How Embracing Soil Biology Leads to Better No-Till Profitability

Ray Archuleta explains why soil biology is so important to crop production and how utilizing soil life more aggressively can boost no-till performance.

Ray Archuleta has more hope for the soils affected by the 1985 Chernobyl nuclear power-plant explosion than he does for most agricultural fields in the U.S.

While scientists said after the disaster that Chernobyl would be a wasteland and no life would ever return due to radioactive waste that spewed onto the land, now there are many written accounts about how quickly the land there is healing.

Why? Because there are no humans there, Archuleta says, speculating Chernobyl will heal quicker than U.S. agricultural fields.

“The Chernobyl ground is getting recovery time,” he explains. “But our agricultural soils are continually bombarded by chemistry and tillage.”


No-Till Takeaways

• Don’t overapply nitrogen, as it causes soil microbes to consume glues that formulate soil aggregates, increasing runoff and reducing air in the soil.

• Focus on water-soluble carbon, not just soil organic matter. This liquid carbon is critical to nutrient and water cycling.

• Consider using the Haney test or some other type of soil biological test to gauge soil health.

Archuleta, a soil health specialist and retired conservation agronomist for the NRCS in Greensboro, N.C., says that when he left agronomy school, farming was about “forcing, controlling and manipulating” the ecosystem through chemicals and tillage. In school, Archuleta says he was indoctrinated with the idea that farming was about yield.

But he encourages no-tillers to take a new approach to crop production with biomimicry. Calling it the “new science of the future,” biomimicry is what the soil health movement is all…

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Laura allen

Laura Barrera

Laura Barrera is the former managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide magazines. Prior to joining No-Till Farmer, she served as an assistant editor for a greenhouse publication. Barrera holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Ball State University.

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