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Book of the Week: The Biological Farmer, 2nd Edition

By Gary Zimmer with Leilani Zimmer-Durand

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, The Biological Farmer, written by Gary Zimmer. Copyright 2017, softcover, 518 pages. $30.00 Regularly Priced.

What’s Wrong with the N-P-K Approach to Farming?

Does it make sense to use high levels of only highly concentrated water-soluble nutrients? The N-P-K-pH chemical approach to farming is both incomplete and wasteful.

Nitrogen — Managing nitrogen should not be just mathemati­cal. Crop rotation, the nitrogen source used, and when and where the nitrogen is applied all have a bearing on how much nitrogen we need, as does soil air, soil life, organic matter, and

The Biological Farmer, 2nd Edition

the presence and balance of other elements (such as sulfur and calcium). Biological farmers do not want to use any more nitrogen than absolutely necessary, not only because of cost and possible environ­mental pollution, but also because excess nitrogen suppresses long-term stable biological processes in the soil.

Research from the University of Minnesota has found that corn yields are highest when legumes are added to the rotation (O’Leary, Rehm, and Schmitt, 2008). By including soybeans, alfalfa, or other nitrogen-fixing plants, it is possible to grow your own plant-avail­able nitrogen and reduce fertilizer requirements. Now consider how conventional thinking advocates applying more nitrogen to increase yield. Is yield always increasing as much as the nitrogen applied? Are your added fertilizer dollars getting you results? If not, what happens to the extra nitrogen you apply? Does it benefit the soil, the environment — or your water? What are the overall costs? Continue Reading →

Dairy Farming: The Framework of Biological and Sustainable Practices

Biological dairy farming is a dynamic system of farming that works with natural principles. Its purpose is to make a profit by growing healthy, mineralized foods that are nutrient-rich and of maximum quality for people. In order for this to occur, all stages of production — including soil, forage, crop, animal, business, and lifestyle management — must be healthy and interdependent.

Dairy cattle graze freely on healthy forage options.

The biological cycle begins in the soil and is based on a healthy population of balanced microbiology (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, earthworms, etc.), which require soils with an adequate supply of properly balanced nutrients including, but not limited to, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, zinc, manganese, iron, boron and additional microelements.

The biological farming approach we use at Otter Creek Organic Farms aims to improve and balance soil fertility and forage/crop mineral levels by using a balanced fertilizer program, growing green manure crops, practicing proper tillage, employing tight crop rotations, utilizing a wide diversity of plant species, and measuring and monitoring all of these aspects. Mineralized soil produces high-quality forages, which yield healthy, productive livestock; cows that have minimal or no health complications, breed back easily, and efficiently produce ample, high-quality milk with potentially fewer dollars invested in fertilizers, off-farm feed and supplements, and vet bills. Biological farms often have decreased cost of operation. When using a biological system, the production of organic milk becomes a viable and profitable endeavor.

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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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