamental part of healthy soils, plants and people. We’re still trying to understand how they contribute to the health of soil and how their omnipresence impacts our environment. This can and will have a direct impact on our ability to provide for plant fertility using microbially mediated processes as we understand and harness this interconnected web of life.

Harnessing microorganisms for reliable use has been and will continue to be problematic. The interactions and complexities of the soil microbial community are not well understood.

What is understood is the promise and possibilities they have in providing supplemental, complementary or replacement sources of fertility to plants. Building products that have reliability and performance characteristics similar to more widely accepted sources with better economic and environmental consequences is already happening and getting better. Continue Reading →