Waking up Sleepy Soils

Pictures were taken at the start of the growing season, May 14th 2019.

Pictures were taken at the start of the growing season, May 14th 2019.

Vern Smith started experimenting with Earthfort products the spring of 2017, beginning with small doses of Earthfort’s Revive. His fields – a blend of regar brome, orchard grass, timothy and alfalfa – hadn’t been treated with chemical fertilizers since 2004, and the plant community hadn’t changed since it was first seeded in 1997. It is sandy, gravelly soil and gets minimal irrigation due to water constraints. It is grazed holistically, but used fairly hard by horses, sheep, and cattle. His fields had good levels of biology but were lacking in fungal activity. In short, Vern was doing a lot of things right, but there was still room for improvement. Let’s start with the results from a direct microscopy test conducted in November 2016:

oyts 2016.PNG

Overall, these levels are not bad, but they show that Vern’s soils were “sleepy”. Two key ratios – active fungi to total fungi (AF:TF) and active fungi to active bacteria (AF:AB) – were low, evidence that his soil’s overall function could be improved. 

Vern did two applications of Earthfort’s products on his stubborn hillside (pictured above), which normally produces far less than the rest of his field. The goal was to jumpstart the soil’s fungal activity. He retested in June of 2018 after two applications – the first only Revive and the second both Revive and Provide. Here are those results:

oyts 2018 no nemo.PNG

At first glance, these test results seem only subtly different. When you dive deeper, you can see that after the two applications, active fungi to active bacteria ratio greatly increased and his flagellate numbers went up by 500%. His active fungi to total fungi and total fungi to total bacteria (TF:TB) ratios also increased. These below-ground changes to his soil ecosystem are responsible for his above-ground biomass and nutrient density changes (see the treated and non-treated images above). His soils have better water infiltration, hold more water, sequester more soil carbon, and have better structure. 

Provide and Revive are just one tool in the Regenerative producer’s tool kit.  Vern also has been employing holistic grazing and changed his worming program. He reintroduced dung beetles and greatly reduced pesticide use, and now he is experimenting with fish hydrolysate.  The direct microscopy test from Earthfort helped give him a “look under the hood” at his soil life, enabling him to identify where he could improve and equipping him with the tools to do so. 

There are a plethora of benefits to healthier soil biology.  Vern has seen production go up while using less water, and has noticed significant reductions in grasshopper pressure.  Grasshoppers, like all pests, prey on weak and unhealthy plants. The improved biology raised his brix levels, so now the grasshoppers prefer his neighbors’ fields.  The one downside: more elk and deer.  They know better feed when they taste it!

Vern would be happy to talk to you about his experience. Feel free to send him a note.