Monday, January 18, 2016

Soil 300: Burned Out

When I was in high school when someone was called a burn out it typically involved illegal drugs that are now being promoted for medicinal purposes. When I was in college being burned out was the fatigue after finals when you hadn't slept much for a week. When I was 30 years old being burned out typically meant you were over doing work, church or farming, because you were a workahololic.  When I was 35 burned out could be applied to burning down the rainforest and the depleted soils that resulted 3 to 4 years later. When I was 40 burned out might be applied to a person who maxed out their credit. Do you see a trend here. None of these connotations is positive.

 I submit there is another definition of burned out today that makes sense in agriculture.

Burned out today applies to our soils at multiple levels.

  1. Our soils are addicted to chemical fertilizers.
  2. Our soils are tired because we don't replace trace minerals removed by our crops. In the same way our bodies crave minerals and salts from the sea, the soil craves a good "salting" after several years of heavy cropping. Salting is this case means application of minerals "not salts".
  3. Our soils are depleted of organic matter because we burn out the carbon in the soil by heavy use of anhydrous ammonia.
  4. Our soils are dead because of the use of super phosphate fertilizer, which suppresses soil life.
  5. Our soils are confused because of the GMO plants and residue that the soil biology is forced to interact with. These new "super plants" have unknown DNA that our soil microbes don't know what to do with in term of breaking it down.
  6. Our soils are aged beyond their years. Soils, like a fine wine, should improve with age. Our agricultural soils do not. Our soils are aging, when they should be youthing, to borrow a phrase from the health and wellness industry.
  7. Our soils are thirsty. In his book "Your Bodies Many Cries for Water", Dr. B. talks about the critical role that hydration plays in our health. The same thing applies to soil. If there isn't enough organic mater to hold the rainfall our soils won't function properly. This is actually more about the cover on the soil and organic matter than available rainfall. Most cropping regions have enough rainfall if we utilize it well and build our soils toward that end.

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