Soil Health Concepts Leading to On-Farm Prescription, Interpretation of the Haney Soil Health Tool and Phospholipid and Fatty Acid Analysis (PLFA)
As I previously discussed in the two previous articles on "Concepts to On-farm Prescription" articles, farmers need to add active carbon into their farming operation. Active carbon is produced by having a plant growing or present 365 and 24/7. That is, we need to have green plants present to intercept sun energy (photosynthesis) to transfer that sun energy to carbon in the form of sugars. These sugars are then translocated throughout the plant that ultimately leaks from the roots. These sugars are then consumed by soil biology. As carbon increases, soil biology increases. I also discussed in the last article that you need to protect carbon increases by minimizing disturbances such as tillage. Also, we need to leave the soil covered. All of these principles protect the food sources and habitat protected. Another principle of soil health is to add diversity. The additional diversity adds quantity and quality of soil biology. The last soil health principle is integrating livestock which brings manure, urine, and saliva to the crop field. These low carbon-nitrogen ratios additions also provide a short-term explosion of soil biology.
The foundation of improving soil health is to increase and protect carbon inputs while the soil biology consumes the active carbon and aggregates soil and cycles nutrients. Many farmers who practice the soil health principles see anecdotal benefits. I want to discuss in this article the interpretation of Soil Health Tool known as the Haney Test developed by Rick Haney, USDA-ARS and a biological soil health test known as Phospholipid and Fatty Acid Analysis (PLFA). I will hit the highlights of these two soil tests. I encourage readers to check out both tests on-line by typing the name of these tests to find out the steps of taking the tests and how they are performed in the lab. I concentrate on the highlights of some of the components and provide a practical discussion on how to interpret the tests.
Read more: Interpretation of Haney and PLFA Analysis
Soil Health Concepts Leading to On-Farm Prescription - Planting Green
I want to begin a new series of articles called Soil Health Concepts Leading to On-Farm Prescription. No one knows the farm as well as an individual farmer who is farming their own land. We consultants, agronomists, etc. provide the science of soil health and cover crop management. This series will address many topics that hopefully will lead to adoption by farmers prescribing these concepts on their individual farms.
I recently returned from meetings in Iowa, where we held seven round-table discussions across the state with many producers, Conservation District Commissioners, and NRCS. One of the topics that came up in our discussions was planting green. The Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts (TACD) recently hosted Steve Groff (Cover Crop Coach, International Speaker, and Cover Crop Farmer) at three meetings. One of his topics was planting green. I am a subscriber of Cover Crop Innovators (covercropinnovators.com) that many cover croppers and consultants are members of this group. Cover crop innovators has a weekly webinar on cover crop topics. Recently, the group covered the 10 hottest trends in 2018, and the number one on the list was planting green. Prior to beginning this article, I quickly reviewed Planting Green on the internet. Many articles were available. I selected three: John Deere, The Furrow, Warming Up to Planting Green; Lancasterfarming.com, 7 keys to Success for Planting into Green Cover Crops; and Penn State Extension, Planting Green - A New Cover Crop Management Technique. The Recent National No-till Farmer's Conference at Indianapolis also had topics on, yes you guessed it, Planting Green.
I began writing Profiles of Soil Health Heroes in December of 2014. Since then we have accomplished 50 Soil Health Heroes. In many of these, I share the farmers' testimonies that many are planting green. So, this topic is not new for Tennessee, but it is one of the hottest topics in the cover crop conversations.
Read more: Planting Green