Building Soils, Feeding Crops with Green and Brown Carbon

Feeding soil life and creating an ideal home for soil “livestock” improves soil structure and health, giving crops the ability to capture and retain more moisture, minerals and sunshine.

Pictured Above: FEEDING BACTERIA, BUILDING SOIL. Gary Zimmer applies the principles of biological farming on his organic farm, using cereal rye and other cover crops to generate most of the nutrients needed for the next crop

I’m a dairy nutritionist, but years ago I got into soils. 

As a dairy guy, I realized you have to treat soils like you would treat a cow. In a cow, we talk about digestion and give them feed. In soils, we talk about residues that have to be rotted down. But it’s still a biological system and there’s still minerals involved. 

Fifty years ago, dairy farms were producing 45 pounds of milk a day. Today, that same farm makes 100 pounds of milk a day. What happened? We learned about digestibility and figured out we could feed cows differently. Back then, we fed cows dry hay, corn cobs, some corn silage, a little dicalcium phosphate and trace mineral salt. There’s not a single dairyman that does that anymore.

Nowadays, feed is all about total mixed rations — seven different types of commodities and feeds and chelated nutritionals, bypass proteins and direct-fed microbials all mixed together for maximum efficiency.

Let’s go back 40 years ago on the soils. What did we do? We found a cheaper source of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potash (K) and limed to a 6.5 pH. What’s different today? Nothing! Why haven’t we changed our approach to feeding the soil the way we changed our approach to feeding livestock?

To view the content, please subscribe or login.
 Premium content is for our Digital-only and Premium subscribers. A Print-only subscription doesn't qualify. Please purchase/upgrade a subscription with the Digital product to get access to all No-Till Farmer content and archives online. Learn more about the different versions and what is included.

Julia gerlach web

Julia Gerlach

Julia Gerlach is Executive Editor of No-Till Farmer. She has a lengthy background in publishing and a longtime interest in gardening and mycology. She graduated with a B.A. in music and philosophy from Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wis.

Top Articles

Current Issue


No-Till Farmer

Get full access NOW to the most comprehensive, powerful and easy-to-use online resource for no-tillage practices. Just one good idea will pay for your subscription hundreds of times over.

Subscribe Now

View More

Must Read Free Eguides

Download these helpful knowledge building tools

View More
Top Directory Listings