How to Restore Soil Fertility
The biological fertility of the soil can be defined as the amount of living organisms in the soil and their potential for activity but also from the content of substances useful to their life and the energy exchanges that occur between them; is ultimately expressed by the operation of the ecosystem services that the ground guarantees.
It is represented by the degree of fertility that a soil can express to the biogeochemical cycles of the chemical elements and the metabolism of the nutrient elements of the soil against plant support.
It is strongly correlated with the amount of organic matter present and its level of stability as well as the qualitative and quantitative level of biodiversity.
The main causes of loss of biological fertility are identifiable in the main causes of degradation to which soil is encountered such as:
2) loss of organic matter and fertility;
In turn, each of these pressures can be explained by a myriad of causes: for example, the “pollution” item, which can be caused by soil contamination from undesirable chemicals such as heavy metals or agropharmaceuticals, excess nutrients, but also pathogens , entry of alien organisms, radioactivity, etc.
Across the planet, especially where “industrial” farming is applied, the loss of biological fertility is much more frequent than one might believe.
Another consideration that must be emphasized is the ecosystemic soil formation service that is guaranteed by the microorganisms: to have 1 cm of fertile soil requires 1,000 years, this implies that the soil is a non-renewable resource that needs to be protected and preserved.
In this contribution we will then see how to recover biologically a soil and therefore its fertility.
In order to be able to do so, it is necessary to adopt agricultural systems that can be traced back to the concept of regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture is a cultivation technique that allows you to benefit from the land’s properties without exploiting or impoverishing it. Returning to a natural agriculture does not only have economic benefits, it also has a qualitative point of view.
Every year, only in Italy, due to the abandonment of the mountain by the peasants and the increase in cementation, the agricultural area is reduced. On the other hand, the most easily farmed agricultural land becomes poorer due to intensive exploitation.
Since the Second World War, with the process of industrialization of agriculture known as the Green Revolution (achieved above all by the Treaty of Rome in 1960), there has been an impressive increase in productivity of agricultural land. To the extent that yields were duplicated, however, the soil was diluted, eroded, demineralized, and made essentially sterile by the massive use of irrigation, synthesis products, and destructive mechanization. Soil is a delicate and very complex ecosystem, a network of very close relationships between plants, minerals, animals and microorganisms. The balance of this system is strongly compromised by the practices of chemical and industrial agriculture and, in order to recover its efficiency and functionality, it is necessary to act on the three fundamental components of the soil: minerals, organic matter and microbiology. For each of these components we have different techniques available, depending on the ecological conditions of the company and available local resources.
Moreover, agricultural products derived from so-exploited soils have less nutritional and organoleptic value, contributing to another “burning” that is that of food health.
It takes several years to bring agricultural soil back to good levels of fertility and biological vitality, but by embarking on a change in organic agriculture since the second year, improvements to soil structure and porosity are noticed. In the process of regenerating the soil, it is important to change the mechanization in the farm. In the production environment, “ecologically correct” we have to relegate the plow to the only breaks of the medicines, because the reversal of the ploughs causes a disturbance of the soil balance, and the passage of the vomere seals the natural porosity of the soil creating a working sole. Traditionally, the soil is then refined, sown and finally rolled. This creates the momentary conditions for seed germination, but it “condones” the growing plasticity and compaction soil year by year. The solution proposed by the industry is the use of increasingly powerful tractors and increasingly invasive vehicles. A partial solution to this is given by the use of unattractive machines, such as punchers with very thin anchors that work the ground just underground without lifting it. Unlike what we teach in agrarian faculties machines never improve soil, but they bend it to the momentary demands of agricultural production, but its long-term structure and functionality.
Another criterion for increasing porosity and decreasing soil plasticity is to use cover crops, annual species of different families (legumes, grasses, brassicaceae), whose roots work at different depths, creating the conditions for the subsequent good cultivation afforestation productive. Also, once sown, cover crops return to the soil organic matter and minerals, contributing to its regeneration.
This model is perfectly applicable in companies ranging from 2 to 200 hectares. Almost all Italian agriculture comes in.
With the sentimentality this is the only way of the future if we do not want to get a systemic eco disaster of biblical proportions.
Unfortunately, after years of “washing” the minds towards this direction for farmers, the greatest effort is to acquire a new perspective, to understand that the actions they are doing must serve to give an income, but also to change a state of affairs that if it lasts there will lead to an unprecedented failure. For example, it is difficult to explain that the health conditions of a crop are to be pursued in the richness and vitality of the soil, and not in the treatment of the symptoms of diseases with the use of agrochemicals.
In the long years of research at the University of Palermo, we have always been able to demonstrate, with full-field experiences as this truth is universal and unique. Farms are geared towards buying these poisons, which, besides the obvious damage to the environment and human health, never “accessories” damage. In fact, agro-drugs (or phytopharmaceuticals or pesticides, as we want to define them) poison and debilitate plants and cause heavy imbalances in insect populations, with unforeseeable consequences for subsequent years. This is a reversal of a perverse mechanism that sees farmers unable to get away from the technology package proposed by industry.
What often does not reflect the farmer (who often fails to orient himself in this “modern” but unnatural agriculture) is that from the economic point of view we can talk about savings rather than a cost, ‘elimination of all synthesis products, which in our agriculture represent 20-40% of total costs. As for our training courses, the cost never exceeds 180 euros for the three days, but we often manage to keep the lowest rates thanks to the contribution of foundations and local institutions.
For this reason it is necessary to start creating Rigenerative Agriculture courses where there should be no State of the Planet that does not invest large sums if it does not want to condemn itself and the Hunger Planet (the same one that with false proclamations wants to fight the multinationals of the products and misinformation).
Obviously these courses should provide the perfect combination of theory and practice. It is time to finish it with fake courses (of theory alone) often held by people of dubious preparation.
In order to implement regenerative agriculture, however, one must not only look at ecological sustainability; you also have to deal with the economic one. In fact, we must always start from an economic-financial analysis of the company based on the study of the budgets of recent years. One needs to understand how the company spends its money, and what are the biggest spending items: it is almost always realized that the outflows for the purchase of fertilizers and agro-chemicals represent a value that contributes heavily to the suffering of the company .
This factor is, at the same time, inconsistent even from an ecological point of view because agriculture, as a systemic eco activity, should emulate the principles of ecology (cells that produce energy rather than absorb) instead our farms do almost always the opposite.
For this reason, in order to apply the concepts of regenerative agriculture, we must first collect for each company the ecological characteristics of the area and specific data, such as topography, orography, used farming techniques and available machinery. Obviously, the soils should be carefully studied, also by taking various samples to be subjected to chemical, physical and, ultimately, chromatographic examination. Chromatography is a qualitative soil analysis that shows, with a kind of picture, the relationship between organic matter, minerals, and organic soil activity. The result often shows compacted, demineralized, and vitality-free soils; Comparison with fertile and vital soil analyzes is a shock for farmers who realize the damage to the techniques usually employed.
All of these data, combined with a careful reading of the physico-chemical analysis of the soils, indicate the way forward in presenting to the company a work plan that covers many aspects: crop planning, mechanization, fertilization, nutrition and defense of plants, hydraulic arrangements. During the year, the production process is continuously monitored with field visits, and the work plan is confirmed or adapted based on the answers received.
At this point, the question is: do we want to continue investing in poisons or human resources, mainly forming the young doctors of agronomists and forestry doctors to this logic?
The answer is yes, but with what policy do we talk?