Healthy cows from healthy soils
“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil ... There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” - Charles E. Kellogg, USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1938
My aim of talking to farmers as well as advisers and researchers is going to plan. As I mentioned before, while anecdotal evidence is not necessarily definitive, practical experience is an essential means of assessing the success of alternative soil management strategies, particularly if they have been following a system for 25 years as has Leon Brubacher. His farm is at Himrod, south of Lake Ontario: organically managed for 25 years, now certified, 30 hectares, 40 dairy cows and followers on silty loam soils.
The farm uses the Fertrell soil advisory service http://www.fertrell.com and undertakes analysis of half the fields every year, using an independent soil lab which is following a form of Albrecht analysis. However what is becoming clear is that there are many versions of Albrecht analysis and some major differences in interpretation and soil management recommendations between advisers. In this case there is less emphasis put on establishing the correct cation balance and more emphasis on addressing mineral deficiencies with a range of products including Potassium Sulphate, Sulphur and Boron. Aragonite is used regularly, a seashell, calcareous mined product containing some trace elements, with similar soil biological activity claims made as for calcified seaweed. I was surprised to find that Chilean nitrate is permitted and used to establish crops such as maize. It is three decades since the Chilean nitrate battles in the UK!
My natural scepticism about advisers linked to companies selling fertilisers leaves me wondering about the need for the use of some of these products. I understand the need to rectify deficiencies, and I think that there is insufficient attention to that in the UK, but the frequency of use here is more difficult to reconcile. Leon was able to convince me that the fertility of his soils had increased significantly over the years and that application rate are substantially lower than when he started out. He sensibly monitors plant tissue analysis regularly to ensure that the plan t is getting what it needs. Earthworm populations are good.
The farm was beautifully cared for and cows looking very well indeed, with no use of medicines of course under NOP standards. The health of the cows suggests that soil management is working.