‘Healing’ with cover crops
It has been nearly 32 years since a steam explosion and fires released part of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Russia.
The area won’t be suitable for human life for at least 20,000 years, according to livescience.com.
But trees and wildlife have made a comeback. Wolves, deer, lynx, beaver, eagles, boars and bears are thriving.
There’s life there, still. There’s life everywhere, including deserts.
Ray Archuleta calls it “Chernobyl Healing.”
The planet responds quickly to help, especially in the form of cover crops, Archuleta, a retired soil conservationist, conservation agronomist and water quality specialist known as “The Soil Guy,” said March 29 during a “maximizing soil health” workshop at Events in Kasson.
“What I keep learning is how amazing life is, and the biology, and how we can bring healing in quick,” he said. “I have farmers now, who in less than three to five years have started getting incredible healing on their soils, and started having less input. Some farmers no longer use chemical nitrogen. Some have reduced their herbicide by 75 percent. No more insecticide. No more fungicide. That’s exciting. Farmers now have hope.”
Archuleta, founder of Soil Health Consultants and the Soil Health Academy, said his goal is to teach farmers how to emulate the natural systems and mimic nature.
The more sun you capture by covering crops, he said, the more money you’ll make.
“Nature’s been around for billions of years,” he said. “Our farming systems mimic the way nature does business, like diversity, animals in the system, living roots always covered. Farmers can reduce the cost of their inputs, and then they don’t have to depend on the chemical companies, they don’t have to depend on government, they can build organic matter, they can have better, rich, nutrient-dense food, and they can start bringing the son and the daughter back into the farming or ranching operation, because they don’t have to spend money on inputs.”
Archuleta is inspirational, and “tells it like it is,” said Tom Pyfferoen, who operates about 800 acres of crop land and finishes about 180 beef animals each year on his Dodge County farm.
“He’s seen what happened. He’s seen failure. And he says the only direction we can go is up. We’ve got to improve,” Pyfferoen said. “And I think that’s probably the most inspiring part of it is, ‘Do a better job, and this is how I can help you do a better job.’ You’ve got to be a little open-minded, be a little creative, but I think he’s shown us a little science here today. Very simple science, that says,
‘Wow, I wonder how my soils do.’ And I think it’s an eye-opener. And anyone can go home and take clods of soil, dry them out and do this. I’ve seen this happen multiple times. It’s kind of a humbling moment.”
Pyfferoen said he appreciated Archuleta’s discussion about how to back off on the use of fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and commercial fertilizer when first employing cover crops and no-till farming.
That can be done, he said, without hurting yield profitability.
Pyfferoen has added tile, waterways, buffers and cover crops, and tests nitrate in his tile lines to ensure he’s not over-applying nitrogen.
“I think cover crops are catching on,” he said. “I think the early adopters of cover crops are people who are mostly into livestock. You can notice as you move from the Rochester area west, soils get blacker, there’s more tillage done, more bean ground. As you move to the east there are more guys who are doing less tillage. That’s probably more from an erosion standpoint. But as you move west, guys think that we have to till soils, get them black to warm them up. And I think you’ll see that Ray will tell you that you don’t need to do that. Soil will come to life if you give it the opportunity and you feed the biology. Soils will naturally come to life. You just have to be patient and understand when they come to life.”
The event, sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project in Lewiston, also included a farm panel with Pyfferoen; Kevin Connelly of Byron, who raises dairy and beef cows, row crops, small grains, forages and cover crops; and John Meyer of Stewartville, who farms completely with no-till row crops and cover crops.
Archuleta said current farm policies are hurting the U.S. and other nations, but organizations like the Land Stewardship Project are “building bridges.”
“When people get organized, change can happen,” he said