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Want Good Soil? Feed the Microbes

By   /  March 20, 2017  /  8 Comments

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Farmers in the U.S. also use burning to deal with wheat stubble as in this Kansas field. In June of
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Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

8 Comments

  1. Don Smith says:

    David –

    I can’t point you to a specific study, but I’d refer you to a few books that have extensive references. Marschner’s Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants, Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution by Chaboussou, Mineral Nutrition and Plant Disease by Datnoff, Elmer, Huber, and of course, Sir Albert Howard’s An Agricultural Testament. Since you are in Australia you should check out Graeme Sait and his company, Nutritech Solutions – they have a lot of info on their website. You can also read some good information from another Australian at amazingcarbon.com. It seems like you are on the right track and you are blessed to be in an area with great climate and rainfall(for the time being).

  2. David says:

    Hi Don,

    Can you point me at some science/well-run trials to backup these statements? Or perhaps the site hosts could comment?

    “Better plant nutrition through organic methods leads to better photosynthetic capacity which means more sugars exuded through the roots to feed the microbiology”

    “Aggressive soil biology produces enzymes and acids that make even more nutrients available to the plant”

    “a foliar application of trace elements can improve your photosynthetic rate, increasing the quality of your crop and the amount of exudates that feed your soil biology, while being more cost effective than applying compost.”

    Thanks

    David

  3. Don Smith says:

    Don’t clip your grass short, unless it is dead/dormant, otherwise you slow or stop photosythesis, which is what is feeding the soil biology. Learn about “tall grazing” and see how that applies to mowing/clipping grasses.

  4. David says:

    What happens with soil carbon when you mow/slash pasture as against graze it? We have some land in Sth Gippsland which we’re developing as an agroforestry site. We exclude stock for some years after planting as they will eat young trees. We manage the pasture – ungrazed grass can grow to 1.5m in spring – in these fields by slashing it. The area averages rainfall over 1000mm/annum and has a mild climate by northern hemisphere standards although it can reach over 35C in summer. So the soil microbes will generally have reasonably comfy climate conditions to do their thang.

    I’ve been assuming that this will build up soil carbon but would be interested if anyone has any comments, pointers to related research etc.

    We should get some soil tests but because the grass growth is so strong I’ve not worried about it to date. And I could look into cheap onfarm carbon tests if such a thing exists. My first degree was in chemistry so I’m not afraid to wield a testtube.

    Thanks

    David

    • Patrick Tobola says:

      I think the trick to getting the quickest results without livestock or soil amendments while clipping is to manage for earthworms. The ground should be continuously covered with litter in various stages of decomposition and a generous stubble height after clipping to provide shade. It will be a balancing act to be able to let the grass grow to sufficient maturity before clipping so that it doesn’t decompose too quickly and clipping it often enough to provide the earthworms with a fairly constant source of green clippings.

  5. Don Smith says:

    It might be appropriate to mention how those wheat fields were farmed(conventionally, organically, biodynamically). Many pesticides, fungicides, herbicides used to grow wheat conventionally are also detrimental to soil biology and it isn’t surprising that wheat stubble wouldn’t break down. Better plant nutrition through organic methods leads to better photosynthetic capacity which means more sugars exuded through the roots to feed the microbiology. Aggressive soil biology produces enzymes and acids that make even more nutrients available to the plant, which creates even more photosynthetic capacity, etc. It’s imperative to feed your soil biology and photosynthesis trumps compost. A lot of times a foliar application of trace elements can improve your photosynthetic rate, increasing the quality of your crop and the amount of exudates that feed your soil biology, while being more cost effective than applying compost. Either way – feed your soil biology and you’ll increase water holding capacity, have healthier crops, and sequester carbon in your soil.

  6. Gene Schriefer says:

    Burning wheat stubble or grass residue is not 100% combusted, a small fraction remains as a biochar which has been addressed previous. This is an extremely stable form of carbon and becomes a home for soil microbes.

    There is also evidence from ISU and elsewhere that patch burned pasture is preferred by grazing livestock, (Ryan Harr) in his trials they were able to establish a semi-rotational impact by have a three year burning regimen.

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