Brian & Kathy Holste

A plan for healthy soils

Biological farmers know that healthy, fertile soil is necessary to grow healthy, high-yielding crops. But what is healthy soil and how can you improve your soil’s health?

Healthy soil, wrote Gary Zimmer in his book The Biological Farmer, has adequate air and water, balanced levels of essential plant nutrients, plenty of organic matter and a thriving population of the beneficial organisms that help maintain soil health and nourish plants.

So how do biological farmers build and maintain healthy soils?

Brian and Kathy Holste work the biological program for healthy soils with a whole list of practices and products. A second generation Midwestern BioAg farmer (his dad started with MBA back in the 1980s), the Rock City, Illinois, farmer works 550 tillable acres, some owned, some rented, with a small dairy operation as well as some cash grain sales.

“It’s not one thing,” Brian says of finding success with the biological system, but it’s doing many things; it’s learning from many sources, gleaning good ideas and adapting them to fit his farm and management style.

“Healthy soil,” says Brian, “is loose and crumbly, not tight. It should have a good earthy smell—I love the smell of soil in the spring. And it should be highly productive and relatively low maintenance.” Add in a thriving population of earthworms as an indicator of healthy soil life, and then get it mineralized as well. “That’s what we’ve been striving for,” he states.

The Holstes began making improvements by applying Bio-Cal®, then added diversity with grasses in the hay (they’re now at about 60% alfalfa, 40% grasses) and, working with MBA consultant Duane Siegenthaler, applied BioAg blend fertilizer, 2-6-20 with calcium, sulfur and traces. “These things have just made our yields go through the roof,” says Brian.

Brian’s advice for those just starting with the biological system? “It’s a commitment. Don’t expect a miracle in a year, but you will see results, sometimes very quickly.”