“They are actually growing soil here”, John Chibirka (USDA-NRCS PA) told the 19th annual Cover Crop and Soil Health gathering of 300 farmers on Steve Groff’s no-till-cover crop farm in Holtwood PA. He was referring to when the 2006 World Soil Congress visited Steve’s farm and found by in situ tests that 20 years of cover-cropping and no-till had resulted in formation of new soil overlaying the topsoil.
To the north, in Houlton Maine, the Southern Aroostook Soil & Water Conservation District sponsored a similar soil health event with Ray Archuleta (NRCS-NC) and guest potato farmer Brendon Rockey (CO). Rockey Farms is adding multi-species cover crops and legume companions into potatoes. Brendon told Mainers “we lost the art that our grandfathers and their fathers knew- and now, we are relearning that”. Ray Archuleta, NRCS Soil Conservationist (NC) called the growing movement of cover cropping and reduced tillage “almost organic” in reference to significant reductions in herbicides and fertilizers that some are reporting.
A cornerstone to soil health is changing the way soils are tested. Will Brinton (Woods End Lab/Solvita, ME) explained to the Holtwood audience that “soil testing traditionally focused on available nutrients and it’s now time to include the biology”. Jay Fuhrer (USDA-NRCS-ND), mentioned Dakota Bakken Shale fracking, and explained just how costly fertilizers will become in terms of fossil fuel futures. Presently there is over-fertilization in the USA tied to soil tests which do not take into account biological soil functions. Just what that means was made evident by many farmers who gave testament about picking up 30 lbs extra nitrogen due to cover crops with boosts in yields of an extra 5 – 8 bushels.
Both events included a closer look at the Solvita CO2-Burst test incorporated into the USDA ARS Soil Health Tool. Audiences learned how USDA-ARS and Woods End Lab started researching soil tests based on respiration as early as 1996. Brinton next addresses a SWCS meeting about the history of Solvita soil respiration in Fargo, ND, on November 25, 2013.