Showing posts from March, 2021

Healthy Plants Produce Healthy Soils

Spring is a time for new growth by plants, animals, and microbes. As temperatures warm, microbial populations double with every ten degrees Fahrenheit increase in soil temperature. As days get longer, the sun’s energy is captured by plants and that energy feeds microbes and almost all living organisms on earth. Keeping ourselves well fed depends not only on the sun’s energy but also having healthy microbes, healthy plants, and healthy soils recycling soil nutrients. When plants are healthy, they transmit more energy into the soil in the form of root exudates and sugars to feed the microbes. Unhealthy plants do the opposite which means soils become unhealthy. In a typical unhealthy soil, plants are operating at about 15-20% of optimum photosynthesis efficiency so they are putting less energy in the form of sugars into the soil, the microbial population is lower and less diverse, which results in inefficient mineral uptake. Unhealthy plants and soils then tend to have more insect problem

Pollinators for Birds, Bees and Butterflies

The birds are chirping while bees and butterflies will soon be flying as spring starts to blossom. Pollinators are an important food source for over 4,000 species of wild native bees and 725 species of butterflies in North America. The monarch butterfly population has declined dramatically and may soon be an endangered species. Many wild bees, flies, and butterflies pollinate many crops humans consume. Providing healthy pollinator habitat is a way to preserve these beneficial species. The annual value of insect pollinated crops is $29 billion per year and about 80% of flowering plants need pollinators to survive according to a Cornell study. Domestic honey bees hive loss is estimated to be 30% annually but only a 15% loss is acceptable. USA honey sales are about $5 billion per year with Ohio pollinator services valued at 216 million. Most of the decline in pollinators is the result of a loss of pollinator habitat and pesticides which either kill or weaken certain species and makes them

Building Soil Carbon

There is renewed interest in paying farmers to sequester soil carbon by building soil organic matter (SOM) levels. Building soil carbon is dependent upon temperature, moisture, vegetation, tillage, soil texture, crop rotation, and microbial activity. Soil is a major storehouse for carbon and carbon dioxide. Ohio soils originally had 5-6% soil organic matter (50-60 tons decomposed SOM) in the top furrow slice (6.7 inches) of soil. Most Ohio soils today only have about 2-3% SOM, so an additional 2-4% SOM could be added.  Temperature, moisture, and vegetation controlled most carbon and SOM storage historically. Tropical areas have lower SOM while colder soils store more carbon in SOM. Tropical carbon is stored above ground while colder climates store carbon in the soil due to limited temperature and moisture. Every 100F temperature increase will double microbial activity and releases carbon as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The type of vegetation impacts carbon sequestration. Hardwoo

Improving Drainage with Cover Crops

As the weather warms and snow melts, many fields are saturated with standing water. While cover crops may improve drainage, they are not a cure all. A farmer with no tile or subsurface drainage once asked why the cover crop’s he planted did not improve his drainage. Fields need an outlet for water to drain away whether that be surface drainage or subsurface (tile) drainage. Most plant roots do not grow in water, and when the water table is high, root growth is severely limited due to a lack of oxygen. Even cover crops needs some internal drainage to maximize root growth. Cover crops improve soil structure, add soil organic matter (SOM), and create root channels to move water into existing tile lines. Cover crops may make your existing drainage system work more efficiently. Many farmers today are splitting 40 to 50-foot tile lines that was installed years ago to improve drainage. Some farmers are finding that with good stands of cover crops, they can forgo splitting tile lines by improv