A hot topic in regenerative farming circles these past few years is the use of cover crops. Do they have a place in ‘modern’ farming practices. Modern mostly meaning supply/demand/government subsidies/market considerations. Modern farming practices currently are very hard on soil health and microbes.
Nevertheless, there are some farmers who had embraced cover cropping decades ago with huge successes in improving soils and yields, some are just now dipping their toes in the ‘new’ (actually ancient) practice, and still others staunchly refuse to consider them.
These principles have been around for centuries, but more recently promoted by Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, Jay Fuhrer, Jon Srika, and others
Five Principles of Soil Health:
- Limit Disturbance – limit mechanical, chemical, and physical disturbance of soil. Widespread tillage destroys soil structure and function.
- Keep the Soil Covered – maintain an armor of plant residue on the soil surface. Residue can inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, reduce erosion, reduce evaporation, and provide organic matter for soil microbes.
- Promote and Build Diversity – incorporating cover crops or diversifying your crop rotation or both! The synergy of diverse root exudates improves soil health.
- Keep Living Roots in the Soil – keep living roots in the soil for as many months as possible. Converting solar energy to biological energy feeds mycorrhizal fungi. Miles of roots hold soil in place and increases water holding capacity.
- Integrate Animals – Properly managed grazing animals taking a bite of grass pumps more carbon back into the system. Slobber, urine, manure, biting and ripping grasses, all add so much to the system, it’s impossible to discuss in this short blog.
For full stories and explanation of these five principles, i highly recommend Gabe Brown’s excellent book, Dirt to Soil.
Another great article by Jim Gerrish, consultant and owner of American Grazing Lands, published in The Stockman Grass Farmer.
Published as “Grassroots of Grazing” Jim’s regular column provides “Making Change is about Creating a New Comfort Zone” in the December 2017 issue which offers his observations about how people in the grazing/farming/ranching world accept or reject change often needed for the business to survive, or more importantly, thrive so that the next generation will be willing to be involved.
His closing comments of the article: (you’ll have to buy a back issue for Jim’s full article as well as great articles by other authors)
“I had already come to understand people were not going to change just because something made biological and economic sense. We all have to be comfortable with the idea of change before we will be willing to even consider change no matter how much empirical evidence is thrown at us supporting that change.
For many of us that comfort level is based on acceptance by our family and community.
I have found it is much easier to sell the ideas of MiG (management-intensive grazing), soil health, grassfed beef, summer calving, and a myriad of other atypical management concepts to someone who has no background at all in ranching and no tie to the local community than it is to get someone with 40 years of experience on a family ranch to change. The lifelong rancher may grudgingly agree that those ideas make sense, but the most common retort is still, “but I can’t see how we can make that work here.”
That individual is absolutely correct, until you can see that it will work here, it probably won’t. The biggest part of that “will it work here” question is how the rest of the family sees it. The better a family knows itself, the easier it is for that one rabble-rouse to make a difference. If the lines of communication are broken, the more likely it is that things will continue to operate the way they always have.
Then we are back to that sad situation so common in multi-generational agriculture: We advance one funeral at a time.”
Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally. He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com
American Grazing Lands, LLC on Facebook
When to Graze video