Biological Farming Trending Up

| 12/2/2013 10:56:00 AM

I recently attended a workshop funded by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment which caused a jump shift for me. It was held just south of Lawrence, Kansas, and hosted by the Douglas County Conservation District. The title-”Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” might have tipped me off, but I’ve been to lots of conferences with catchy titles and underwhelming information. This one was very different.

From the start the presenters and content were cutting edge and imprecise. Imprecise is the right word hereGail Fuller Emporia Kansas because unlike a lot of farm workshops the information was not given in formulas. Our main presenter, farmer Gail Fuller of Emporia, gave us reasons why no-till, cover crops, and mob grazing were working for him.

He was making a case for biological or even ecological farming, but he didn’t and couldn’t tell the 150 farmers assembled how to do it on their farms. He simply told his story of evolution from growing commodity grains for a feedlot to growing nutritious food products and adding value to them.

As a baseline Fuller quoted the NRCS’s Ray Archuleta’s Four Keys to Healthy Soil, 1. Minimize disturbance 2. Maximize diversity 3. Maintain growing roots all year 4. Keep the soil covered. No-till farming and cover cropping green crops flow naturally as production techniques from the 4 rules. Fuller gave us lots of details about his short and bumpy five year road from one cover crop per year to green plants growing before, during and after every crop he grows. As an educator on the benefits of compost, I was thrilled to hear the need for a wide variety of plants which produce a wide variety of root exudates (underground sugary juices). We were told that the more plants types, the broader the variety of underground biota and the healthier the soil.

Gail showed us pictures of water quality tests that failed to collect runoff from his fields for three years. The researchers eventually quit coming out to check their run off collectors because they became convinced that water does run off of his fields! Fuller mentioned growing bumper crops of corn with 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre. (a very small amount) He’s now finding that his yields are similar when he uses no fertilizer at all. He’s not trying to be an organic farmer, he just doesn’t need fertilizer any more!

With the variety of cover crops he’s growing, it seems natural that Fuller has diversified the crops he grows for sale. He mentioned that he’s getting a premium for his grains from feedlots that are now doing nutritional testing and paying more for nutrient-dense feed. The ultimate value-added move in his farming is returning animals to the land. Beef, lamb and chicken raised on nutritious forage and moved quickly from paddock to paddock greatly increase the productivity of the land and lets the animals do the fertilizing themselves.

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