Production systems involving ruminant animals have come under pressure from some sectors of the community concerned about climate change due to the production of methane (CH4, a greenhouse gas) by these animals. While methane has a much shorter life (12 years) in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the reason it attracts so much negative publicity is that methane is calculated to have a 25 greater fold impact on climate change than carbon dioxide. Much of the atmospheric methane is oxidised to carbon dioxide and water, but with general emission levels increasing since the industrial era, (as with carbon dioxide), there is only so much certain systems can deal with. So should we therefore be worried about the impacts of the methane from our livestock on climate change? Continue reading “RUMINANTS – A methane pest or climate change solution?” »
From time to time I hear comments about “how quickly it’s dried out”. Farmers can experience going from a situation of ample plant growth and OK conditions on the farm, to desperately needing rain, over a short period of time. Has it always been this way and can we insulate ourselves from this seeming cliff face nature of moisture availability and growth?
If we understand how water is held in the pores of the soil and how plants extract this moisture, it will go a ways to helping us understand how we might positively influence soil moisture. So let’s first understand a few terms relating to soil moisture levels (the irrigators among you will likely be all very familiar with these). Continue reading “INFLUENCING SOIL PORES FOR MORE PLANT AVAILABLE WATER” »
I recently spoke with a fellow farmer who was sharing his challenges of perennial weeds – particularly, in this case, mid story native shrubs. This conversation prompted me to think that this was probably a fairly pertinent subject to follow up here on the blog.
If we get our grazing practices right, we know that we can have succession of species towards more stable plant communities and most likely more desirable species for our production systems. So, if there is a season where we have annual weeds, we could use herbicides or mechanical means to control, or we may choose to leave the ground covered with that plant, create conditions favourable to higher succession plants and hang in there hoping that our complex and dynamic ecosystem is being driven in the right direction. Following seasons will likely then see the change to a different species – and possibly a more desirable one. This is because the presence of that annual weed creates changes in the micro-environment around it, which then allows other species to establish that may not have been possible before these micro-environment changes occurred. Continue reading “PERENNIAL WEEDS and planned grazing” »
What many of us really want to know about carbon trading is if farmers can make money from it. Recent times have seen more methodologies introduced that are more suited to our farming operations, but are they profitable enough to make the paperwork involved worthwhile? The short answer is – I’m not allowed to say!
An ACCU (Australian Carbon Credit Unit)- which is the tradeable carbon unit, is considered a ‘financial product’ and one must carry an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence to advise on this. Whilst I have carried such a licence in the past – it is no longer current, so I would be breaking the law to infer, predict or advise any likely financial gain or loss from ACCU’s.
I can however, talk about how much carbon one might be likely to sequester into the soil and you can get your own advice on the financial relationship to this carbon. Continue reading “CAN FARMERS MAKE MONEY FROM CARBON TRADING?” »
Carbon! I usually talk about how it helps our production and how to get more of it in the soil. There is however another aspect to carbon that I haven’t touched on yet. This is the opportunity for farmers to earn money from trading carbon – either storing carbon or reducing the emissions of carbon (and other greenhouse gases). For some, this may be adding extra income to their farm business, while for others the income might be an added bonus to putting carbon in the soil, which they know will benefit their production in many ways.
I don’t know about you, but in the evolution of the Carbon Farming Initiative in Australia (what the last Government called the agriculture component of carbon trading), I felt a bit like switching off from the politics involved with it. As a farmer, I felt – “Just give me something that’s easy to work with on-ground!” This is why I am grateful for people like Louisa Kiely of Carbon Farmers of Australia. Louisa has contributed to the hard work for us, to help get our industry to a point where there are now some usable aspects of the Australian Governments’ carbon reduction scheme. This is why I’ve chosen to speak with Louisa about where things are up to with carbon trading and the now called Emissions Reduction Fund. Continue reading “CARBON TRADING – now more relevant to you all!” »
There are some really fantastic regenerative practices that we can and have learnt about. I understand that for many of you, these are things that you are likely to try first on a trial basis over a small area. It was pointed out to me by some croppers that they are happy to undertake some trial area of a quite different practice but this is over a small area and they also want direction for what they how they can tweak their farm inputs over the remaining and largest area of the farm. They want to reduce their reliance on high fertiliser and chemical inputs, while being more sustainable. This is a really great point – and so, this week I have addressed it.
Many of the initial ‘tweaks’ that we might make to traditional system are input related. It’s about choosing inputs that are kinder to soil life, and more balanced for the plant and supportive of the soil. As a rule I tend to concentrate on farming practices for this blog, as it keeps me independent, and also because discussion of inputs can begin a very long list.
I do however want to address this point that was raised with me about how a farmer or grazier can make some more minor changes to their system (while trialing other more significant changes) – and this does lead me to the topic of inputs.
When we have an influx of weeds, or a specific weed, we can curse “the damn” things or we can stop, think and use them as a lesson and/or a tool. Weeds can tell us things about soil condition, ground cover and what might be an appropriate action to repair and bring a soil back into balance. Agriculture needs to consider different ways to manage weeds because current conventional systems have a finite lifetime of success. Consider the application rates of herbicides used in crop production systems today when compared with 20 years ago. There have been really significant rate increases – and it is not just rate increases – we now have double knock strategies that further increase the use of pesticides. Sure, the double knock strategies delay the build-up of resistant weeds, but this is a delay tactic, not a solution. We need to explore other options now.
Granted, weed control is probably one of the more challenging aspects of a reduced pesticide input system (at least in cropping), but this is no reason not to try. As I mentioned above, the herbicide dominated system has a limited lifetime. Continue reading “WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM WEEDS?” »
If we can achieve a thick, deep mulch of material on the soil surface from a cover crop, it is great for weed control, and for preventing soil moisture loss. But, what is the best method for planting into this thick mat of cover crop residue?
I will share with you what Jeff Moyer, Farm Director from the Rodale Institute in the US has done with his planter to adapt it for planting his grain crops into the mulch, created from a rolled down cover crop. The Rodale Institute are conducting cutting edge research into organic no-till practices, in the US.
If you haven’t already done so, I suggest reading my past cover cropping blogs The ‘New’ Cover Cropping, Experiences from the U.S. – Cover Cropping and last week’s The Practicalities of Cover Cropping – Crop Termination.
Jeff has a Monosem planter. They are a double disc precision planter, favoured in the vegetable industry due to its ability to plant a wide range of seed sizes with precision. Jeff has added an extra couple of tool bars to the planter, to aid with planting into the mulch of a cover crop. Continue reading “THE PRACTICALITIES OF COVER CROPPING – Planter Setup” »
As I mentioned last week, I have been asked by a subscriber that has visited our farm about how we transitioned country from full zero till cropping to perennial pasture. We have two alluvial self-mulching black soil paddocks that have had two quite different approaches, with different outcomes in the short and long term. Sharing these examples with you may offer some helpful learnings. The outcomes – after a few dry years are worlds apart right at the moment.
In 2008, Derek and I decided that we wanted our business to be solely grazing based. This decision was made after Holistic Management training and discussion about what we really wanted out of life (but that’s an aside in this article). I would like to share with you how we took two different paddocks from cropping to pasture, and the current outcomes of each.
When we chose to take land from cropping to pasture Derek and I considered the best way to go about it. We were aware of situations where farmers had left country and allowed natural succession of plants to occur in order to establish a pasture, while more often others choose introduced pasture mixes, planted at considerable expense. We did a bit of both. Continue reading “CONVERTING CROPPING COUNTRY TO PASTURE” »
If some of our most marginal grazing country can be regenerated from 5% groundcover to 80% groundcover, then surely there is the ability to regenerate virtually all our agricultural land. The marginal country I’m talking about is in western NSW, northwest of Cobar in Australia. I mention this marginal country because the McMurtrie family have used water spreading banks (combined with thoughtful grazing management) to help regenerate areas of their property and I thought this was a good flow on from last week’s topic.
I will first point out that water spreading banks are NOT keyline farming as I talked of last week – where water is spread from the valleys to the ridges. Water spreading banks however, have a similar purpose in that they aim to alter water movement and runoff, spreading and slowing water movement so that there is more opportunity to infiltrate rainfall into the soil.
What Mark Shepard has achieved at New Forest Farm is truly inspiring, admirable, provides hope and is enviable to anyone interested in nutrient dense, chemical free food production and consumption and most certainly to farmers – with its low inputs and high outputs. But it is also daunting, overwhelming and, honestly, in the past has actually made me switch off to a degree, because its production system is so far removed from our current beef cattle grazing operation or from the monoculture cropping enterprises of current agriculture. Do you ever feel a little like that?
It’s like I haven’t been able to bridge the gap on a ‘how to’ basis between what currently is and this pinnacle of agriculture of what could be. But let me describe it to you and see how we could apply some of the techniques to our farms.
New Forest Farm is a perennial permaculture farm in Wisconsin, USA that grows chestnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, apples, asparagus and other fruit, nuts and berries, as well as raising cattle, pigs and turkeys (see above image). It has been regenerated from what was a degraded, eroded, chemical intensive monoculture cropping farm. Rich, dark, humic soils have been built from degraded, hard setting, dead red-clay soils. All this regeneration and production has occurred without the use of pesticides or artificial fertilisers. The farm is “agriculture redesigned in nature’s image” as Mark described it to me. Continue reading “VALUING EVERY DROP OF RAINFALL – with Keyline Design” »
If there is a consistent message coming out of regenerative agriculture practices of all kinds it is the need for soil biology, and for a diversity of this. We gain this from a diversity of species of plants, as well as animals.
I used to think about biodiversity as diversity in the soil, or in our pastures or of native fauna – all of which might have benefited and supported the production of one product from an area of land – be it beef, lamb, goats, wheat or corn. But of late, (as well as the wonderful benefits that biodiversity can offer to a current traditional production system), I have started to consider biodiversity from the point of view of the number of layers of productive biodiversity that we can have. Continue reading “TREES AS PRODUCTIVE BIODIVERSITY” »
It’s always great to get off the farm as I find I think in fresh ways and from a different perspective. Mix with this being surrounded by people equally as passionate about farming in a conscious manner and it’s a pretty good combination – as we found at Acres USA. I will share with you some detail of practices and growers techniques in time, but today I want to discuss where our food producing systems have gone wrong and that this creates opportunities for us as growers.
I am always aware of how our crop and livestock production systems affect the quality of soils, our animals and our food and, in turn, the health of us and our families. After all, this is one of the reasons we changed the way we do things on our farm. With young children, I wanted them to live in a safe, clean environment and I wanted to produce a product that is safe to consume. As well as chemical free, I want to produce a mineral dense food that nourishes our bodies.
Despite being well aware of the problems with conventional production systems and the associated health problems, (and even changing our practices accordingly), I am still shocked as to the seriousness of this problem when I hear people like Don Huber of Purdue University speak. Don shared the science behind why we should be concerned about the impacts of Glyphosate and GMO’s on the health of our soils, plants, animals and ourselves. Continue reading “OPPORTUNITIES IN PRODUCING CLEAN, NOURISHING FOOD” »
I wrote a few weeks back about the impressive initial outcomes of research undertaken with melanised endophytic fungi (MEF) by Sydney University. The trials resulted in soil carbon increases of up to 40% in the university pot trials. What we want to know however is if the findings will translate to the field and can such fungi strains be isolated and packaged to farmers for inoculation of our crops and pasture.
You may recall that researchers proposed a process by which the fungi place stable carbon into the soil – depositing carbon rich aromatic melanin compounds into the anaerobic interior of soil aggregates. The significance of this is that when placed there, the carbon is protected from loss by oxidation or from decay by microbial enzymes. So, it has potential for increasing ‘stable’ soil carbon in cropping systems.
Work at the university involved inoculating soils with subterranean clover in pot trials – the treatment with some strains of which resulted in significant increases in soil carbon. Guy Webb, agronomist at Forbes, picked up on this work and wanted to test this inoculation of broadleaf crops in the field, along with determining if there were any resulting increases in soil carbon over untreated plots. This is with the view that if ongoing field trials are supportive of MEF sequestering carbon, that there may be opportunity to develop a ‘farmer ready, soil carbon sequestration inoculum package capable of reliably, rapidly and significantly increasing soil organic carbon and reducing nitrous oxide emissions in cropping soils”.1 Continue reading “SEQUESTERING CARBON IN THE FIELD WITH MELANISED FUNGI – will it work?” »
A predictable and reliable increase of long-lived carbon in cropping and grazing soils would be a wonderful thing for the farming industry. Carbon sequestration will benefit soils, improve the resilience of businesses and the productivity of our farms. There may also be opportunities for financial gains from carbon trading.
To reap the benefits for crops and pastures, and for the confidence of trading however, we need to ensure stable soil carbon. The processes required for deposition of stable organic carbon is the subject of research of which details are emerging. When similar topics popped up several times in my learnings in the last few weeks I thought it was time to check it out.
I have previously written about the importance of root exudates in the process of sequestering stable soil carbon (see There’s Carbon, then There’s Carbon). We also know that many different soil microbes play a critically important role in the carbon cycle. Microbiologists/mycologists at Sydney University, have proposed a process that gives us a better explanation of how carbon is sequestered. The potential commercialisation of their findings could be an enormous breakthrough to our industry – especially for grain growing industry. Continue reading “IMPROVED OPPORTUNITIES FOR STORING SOIL CARBON?” »
What do you reply when you are asked what you do? Maybe that you produce corn, wheat, lamb, beef, wool or chickpeas?
Yes, we farmers ARE doing these things, but we are actually in the business of maximising the capture of light energy from the sun, for the production of chemical energy and sugars in the plant. With these sugars we want to maximise our food and fibre production, because this is our profitability. And, as regenerative farmers, we want to do this whilst increasing the quality of our asset base (soil, farm environment and our team).
So, the sugar levels in the plant are like a gauge of photosynthetic activity. They are also a gauge of the health of the plant; the higher the sugar levels – the healthier the plant. A determination of the plant’s sugar levels, (as well as other dissolved solids like minerals) is measured as Brix.
Measuring brix levels is a helpful thing to do because it is very quick to do and gives us clues as to the health of the plant and the subsequent likelihood of insect pest attack, frost susceptibility, possible plant growth limitations and more. If higher brix levels can have such benefits to us and our crops, then we also want to know how we can increase brix levels. Continue reading “PLANT HEALTH AND SUGAR LEVELS” »
I spoke with a couple of farmers this week who have been using the Bio-Agtive Emissions Exhaust system, to see how their crops are performing. I want to share this with you, but I also want to share a basic understanding of plant physiology in trying to help you understand how the Bio-Agtive exhaust system may be getting the results it is and how natural processes can support plant growth. Sometimes we forget to go right back to basics to understand things and I think it is helpful in this situation. Regardless if you are a cropper or a grazier or what you think of the exhaust system, there is some great understanding about plant growth here.
HOW DO PLANTS GROW?
I’m sure you will all recall the process of photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is taken from the air by plants, and along with water from the soil and light energy from the sun, plants convert these things into plant photosynthates (sugars, starches, proteins, carbohydrates). Oxygen is released from the plant in this process. It can be simply represented by this equation.
6CO2+ 6H2O + sunlight energy = C6H12O6 + 6O2
(Carbon dioxide + water + sunlight = glucose + oxygen)
This is how carbon gets from the air into plants. The plant releases some of the produced sugars as root exudates to feed soil microbes and fungus (which supply nitrogen and other nutrients to the plant), as a result this is also one way that carbon ends up in the soil. Continue reading “GROWER EXPERIENCES WITH EXHAUST EMISSIONS and basic plant physiology” »
If we can omit a negative from our farm businesses, then this is a good thing, but if we can turn that negative into a positive, then even better still! This has been the experience of growers who have taken tractor exhaust emissions are directed them into the soil.
Three negatives are eliminated:
- The release of carbon into the atmosphere
- The use of certain artificial fertilisers that can harm beneficial soil microbes, leach into waterways and aquifers and create mineral imbalance in the plant.
- The use of fungicides as seed treatments – which can also harm beneficial fungi in the soil.
The exhaust emissions become a desirable thing – as they stimulate soil biology, fumigate planting seed and provide carbon and micronutrients to the soil. The emissions are not designed to be a plant fertiliser in themselves, but rather are there to prime the soil microbiology, so that THEY can make available the necessary nutrients for the crop or pasture. Continue reading “TRACTOR EXHAUST EMISSIONS AS A SOIL PRIMER” »
We found a mushroom in our black soil country this week, which was very exciting for us. This country has been in perennial pastures for 4 years now, but before this, had a history of years of chemical use and fallow periods. We think this is a pretty good indicator of the soil health improving as Derek has never seen one on this black soil farming country before… ever. My Dad talks of taking box trailers full of mushrooms to the Sydney markets, which he picked as a kid from the pastures in their paddocks at Yass, in southern NSW (Australia). Whilst there are still mushrooms about, they are not of this quantity that they once were and it got me thinking about fungi, which led me to mycorrhizal fungi.
It’s pretty clear that mycorrhizal fungi are a wonderful advantage to have in soils – you will even hear the benefits of it touted in conventional farming circles! Let’s examine it a little more though – because when we understand the potential benefits of something, is when we begin to value it enough to encourage it and work out how we can incorporate it into our farming systems.
Unlike mushrooms, mycorrhizal fungi exist in obligate symbiotic relationships with plant roots. What does this mean? This means that the mycorrhizae are entirely dependent on the plant roots for their survival – they cannot exist without the plant roots. They rely on the liquid carbon containing exudates from the roots of their host plants. You will no doubt be familiar with the appearance of fungi – with the strand like threads of hyphae that they produce. These hyphae grow into the tips of the roots and extend out into the surrounding soil – seeking nutrients like N, P, S, Zn and Boron, as well as moisture. It seeks and supplies these things for the plant in exchange for the carbon rich root exudates which it feeds on for energy. Continue reading “MAGNIFICENT MYCORRHIZAE” »
I know as farmers (and possibly more you men folk) we love to learn from each other the nitty gritty practical ways that we address certain things on the farm. So this week I thought I might start a conversation about stock water delivery and share what we’ve been up to here at ‘The Conscious Farm’. We have a fair variety of troughs and water delivery systems, which you will see. I want to share with you the relative success and downfalls of each and their influences on the land regeneration that we want to achieve.
Our farm consists of black soil plains, sloping red soil country with scattered timber and timbered, less productive hill country. On the plains and some of the sloping country we have portable water troughs and smaller paddock sizes – this is our most favoured system. Some of the sloping country also has smaller blocks, but with a central point that stock water from. The hill country has around 200ha hectares of land that all still comes back to the one watering point – and this is something we would like to change. I will share with you the merits of each system what we have done to optimise each one – given that some systems are less than ideal.
This blog will address water delivery systems, so I won’t go into the details of water quality here today – but be aware that this is a very important factor in stock performance. I might look at that on another occasion.
We have loved the many benefits that rotational grazing has brought to our pastures and farm. As part of this system change, it has meant that we had to alter some of our water delivery systems.
The adoption of no-till farming has been great for many reasons, but why are carbon levels of soils still depleting despite the return of much carbon back to the soil via stubble? This week I examine why high rates of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is contributing to soil carbon depletion, as well as what to consider in transitioning from high N agriculture to a lower input system.
The liquid carbon pathway, which is described by Christine Jones and I have reported on in ‘There’s Carbon, then there’s Carbon”, is the way that plants take carbon from the atmosphere and convert it via photosynthesis to carbon rich plant sugars. These sugars which provide two functions for the plant:
- providing immediate fuel to the plants
- are exuded from the plant roots to feed soil microbiology. In turn, these soil microbes make nutrients (including nitrogen), available to the plant. One particularly important outcome of this process is that these root exudates are the substances in which carbon enters the soil in a stable humate form.
When we bypass nature and supply nitrogen in an inorganic form (synthetic fertilisers), there is no requirement for the plant to supply exudates to the soil microbes that in turn supply nitrogen to the plant. This is because the plant already has access to luxury levels of nitrogen. This means we have interrupted the process by which plants deliver stable carbon to the soil, and soils are subsequently being depleted of their carbon stores.1
Continue reading “WHAT’S CONTRIBUTING TO THE CARBON DEPLETION OF OUR SOILS?” »
Dung Beetles! – These little guys were something that I knew were a great advantage to have on your farm but had really underestimated just how fantastic they can be! I have rarely seen the production advantages of dung beetles measured, and it may really surprise you – it certainly did me.
If you could get a 50% increase in your pasture production, sustained over at least a 9 year period you’d be pretty happy right? Well this is the change capacity that dung beetles possess. And at no cost! So, wouldn’t the smart thing be to make choices that encourage them onto your farm, or to introduce them to your farm if they are not already present?
Dung beetles are a ‘no off farm input’, true regenerator of the soil – and that’s what we’re interested in! Their tunneling aids in rainfall infiltration, breaking up compaction, moving nutrients into the soil and leaving pathways in the soil through which root systems can easily penetrate – and importantly, they help contribute to our bottom line.
Not to mention that they can be pretty fun and interesting to watch! Derek and I were most excited the first time we came across the ball rolling beetles here at home.
So, the question is, how do they achieve regenerative outcomes and how can we encourage them onto our farms?
I mentioned a few weeks back the feedback I had from Cam at Uralla (NSW, Australia) about how he is optimising animal performance in his planned grazing operation on the New England Tablelands of NSW. This is something that Cam, like us, has had trouble optimising in the past. But Cam is turning this around with some tweaking of his management; he doesn’t profess to fully understand why he is getting the outcomes he is, but with his income reliant on consistent weight gain and meeting growth targets of dairy heifers, he has got a pretty good handle on what is working and what is not. He takes on heifers from around 120 – 180kg and carries them through until the point of calving, during which time he is regularly weighing, observing and monitoring and changing tact to optimise performance. He is paid for weight and size gains.
It is the density of stocking and the time between moves that Cam has been playing with. He has practiced time controlled grazing for some 25 years now, but it is only within the last few years that Cam has really felt he’s getting a handle on how to optimise animal performance – which is also coinciding with better pasture performance. Let’s look at what Cam has been doing.
How fantastic to chat with two of the world’s leading cover croppers who are reaping the benefits from their multispecies cover cropping. Look back on last week’s blog for the background on cover cropping, and let’s now get to learning from Gabe Brown from North Dakota and Gail Fuller from Kansas, who I have spoken with last week to get some real life experiences of this technique. To me, the most truly amazing improvement that these farmers have affected and measured over time is rainfall infiltration rates. Testing on Gabe’s farm shows increases from initial rates of ½”/hour (12mm) to 8”(200mm)/hour – a 16 fold increase! Gabe says “we can produce more grain on a lot less rainfall”. Similarly, Gail Fuller reports at least a 6 fold increase – from less than 1”(25mm)/hour to 6.5”(163mm)/hour in the high clay soils of Kansas.
This allows them to optimise rainfall capture from the less frequent, but more intense and heavier rainfall events being experienced in recent years. This infiltration then also prevents erosion and nutrient loss from what would otherwise be runoff rainfall events.
Sometimes we find ourselves skipping straight to thinking about why a technique won’t work in our environment, but I encourage you to think, ‘how can I adapt this so that it could work in my environment?” So, before we get too concerned about this not working in a dry climate – I will tell you that Gabe Brown has a 16 inch rainfall (10” falls as rain and 6” as snow – certainly not a wet environment), and things are well and truly working there, where Gabe achieves grain yields 25% above the district average, with just 1/3 of the input costs (more on the input changes later). He has temperatures typically ranging from 36oC (98oF) to minus 34oF (-30oC), with 90oF (32oC) common for much of summer.
If you are considering starting out cover cropping, the first cover crop is likely to be ‘ugly’, as Gail puts it. ”Understand however, that while it may not look like a great success visually, there will be lots of useful and wonderful things happening below ground – even with a poor crop” Gail assures. ”Remember, we have 100 years or so of a ‘dead’ system to repair, so don’t lose heart.”
There is SO much to offer from the huge and exciting variety of applications of this technique – it’s hard to know where to start! What I will be doing is start by focusing on the concepts of cover cropping and addressing the nitty gritty and real life experiences (which is what I love most) in coming blogs, rather than doing one big gloss over. This will keep the blogs to a readable length and will also allow your feedback and input, which we can build on as the later blogs come.
[Talking of feedback, I had some really great and helpful feedback from Cam at Uralla after last week’s blog on animal performance under planned grazing systems. More on Cam’s feedback and comments in the side bar(to the right) of the main page of this blog. Thanks HEAPS Cam. I'm sure that Cam's sharing with us will help give more of you in our Conscious Farmer community the confidence to share your experiences. You will realise that this is a ‘safe’ place in which you can share; either for the benefit of informing others or for seeking input from me and/or others].
Back to cover cropping! There are ALL SORTS of reasons to cover crop, which include incorporating grazing into the system. Certain farmers have worked with this technique and had some amazing success with it and I hope to take this and share it around other parts of the world.
Just imagine increasing your soil infiltration from ½” (25mm) per hour to 8”/hr (200mm)? This is an astonishing improvement achieved by North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown, whose experiences I will share with you next week! On our farm in recent years, we have experienced longer dry periods between which we have more intense and heavier rainfall events compared with the more even nature of our annual rainfall of last decade. I hear these observations echoed by North Americans with regard to their areas. (I am interested to know if the South Americans and Africans are experiencing similar). What this means however, is that CAPTURE and STORAGE of rainfall are now more critical than ever.
The amount of rainfall that we are able to INFILTRATE during these less frequent falls becomes paramount; more important than our actual yearly rainfall. Not only this, but how much we can then hold in the soil to stretch us through to the next rainfall event is equally as critical.
What is cover cropping?
Traditionally I would have thought of cover cropping as the planting of a legume or oats crop (often referred to as a green manure crop) in between cash crops, which is either worked in or sprayed out. Well, this is old school and playing small compared with the amazing things being done now.
All graziers must surely want to be able to grow more grass – more grass means more stock, which means more kilograms of beef or lamb (or whatever animal), which means more money, right? Well – only if managed correctly.
“Too much grass is a bigger problem than not enough grass”
This is something I was told once and my initial reaction was ‘What??!’. I’ve learnt that this CAN be right and I will explain why and when.
…. Years ago we began to manage our cattle under a planned grazing rotation and moved away from a set stock system. We saw lots of fantastic changes in our farm as a result of this changed management. These include:
- Dramatically increased ground cover
- A lack of weeds, as the opportunity for them to germinate disappeared together with the poor ground cover.
- Massive dungbeetle numbers
- Much improved water infiltration – evidenced by farm dams that now rarely fill (we water cattle from portable troughs supplied from our bore).
- When soils are saturated and do reach the point of runoff – it does so as beautiful clear runoff water.
- A succession to higher order pasture species.
- The natural regeneration of trees
- And LOTS more grass.
Let’s talk about the ‘lots more grass’.
Can we increase stable soil carbon levels with no till cropping systems?
Will crash grazing plant matter to the soil surface increase stable soil carbon levels?
These are important things to consider, as carbon is one of THE main things that will help to restore our soils. It will increase the resilience of our farm businesses in dry times, by allowing greater water holding capacity of our soils. And longer dry spells we are having – with more intermittent rainfall events. For most of us, water is the most limiting factor in our production systems. Continue reading “THERE’S CARBON, THEN THERE’S CARBON” »
There is one thing that seems quite clear to me, is that one of the best ways to improve our soils, is to have root systems from a diversity of plants, actively growing for as much of the year as possible. Pasture cropping fits the bill here beautifully and has resulted in some truly impressive soil and profitability improvements.
Now if you are a cropper and think, “this isn’t relevant to me”, or you’re a grazier and you’re thinking, “I don’t crop” – do read on, as pasture cropping has such a wide applicability and there are lots of lessons about soil health to be learned.
But first, let’s look at what pasture cropping is….
WHAT IS PASTURE CROPPING?
Pasture cropping is the coming together of cropping and grazing for the symbiotic benefit of both enterprises, economically and environmentally. It is the
‘zero till sowing of annual crops into living perennial pasture’.
Colin Seis, one of the founders of pasture cropping, also refers to it as
Perennial Cover Cropping.