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Lessons from the Field: How Growers Profit from Regenerative Soils

Increasing plant diversity, adding livestock and following a simple soil-testing program can significantly add to the bottom line, growers say.

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In the not-so-distant future, the key to building a resilient and profitable farm operation may require farmers to see their system as a pyramid that that uses biological tools to build and manage healthy, productive soils and produce nutrient dense food.

Soil microbiologist Kristine Nichols — founder of KRIS (Knowledge for Regeneration and Innovation in Soil Systems — calls this the “soil regeneration pyramid,” and at the foundation of it is living roots that are growing for as long as possible. It’s a worthy goal, she says, even for farmers facing challenges with growing-degree days or growing season length.

“I can guarantee you can have something green and growing out there for probably 250-280 days, but you also have to choose the right plants,” Nichols said at the Regenerative Agriculture Conference in Brandon, Manitoba recently. “This is about poly cropping, relay cropping and intensifying your systems.

“Having something growing during the vegetative growth phase is when carbon will be going below ground to maximize your system’s success.”

The total weight of organisms in the top 6 inches of soil, on a per-acre basis, can vary. But in a healthy soil it should be 20,000 pounds, Nichols says, adding it’s about the equivalent of feeding 15-23 cows per acre every day all year round. “That’s the amount of photosynthesis we need to have for a healthy soil,” she says.

 

NO-TILL TAKEAWAYS

• Regenerative systems don’t require animals, but adding livestock can accelerate these systems through predation on plant leaves that move…

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