January 18, 2013
It's all about a Think Different approach with the valuable resource that some farmers and investors are paying upwards of $15,000/acre. It's about the need to rebuild and improve the natural biological processes in your soil, so you and your landlord can gain greater efficiency and return on investment.
This new twist of phrase is likened to the prolific Green Revolution, which spawned tremendous global agricultural productivity. The Brown Revolution aims to usher in the next prolific leap for farmers (and landowners) who focus as much effort to grow soil quality as growing a crop. It's all about reduced tillage and conservation practices that preserve soil aggregates and root networks.
Why pay attention to the root zone? For every 1% improvement in soil organic matter (OM), you achieve $750/acre of free nutrients for your crops. And, your soil water-holding capacity increases by 3.2 times for every 1% OM increase. Yet the benefits don't stop there.
On our cover this month, these microscopic soil organisms comprise a few of the 10,000-50,000 mites, fungi and other "soil livestock" that inhabit every teaspoon (in one gram) of healthy soil. For example, the upper-right cover photo is of glomalin, a unique fungal protein secreted by root-dwelling fungi that funnel nutrients and water to plant roots. It is vital to snag soil particles into aggregates, clods or pellets. Next, predatory soil mites (upper left, lower right) serve a valuable role by eating bad mites that attack plants. And one of your best friends, arbuscular mycorrhiza (lower left photo) are invisible microbes that penetrate a plant root to boost growth by capturing N, P, sulfur and micronutrients, as well as help resist disease and drought.
The inhabitants of this invisible world that try to reside under your feet truly help decay plant material and turn it into organic matter. They also help cycle nutrients back into useful forms for plants, stabilize soil aggregates, build a better soil habitat and improve soil structure, tilth and productivity.
Yes, it may seem like this cover story on page 6 is a deep dive into the weeds that just doesn't interest you, a mass producer of bushels. But the bottom line is that if you improve soil quality, you increase agricultural productivity. And these microscopic soil organisms can lead the next productivity leap.
USDA-NRCS just launched a focused educational campaign called, "Unlock the Secrets in the Soil." Check it out online at http://1.usa.gov/12pUVCi.
Here's their take on how to improve soil health: till the soil as little as possible; grow as many different species of plants as possible through rotations and a diverse mixture of cover crops; extend the growing season with living plants in the soil as long as possible with crops and cover crops; and keep the soil surface covered with residue year ’round.
I sincerely thank you for reading and for being willing to Think Different.
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