During the International Year of the Soils, the United Nations is spreading a message similar to what Midwestern BioAg has been practicing on its research farm for over a quarter of a century.
But this 2015 celebration of soils is missing a crucial element, said Midwestern BioAg Co-Founder and President Gary Zimmer.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s International Year of the Soils campaign was initiated to raise awareness and educate society, decision makers, and the public about the crucial role of soils. The importance of soils is becoming a prominent theme in modern agriculture. Aside from serving as the ground for food production, soils are vital in global issues of food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development.
The UN program separates the importance of soil into five vital roles which every Midwestern BioAg consultant and customer can attest to:
- Soils are the foundation for vegetation that is cultivated or managed for feed, fiber, fuel, and medicinal products.
- Soils support our planet’s biodiversity and host a quarter of all organisms.
- Soils help to combat and adapt to climate change by playing a key role in the carbon cycle.
- Soils store and filter water, improving resilience to floods and droughts.
- Soil is a non-renewable resource; its regeneration and preservation are essential for food security and our sustainable future.
All of this is good common sense, says Zimmer. But the UN’s tenets lacks a key aspect of the soil-enriching practices pioneered by Midwestern BioAg more than 30 years ago.
“The only thing that’s missing is how to manage the system and minerals,” Zimmer said. “You can’t keep putting harsh inputs on the land if you want to get the soil healthy.”
Midwestern BioAg’s approach to farm management begins with assessing the needs of the soil to cultivate a healthy environment for growth.
Zimmer and three partners founded Midwestern BioAg in 1984. The fertilizer and agronomic consulting company recommends a program that supports farming methods based on healthy, balanced soils and the equally healthy crops, livestock, farms, and food that come from them. In modern agriculture, this practice is becoming increasingly common, but in 1984, the concept of “biological” agriculture was a rarity.
Rather than treating the soil as an agricultural input, biological farming nurtures the ecosystem within the soil. Midwestern BioAg’s approach to farm management begins with assessing the needs of the soil to cultivate a healthy environment for growth.
The company recommends treating soil with carbon-based, balanced fertilizers and soil amendments with blends that include macronutrients, like calcium and sulfur, and micronutrients, like boron and magnesium. The use of compost, green manures, livestock manures, and crop residues complement these recommendations by fostering microbial life within the soil. When paired with short crop rotations and the use of cover crops, producers replenish their soil, build biodiversity, and fix atmospheric nitrogen so less synthetically produced nitrogen is required. This system also helps reduce pesticide and fungicide dependency.
The benefits of biological agriculture include increased growth capacity in the soil, as well as higher drought resistance, less mineral runoff, reduced carbon footprint, and building soil that counteracts erosion.
Some 25 years ago, Midwestern BioAg shared the results of early tests of biological farming at its first Field Day at Otter Creek Farms in southwestern Wisconsin. Its 1,000 acres serve as a demonstration farm that hosts Field Day each year for interested farmers and customers.
Midwestern BioAg’s Field Day is “a celebration of agriculture and our approach to farming,” Zimmer says. “My favorite part of Field Day is to be able to show off our farm and show what’s achievable.”
The first Field Day, in 1992, drew 90 people, Gary said. In the years since, as many as 1,000 people from across the U.S. and 11 countries have attended Midwestern BioAg’s Field Day. Otter Creek Farms operates as a dairy with plots of corn, soybeans, alfalfa and, of course, cover crops. Field Day features consultants on-hand leading educational programs and answering questions.
Otter Creek Farms is a living example that soil is more than just a place to apply fertilizer, Gary said.
“This is a living system and we can do something about helping it function better and having healthier foods and a healthier environment,” he said.
Zimmer said he hopes Field Day inspires visitors to explore the possibilities of Midwestern BioAg’s approach to farming.
“There’s a lot more room for improvement in current agriculture,” Zimmer said. “If farmers look at our approach and all the things we do to get our high yields, I hope it sparks them to think, “My gosh, these things are doable!’”
Come see what Midwestern BioAg has to offer during the August 18 Field Day and visit the award-winning Otter Creek Farms at 6620 WI Hwy. 130, Avoca, Wisconsin.
Raised on a third-generation cattle and grain farm in Illinois, Holly Henschen is an active writer and blogger from Madison, Wisconsin.