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Archive | Soil Life

Building Soil Health with Volcanic Basalt

by Rich Affeldt

volcanic-basaltOrganic and sustainable farmers have long relied on rock dust as an all-natural way to improve roots systems, increase yields and promote general plant health in a wide variety of crops and conditions. Yet, it has taken the rapid depletion of our global soils to bring rock dust to the attention of modern agricultural science. The good news is that there is undeniable evidence that rock minerals can help restore soil health, minimize crop deficiencies and boost resistance to pests and disease.

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Biological Farming: Customizing Methods for Large-Scale Operations

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JR Bollinger in his corn, head-high by Fourth of July.

Biological farming is not just limited to small plots. Take the story of one Missouri farmer, who through holistic approaches to farming, managed to improve his yields and the size of corn on the stalk.

At the end of 2015, I talked to Missouri boot-heel farmer David “JR” Bollinger about his experiences growing corn, soybeans and milo using carbon-smart farming principles and practices. In his first year fully committed to biological agriculture, Bollinger cut conventional fertilizers by 50 percent and applied blends of biocarbons, minerals and microbes. Soils, plants and yields are all showing positive results.

Bollinger is the fourth generation to farm on 3,500 acres in the southeast Missouri Delta, with the family’s main crops being corn, soybeans, wheat and milo.

“In 2012, I first dabbled in biological farming on a reclaimed coal mine,” he said. “A gentleman with microbial products first tickled my brain about dead soil. He challenged me to find an earthworm. I went looking, and … none. I noticed there wasn’t much life. The soil looked like moondust, vacant of life.”

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Humus: What is it and How is it Formed?

The secret of fertile soils: humus.Humus forms as a result of the complicated interplay between inorganic conversions and organic creatures such as microbes, nematodes, and earthworms. Humus formation is carried out in two steps. First, the organic substances and minerals in the soil disintegrate. Next, totally new combinations of these broken-down products develop. This leads to the initial stages of humus. Humus formation is a biological process. Only 4-12 inches (10-30 centimeters) of humus-containing soil are available in the Earth’s upper crust. This thin layer of earth is all that exists to provide nutrition to all human life. The destiny of mankind depends on these 12 inches!

Humus Formation

Cultivated soils with 2 percent humus content are today considered high-quality farmland. What makes up the remaining 98 percent? Depending on the soil type, organisms contribute about 8 percent, the remains of plants and animals about 5 percent, and air and water around 15 percent.

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Interview: Scientist, Author Jonathan Lundgren Discusses Ground-Breaking Research into Insects and Species Diversity

Acres U.S.A. is North America’s monthly magazine of ecological agriculture. Each month we conduct an in-depth interview with a thought leader. The following interview appeared in our Febjonathan-lundgrenruary 2016 issue and was too important not to share widely.

Dr. Jonathan Lundgren is an agroecologist, director of the Ecdysis Foundation and CEO of Blue Dasher Farm in Brookings, South Dakota. He received his Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Illinois in 2004 and was a top scientist with USDA-ARS for 11 years. Lundgren received the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering awarded by the White House and has served as an advisor for national grant panels and regulatory agencies on pesticide and GM crop risk assessments. Lundgren has written 107 peer-reviewed journal articles, authored the book Relationships of Natural Enemies and Non-prey Foods and has received more than $3.4 million in grants. Dr. Lundgren has trained five post-docs and 12 graduate students from around the world. One of his priorities is to make science applicable to end-users, and he regularly interacts with the public and farmers regarding pest and farm management and insect biology. Lundgren’s research program focuses on assessing the ecological risk of pest management strategies and developing long-term solutions for sustainable food systems. His ecological research focuses heavily on conserving healthy biological communities within agroecosystems by reducing disturbance and increasing biodiversity within cropland.

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

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Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life — Increasing Soil Organic Matter through Organic Agriculture

Better infiltration, retention and delivery to plants helps avoid drought damage. Organic is on the left, conventional on the right. Photo courtesy of Rodale Institute

Better infiltration, retention and delivery to plants helps avoid drought damage. Organic is on the left, conventional on the right. Photo courtesy of Rodale Institute

by André Leu

This year has been declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th UN General Assembly with the theme “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life.” I am 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 (SOM) as one of the primary management techniques.

Numerous scientific studies show that SOM 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. Continue Reading →

The Soil Solution

The Soil Solutionby Graeme Sait

The UN has named 2015 International Year of Soils, and we should embrace this initiative with open hearts and willing hands. It is an incredibly timely focus in light of a series of serious challenges impacting our future and perhaps our very existence. Soil health directly affects plant, animal and human health. It also impacts topsoil erosion, water management and ocean pollution. Most importantly, it is now recognized that climate change is directly related to soil mismanagement. I believe a global soil health initiative can help save our planet.

The Top Five Threats

While in the UK, I met with a professor who shared some deeply concerning findings. He informed me that a recent survey of leading British scientists revealed that as many as one in five of the best thinkers in the country believe that we will be extinct as a species by the end of this century, or perhaps much earlier. This information should serve to spur meaningful action from every one of us. There are five core threats that need to be urgently addressed, and they all relate back to the soil. Continue Reading →