A different Perspective On Healthy Soils

I would say if it is not every day it would be every other day that I get a call or have an in person conversation on no-till food plotting. Today was one of those days and the conversation went like this. John, do you follow any of xyz pdq’s videos and blogs. My answer to people is always HELL NO, as I prefer to sleep at night. Today after a pause, I continued. “I have a completely different mindset. I have lived in the land stewardship and cover crop world for 3 decades. If people ask me who have I worked with that had the healthiest soils in my career , my answer is not No Till farmers. My answer is guys who may do no till or they may do convention tillage. A couple of the farmers even used plows and discs.”

I almost could hear the gears grinding as they were digesting the words. “I can prove it even.” There are two ways I know who has the healthiest soils. The first one is by looking at their forage samples. The other is way more expensive and it involves a soil microbial health sample.” Another pause and the individual asked me this question. “What do you think about buckwheat.” I knew that was coming.

“Grandpa Ray’s farm was built on barley and buckwheat.” Was my words. Then the scientist in me used these words. “ In the cover crop world, yield matters and more specifically, dry matter.” After letting the gentleman digest that ditty, I continued. 3500 lbs. of dry matter is average but what if we produced 7000 lbs. of dry matter? What if that 3500 lbs. of dry matter had a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 40-1 versus 25-1? Letting him digest that, My next words were as follows. Let me ask you 5 questions.

  • What is your cec levels?
  • What are your current pH., p and k levels?
  • What was planted previously?
  • What do you want to plant next year?
  • How alive is your soil?

As soon as I asked the last question, I repeated the last question in a slightly different way. “Do you know how alive your soils are?” He responded with the following, “I have no idea.” My response was, and neither do most people who plant food plots, nor sell food plot seeds.” So, as we continued the conversation, I got his contact information to send him a series of questions to help him better understand where he was currently in his “program.”

So, what should people take from this” Just because you are doing no-il doesn’t mean you are doing everything you can to improve soil health scored. My next take is a simple soil sample is the most miss understood item and also something people rely on too much. My last comment is single species forages are not synergistic nor conducive to moving the needle very far. There is a symbiotic response that diverse sets of forages have that can positively tilt the table in your favor. We can build our own growth promoters. We can smother weeds naturally. We can bio-drill. We can fixate nitrogen. We can experience allelopathic benefits. We all have our own unique situation. No canned answer, no generic term and no “content” build healthy soil. Only formulating a well-developed plan based on not just the now but the future will give us the results we are after.

“From Soil to Success” Lead to “The Perfect Acre.” Which will result in the healthiest of “The Next Bite.”