Thursday, November 6, 2014

Life And Soil Minerals

Juan Alvez at the University of Vermont wrote a good piece that reiterates many of the blogs I've posted here the past six years.  Since the onset of agriculture, successful farming has meant the extraction of minerals from soil as plants grow. A relatively small world population and a vast agricultural frontier made this seem a problem of minor consideration and until relatively recently, Planet Earth seemed infinite!

However, today many health professionals agree that even human health relates to the minerals present or, lacking in the soil. Depleted soils can exacerbate metabolic diseases that may unlock an array of health consequences. “Animals and humans are the biochemical picture of the soil”, said Andre Voisin, in his “Soil, Grass and Cancer” book. This approach shows us that an imbalanced equation, with foods grown in poor-quality soils, cannot produce positive results in living organisms.
 
Minerals and other micronutrients become available in the soil very slowly. It takes millions of years for rocks to break down, generations of animal carcasses to decompose and return their constituent elements to the soil. But what takes millions of years can be depleted in a geologically relative instant.   This happens because crops and animals that grow every year in our farmlands, draw upon the minerals for their growth (present in carcasses and grains), and these “withdrawals” are rarely re-deposited. In the last 150 years, the rate ­­­of extraction of soil minerals, from crops to livestock, has been far greater than what has been put back in. To complicate this scenario even more, most agricultural soils are back on production shortly after a new season starts, extracting yet more nutrients from an already depleted system.
 
It’s true that soil amendments are frequently applied by many farmers.  But when amended, soils usually receive tiny, effectively homeopathic amounts, and these are frequently in the form of synthetic fertilizers or raw manure, compared to the considerably large quantities removed. These applications mainly replenish macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and are usually catered to a given crop. This is far from enough. Micronutrients such as, calcium, iron, magnesium, boron, zinc, etc., are as important or more for diverse life functions, (included human health), but they are usually the first to be neglected.

Actually, Calcium and Sulfur are required in large quantities to affect soil quality because a plant can only take up a little of each nutrient.  Foliar feeding is not a good option for these two elements needed in luxury amounts.
 
Ideally, minerals should be processed -ingested and digested- by soil microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, nematodes and earthworms), and aggregated into organic matter before they can be healthily absorbed through the food chain. Most soils contain micronutrients, but they are considered healthy,when living organisms are present. All these creatures need water to mobilize minerals, and water is more successfully held in soils that remain covered.
 
Making a profit next year is going to be tough.  What soil amendments are you going to add?  Which ones do you need?  What is cost effective?
 
Ed Winkle

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