Over the past four weeks I have had the good fortune to travel to four
regional conservation agriculture meetings. These meetings are all billed as no-till meetings in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. What we have learned over the years is that no-till is a tool used in conservation agriculture but is not the “end all” to soil health.
All of these meetings are focused on improving the health and performance of the soil which we work with on our farms and ranches. Improving soil health is the end goal in conservation agriculture and using no-till crop production practices lays the foundation for improved soil health.
With no-till production practices in place, we then can begin building soil health with the introduction of more diverse cropping systems into our crop rotation. We also build soil health by keeping a living root growing in the soil for extended periods during the growing season.
Cover crops and forage crops are introduced into the cropping system to extend the time living roots are growing in the soil. These crops also add more diversity to an already diverse crop rotation.
We can then build upon our system even further by introducing livestock onto these acres to graze the forage crops. Adding livestock adds an economic component to raising these diverse forage crops and adds more diversity to the system. With livestock introduced into this system we also have a more diverse market place to add value to the conservation agricultural system we are developing.
Agricultural producers capture sunlight, carbon, and water and transfer this energy into crops and livestock we can sell. The more efficient we are in this process the more profitable we can become. Extending growing seasons by having a living plant and root growing for as long as possible in the soil allows us to capture more sunlight and carbon.
One major aspect of improved soil health is to increase the amount of effective water we have on our farms and ranches. The amount of precipitation we receive during the year isn’t necessarily a true measurement of the moisture available for the crops we grow.
Effective moisture is better measured in the amount of water we are able to capture and store in the soil and transpire through the plants we grow. If the moisture we receive is lost through runoff, evaporation or leached through the soil profile, it becomes ineffective in crop production.
A healthy soil with residues on the soil surface to protect the soil can better infiltrate and store the moisture we receive. Having a living plant and root growing in the soil for extended times during the growing season allows us to better utilize the moisture we receive. Effective moisture utilization is an important component to conservation agriculture.
One of the most inspiring and humbling speakers I had the pleasure to meet and listen to during my travels to these meetings is Dr. Kofi Boa from Ghana, Africa. Dr. Boa has a unique perspective on conservation agriculture and truly understands the benefits this systems approach to achieving soil health can have in agricultural production. Dr. Boa is revolutionizing agriculture in his homeland of Ghana, Africa. Next week I would like to share Dr. Boa’s story with you.