“To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.” - Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 400 B.C.
Aaron and Arlyn Wise (NY state) patiently spent the afternoon explaining to me what Albrecht soil analysis meant for the management of their soils. Arlyn is a local agent for the Restora-Life soil management service and runs a conventional dairy farm. His brother Aaron has a 75 hectare organic farm supporting 80 cows and all followers, providing virtually the entire diet of the cows: grass, clover and lucerne forage, maize and soya beans. Do the sums; production is outstanding.
As I arrived I was handed a spade – now there’s a first! And soil structure and earthworm activity in most fields was exceptional.
They are both enthusiastic and immensely knowledgeable advocates of the classic Albrecht analysis, as used by Neil Kinsey http://www.kinseyag.com putting great emphasis on base cation exchange capacity; getting the balance of magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium right. The science behind this is hotly contested, notably by Johnny Johnson at Rothamsted and interestingly some services in the UK, such as Glenside have moved away from heavy reliance on ratios towards focusing more on improving nutrient availability.
Following the Restora-Life system Aaron is analysing all fields every year, putting great emphasis on Sulphur which they believe is widely deficient and is critically important for both soil needs and legume nodulation, crop protein assimilation and protein metabolism, which I would support. He has a target 50, or at least 20ppm and is applying 114 kgs/ha Sulphur/year. Boron is also thought to be limiting, to a much greater extent than we would credit it for. The programme also includes regular use of mined marcasite clay known as Flora Stim, to provide a wide range of trace elements. But when retailers claim that a mined product contains beneficial microbes doubts creep in to my mind.
The lab used is Brookside https://www.blinc.com selecting the true Albrecht analysis service including: pH, Organic Matter, Est. N. release, Bray II Phosphorus, Exchange Capacity, % base saturation of Cations, P, Mn, Zn, B, Cu, Fe, Al, S, Ca Mg, K, Na.
Enthusiasts talk a different language; some of the terms are explained here https://www.blinc.com/node/29
It is very striking how many inputs seem to be involved in following the Albrecht or Base Saturation systems of soil management.
The dedication and commitment by these farmers to using the Albrecht analysis and the level of management is itself quite compelling. The cost in analysis and inputs and the time involved is very substantial. The results in terms of soil life and soil structure and crop yields of up to 20 tonnes of forage per hectare speak for themselves. For those of us trying to get a better understanding of a subject it is always difficult to know what to make of a different approach in the absence of good research. However successful experience by farmers cannot be lightly dismissed.
Returning again to standards. US NOP organic standards are nonsense. The prohibition of all medicines to animals was not some benign restriction to ensure consumer health but a ploy by an early dairy market pioneer to protect his market from newcomers! As we saw in my last blog organic principles are flouted by some NOP certifiers, and production without soil is imminent and proposed changes are not tightening these loopholes, but instead threatening to prohibit tethering of cows, and I have to admit that Aarons cows looked blissfully content, tethered after a couple of hours grazing good forage in mid winter.