Soil: Last Great Hope to Mitigate Climate Change
BY DAVE BISHOP
Dave Bishop farms organically in Central Illinois on PrairiErth Farm, a multi-generational, 480-acre operation that follows “regenerative farming” practices.
Developing regenerative farming systems has been the mission at PrairiErth Farm for the past 25 years. It’s been a fascinating and eclectic journey, discovering how plants communicate and form relationships. In natural cycles of fertility, relationships develop between plants and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. The fungal network transports nutrients through soil to plants, which in turn “pay” for those nutrients with carbon, which the fungi transport back to the soil.
In this relationship, healthy organic soil functions not only as a repository for carbon but uses that carbon as a fundamental building block of healthy soil biology that feeds crops. Less healthy, chemically treated soil does not trap carbon in this way.
We’ve seen on our farm how a diverse mix of plants and animals – on the land together – forms the core of a system that is able to provide a wide array of healthy foods and create healthy soils at the same time.
Our crop rotations include fall planted wheat, this year an ancient heritage variety called Turkey Red, which will be sold to a local mill and ultimately end up in homes, bakeries and farm-to-fork restaurants throughout Illinois. In late winter, the first cover crop of the year will be sown into the wheat. The cover crop is a legume like clover with a mix of grasses designed to form a thick ground cover under the wheat and provide summer grazing for our livestock. Other cover crops will be flown over standing corn fields in August, protecting the soil throughout the winter and providing more grazing into the winter. The land goes into winter protected.
While cattle dominate the plant/animal mix on grain fields, pastured poultry works well in our vegetable fields. Rotated through the 40-some varieties of fruits and vegetables we grow, chickens add natural fertility to the land, break up pest and disease cycles and create another product for the farm economy. You could think about it like this: instead of spending money on pesticides to control weeds, insects and diseases, chickens will do the work and pay you — with eggs.
And since chickens aren’t too fussy about their tomatoes being misshapen or even slightly rotten, nothing ever goes to waste at PrairiErth Farm.
For the farmer, diversity creates an economically healthy business that is capable of acting ecologically. When you support diverse local farms, not just with your food purchases but by getting to know your farmers, sharing your concerns with them and hearing theirs, the cycle is complete.