We attended a course on soil fertility presented by a renowned soil fertility specialist, Neal Kinsey (author of Hands-on Agronomy) this week. One of the statements that Neal emphasised was that farmers should focus on feeding their soil, and the soil will then feed their plants. He advocates for a balanced soil, which has all of the primary nutrients (N, P & K), the other secondary nutrients (Ca, Mg, Na & S) and the micro nutrients (Fe, Cu, Mn, B, Mo, Co & Zn) in correct percentages of plant availability.
Neal also stated that: “The soil is the only stomach that the plant has”. I had never thought of soil in this manner before, and found it to be an interesting perspective. The soil is where a plant gets all of the nutrients it requires to grow. It is important that the soil has all of the nutrients that a plant needs, in plant available forms, to allow the plant to grow without any limitations. Healthy soil results in healthy plants, which results in healthy food. Healthy food is desirable for both animals and people, and is a goal of every farmer. Balanced soil fertility is an important aspect of achieving healthy soil.
The other point which Neal emphasised, which I fully agree with, is that: “You do not need to guess what the soil needs, you can measure it.” This is something that is central to what Trace & Save believes and does. We test soil to assess where opportunities exist for farmers to achieve a more balanced soil as mentioned above. We then observe how the soil analyses change over time to see what adjustments need to be made, with the continual goal of having a healthy, balanced soil. It is important to us that we measure soil life and structure, along with fertility, as these three components are what make up soil health.
I learned a lot from Neal, was encouraged by many of his stories of success in working together with farmers, and was left thinking of so many more questions that we have to research in developing a better understanding of the soil. Our goal is to continue to support farmers in our shared quest for more sustainable food production.