Dealing With Herbicide Drift

By John Peragine

Nature can be unforgiving to farmers. Honest people trying in earnest to make a living growing crops regularly face storms, drought, hail and many other types of natural disasters. Today, unfortunately, these people’s neighbors sometimes add to the problem by introducing one more difficulty: herbicide drift.

All farmers face pressure from weeds. These pesky plants can consume resources — sunlight, water and nutrients — necessary for optimum plant growth. There are three primary ways to deal with the dilemma: pull, cut or use some other physical mechanism to kill the weeds; ignore them and take a loss of production; or use a substance to kill them.

Hand weeding is not typically cost-effective beyond a small acreage farm, forcing larger farms to either accept a decrease in yield or use a chemical to kill the plants. Some herbicides have little negative impact on the environment or the plants they are sprayed on. Unfortunately, though, most large-scale crops are sprayed with volatile chemicals.

Grape Vine damage caused by herbicide drift
Damage to grape vines caused by 2,4-D drift. Photos by Michael L. White, ISU Extension & Outreach Viticulture Specialist

Agricultural technology over the past century has allowed farmers to deal with weeds in a very direct and definitive manner with the use of chemical herbicides. A common herbicide is the phenoxy type (2,4-D and dicamba). This is sprayed over crops like corn around the periphery of fields and is quite effective in killing broad-leaf weeds; it is equally effective in killing similar plants such as grape vines, and dicamba is currently the topic of much discussion through-out the Midwest and beyond where it has been linked to non-target crop plant damage.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines drift as “The physical movement of pesticide droplets or particles through the air at the time of pesticide application or soon thereafter from the target site to any non- or off-target site. Spray drift shall not include movement of pesticides to non-or off-target sites caused by erosion, migration, volatility, or windblown soil particles that occurs after application or application of fumigants unless specifically addressed on the product label with respect to drift control requirements.”

There are two types of pesticide/ herbicide drift: particle and vapor. Particle drift occurs when small droplets of pesticides or herbicides travel via the wind from the field they were being applied to onto other crops.

Vapor drift occurs when temperatures in the upper 80s and 90s cause already-applied pesticides/herbicides to volatize into a vapor. These vapors then drift over great distances and destroy crops that are not immune to its destructive compounds.

The good news is that many states have laws to protect farmers from the damages caused by herbicide drift. In Iowa, laws were enacted around grape-producing regions in the western part of the state to stop the use of highly volatile herbicides in the late 1970s. The damage was done, though, and it took almost 30 years for the grape industry to bounce back. Spray drift causes a reduction in yield, poor fruit quality and even grapevine death. Problems can continue years after the drift exposure, reducing the life of a vineyard.

The degree to which crops are damaged from drift depends on the level of the susceptibility of the crop, its growth stage, environmental conditions, herbicide formulation, droplet size and the spray height above the target.

Emotions Run High

Because livelihoods are on the line, frustration and anger over herbicide drift often arises, and conflicts can ensue. Neighbors, farmers and companies will often apologize and promise they will not allow drift to occur again, but this is not always honored. Included on page 34 is a sample letter template that can be used to attempt to start a more positive conversation about drift.

If your neighbor does not respond in a positive way, you could seek assistance from your state department of agriculture.

Sample Letter

ABC Farm 123
Any Street
Anywhere, USA

XYZ Neighbor 124 Any Street Anywhere, USA

Re: Herbicide drift concerns
Dear Neighbor, I hope this finds you well and that you are having a good growing season.
I am writing to remind you that we have grape vines on two sides of the Old Grain Mill field in Hamlet township. We have registered on Driftwatch, which has a good map that shows where the vines are in case you have any questions. Here’s a link if you would like to see the online map:
I’ve also included a map that shows the location of the vineyards. Grape vines are especially sensitive to glyphosate, dicamba and 2,4-D.
We have appreciated the care you have taken over the years to avoid any problems. Unfortunately, we have had friends in the grape community who’ve had severe damage, so it seemed like a good idea to bring this up again.
Thanks for your attention to this. We’ve also spoken with your landlord about our concerns. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.
Yours truly,
Friendly Farmer

Organic Solutions

There are a number of organic herbicides on the market, but they should be given the same attention as their synthetic counterparts. Organic herbicides do not offer a residual effect, which means they break down quickly after their application. This is good in that it reduces toxicity, but it also means that they have to be used more often.

Organic herbicides are not selective and can kill basil as easily as a weed, so application should be done carefully. They should be applied directly onto weeds on warm, sunny, non-windy days. They often contain fatty acids, vinegar or acetic acid, or essential oils like citrus, eugenol or clove.

Corn gluten meal can be used on larger farms, as it is a natural pre-emergence weed control for broad-leaf and grass weeds.


Sometimes the damage due to drift is so severe that compensation is necessary to replace lost crops. Michael White, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach Viticulture Specialist, says that over 95 percent of drift damage cases are settled out of court.

White suggests waiting before accepting payments from an insurance company. Some damage does not become evident until after the winter. Even though insurance companies do not like to carry claims over into another year, it is best to try to delay and not settle too soon. Once damage is suspected, White recommends taking pictures of healthy plants and damaged plants every week or two to demonstrate the progression of the damage.


Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the March 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Deciding What Amount of Nutrients to Apply

By William McKibben

There is a table (Figure 4 below) below that I find help­ful in deciding how and what level of nutrients to apply to adjust soil nutrients. This table shows the means (mass flow, diffusion or intercep­tive root growth) by which nutrients are taken up through the roots. This table also shows, with the exception of copper and iron, that most nutrients are picked up out of the liquid solution by either mass flow or diffusion. The mass flow nutrients that are anions (negatively charged ion) are nitrogen (N), sulfur (S), boron (B) and molybdenum (Mo). The cations (positively charged ions) calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) are more free to move in solution and travel longer distances whereas other nutrients such as phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and manganese (Mn) move very little in solution. The later nutrients typically move from areas of high concentration to low concentration, but can bond quite readily in clays and with other nutrients which reduces their mobility.

nutrient flow through roots
Figure 4.

The other very critical factor to consider is how do most of the nutri­ents move within the plant once the roots have taken them up. Nutrients like calcium, boron and manganese travel primarily in the xylem or the water transport system of the plant. This is primarily in one direction and very dependent upon the evapotranspiration (ET) happening in the plant. Calcium, boron and manganese are necessary nutrients for root development—especially calcium as it needs to be in contact with the growing root. Nutrients such as potassium and phosphorus on the other hand can travel freely in the phloem. If these nutrients are only surface applied due to no-till practices, then they will become stratified and subject to uptake only as long as the roots are active in the surface.

Looking again at Figure 4, this table can also help with interpretation of plant tissue analysis. For example, plants that are short or deficient in copper may indicate a lack of this nutrient in the soil or a root development problem. This may be a physical structure, compaction, or another nutrient problem (such as calcium level affecting root growth). I have seen an almost fourfold increase in copper deficiencies found in soybeans over corn crops. This might be just the difference between the soybean taproots and the fibrous root system of corn plants. Personally I think a lot of the problem is related to compaction issues since many of our beans are no-till planted into corn stalks. Plants tend to grow at the rate provided by the least available nutrient. Compaction issues will almost always result in many other nutrient deficiencies (especially potassium and phosphorus). There will be more on identifying nutrient deficiencies using tissue analysis later in this book.

Source: The Art of Balancing Soil Nutrients

Examples of How to Adjust to Your Soil Test Results

By Neal Kinsey

Reading your soil test and knowing what to do are two different things. Here are some examples of how to apply results to your fields based on what your soil test is indicating. It will give you confidence that you are on the right track to increasing your overall soil health.

Except in the case of wheat and other small grains, if the soil test indicates that you need ten pounds of copper sulfate but that amount represents a cost that is too high, you could consider putting on two pounds for the next five years instead of ten pounds all at once. You can build copper levels this way because that nutrient is so stable in the soil. Almost every soil analyzed is deficient in copper. The few exceptions are where there is natu­rally occurring copper in the soil or where manure has been used, or along rivers where soil has been moved in by constant flooding, and where alluvial deposits keep the soil built up. The other place where we don’t have copper deficiencies is where large amounts of pesticides containing copper have been used in the past, and where turkey litter is commonly used.

When crops on soils with adequate fertility that test low in copper fail to respond to copper applications, a molybdenum test should be considered. Both need to be present in adequate amounts, since either one can influence the amount a crop can take up of the other one.

A farmer from Iowa I had worked with for eight years called me one day. He said he had a problem with some of his corn going down. He wanted me to look at the soil test. He had 80 acres split into four 20s, and one had a 1.5 copper, his lowest level. I told him that his copper was 1.5 ppm and he was going to have the weakest stalks there. It was true. He said, “Well, since that is true, what about the next field?” We went through all the data until he hit 2 ppm. In each case he lost corn from lodging, but the lower the copper level below 2 ppm, the worse the corn was lodged.

Copper gives resilience to a plant. The other key to flavor after sulfur is copper. Copper doesn’t move in the soil. If you see a copper deficiency at all, it is like sulfur. It shows the deficiency in the young­est growth first. Adequate nitrogen means you get better copper uptake. Too much nitrogen means you actually decrease the avail­ability of copper to the plant. Wheat is a crop that responds well to copper. If the other needed nutrients are adequate, but you are below 2 ppm copper and you put enough copper on your wheat to get above 2 ppm, it will produce an extra five bushels (300 pounds/acre) of wheat.

I was asked to make a consulting trip to Germany in 1985. The client who asked me there had arranged for speaking engagements to several groups of farmers. He told me to tell them just what I had done on his farms. In Germany, they use the taller varieties of wheat, but they also use growth regulators to keep plants short. When the subject turned to copper, I mentioned that if the soil had below 2 ppm and copper was put on, it would increase yields by five bushels per acre. I also told them that every soil I had checked in Germany was below that level. One man raised his hand, stood up and spoke for two or three minutes. The interpreter leaned over and said, “This is the man who is in charge of fertility for the university in this area. He is telling the farmers why they don’t need to really worry about the copper that you said should be put on.” When he had finished, a doctor of fertility research rose and reported a ten-year study (unknown to me) just completed which had shown exactly the same results I had mentioned on wheat production.

Copper sulfate, 22.5 or 23 percent, is water-soluble and can be applied to soil or as a foliar. A word of caution here. When cop­per is mixed in solution with other elements it may show as compatible in the mix, but use it up. Do not let it set in your spray tank, pumps or hoses overnight. It can harden to the point that the entire spraying apparatus has to be scrapped. I won’t bother with other copper sources if I can get copper sulfate because I know it works, and I know how much can be applied safely. A ten-pound application of copper sulfate—after 12 months time—will raise the copper level by 0.6 ppm on the spe­cific test we use. A copper level is the easiest to build and main­tain, and zinc is next in the pecking order. Both have staying power in the soil.

Zinc aids in the absorption of moisture. Along with potassium, think of zinc in critical moisture situations. It also helps transform carbohydrates. It regulates plant sugar use. Zinc plays a role in enzyme system functioning, as well as with the growth regulators normally present in the plant and protein synthesis.

Consider zinc needs, especially in sensitive crops such as corn and grain sorghum, also soybeans and dry beans. As far as zinc levels are concerned, the minimum is 6 ppm. Below that, enough should be applied the first year to get up above the 6 ppm figure. There has never been a soil—in my experience at least—that required more than 30 pounds of zinc sulfate to completely take care of the worst zinc deficiency, provided limestone didn’t have to be applied at the same time. If lime is applied, the lime won’t drive out the zinc, but it will affect zinc availability. If you need zinc and lime and put on the lime but don’t put on the zinc, expect your zinc level to get worse. Zinc probably gives a response more often than any other micronutrient when it is applied for crop production. I see many soils that need zinc. All can be taken care of, generally with excellent response. Only a few crops do not respond well to zinc when only slightly deficient, one of them being wheat. Again, for zinc, 6 ppm is the minimum. Excellent means at least 10 ppm, and an excess is 35+ ppm.

A classic sign of zinc deficiency in corn is the whitish stripe in the leaf color, which looks much like a magnesium deficiency. In the field, often I can’t tell whether it is a zinc deficiency or a magnesium deficiency. The difference between zinc and magne­sium deficiencies should be that zinc will be white and magne­sium will be white on top with a purplish color on the bottom.

High phosphorous, high calcium or high potassium levels can induce zinc deficiencies as does the overuse of nitrogen. Also, as the pH goes up from 6, when a soil has good zinc levels, availability begins to decrease. It can go as high as pH 7 before it decreases good zinc availability to the point that it becomes a problem. Heavy cuts, such as when the field has been graded or the topsoil has been taken away, or when eroded soil allows sub­soils to appear, strong zinc deficiencies become evident.

Zinc is not easy to leach away. It is held well on clay and humus. Once zinc levels are improved, it is relatively easy to keep them up. When zinc sulfate is applied on the tests we have, an exact relationship between the amount of zinc applied and the increase shown on the soil test can be expected. Using 36% zinc sulfate at an application of 10 pounds per acre will exhibit a 3.6-pound increase of zinc on the test. The correlation is classic. Putting on ten pounds of 36% zinc sulfate means putting on 3.6 pounds of zinc per acre. A soil test — when the zinc is finished breaking down — should show an increase of 3.6 pounds of zinc. That translates into 1.8 ppm, meaning every 10 pounds of zinc sulfate applied will raise the zinc level by 1.8 ppm. There is one other thing to be remembered about pure zinc sulfate. Put on ten pounds of zinc sulfate today, then come back next year and pull a soil test on the same day. That zinc is only going to be halfway to its final level. You are only going to see a 0.9 ppm increase in the soil. When you put on sufficient zinc it will not reach the desired level for two years, but will supply enough zinc for the crops grown for both years.

Some firms say they have a 36% zinc product, it being a 36% oxysulfate. It is cheaper at the counter, but it does not always build zinc levels. There are some zinc oxide products that have been pulverized and then prilled, which have also proved effec­tive for increasing the levels in the soil. Apply ten pounds, the same as with 36% zinc sulfate, and see if next year the deficiency is still there. Pure zinc sulfate is the sure choice.

With the exception of boron, on most soils the technology exists in order to build the levels of trace elements to a point that it is not an annual expense, but basically an initial expenditure. Then afterwards, it is a matter of testing and fertilizing as need­ed over the years to keep the levels up. Many farmers, ranchers and growers initially resist the addition of trace elements to increase fertility levels, objecting to the added expense. But when you consider the years spent taking from the soil without adding the traces back, replenishing should be expected. And supplying those micronutrients have helped increase corn yields by 20-30 bushels, and wheat from 5-25 bushels per acre. Micronutrients, when applied in the right form, to build up the levels in the soil will help quality and crop yields accordingly.

Some farmers who have livestock have always felt they shouldn’t have to be concerned with trace elements because their manure or compost would take care of it. I work with many farmers who use manures and compost, and this is rarely the case. Think about it. When a soil is deficient in copper and adequate copper is not being supplemented, how can enough be in the manure? Manure is generally low in sulfur, boron and copper—the nutrients most often lacking in our soils used for growing the crops. Keep in mind, when manure is applied, you can influence the soil nutrient level to only the extent of what is there in the first place. Nevertheless, manure is certainly helpful and in certain soils even sufficient to keep the trace elements that are present in a soil most available for plant use, while at the same time helping to recycle those that are picked up in the feed. And therefore, as the use of manures in an area declines, the need for trace elements will increase.

Most soils we analyze just do not have an adequate supply of trace elements to assure that the crop will do its best. So keep in mind that just because there are enough of the major elements for the crop, does not assure that trace element levels will also be adequate.

Under the present economic circumstances, every farmer needs to have the confidence that he is on a solid footing, and doing all he can to supply his crops the fertility needed from start to finish. The misconceptions and misunderstandings about soil fertility make this even harder to accomplish. The more farmers or those involved in a soil fertility program understand the reasons behind micronutrient recommenda­tions, the more confidence there will be in those recommenda­tions and the decisions made on how to use them. The lack of any nutrient, whether needed in major, secondary or trace amounts, hurts the soil and all that must live from it.

Source: Hands-On Agronomy

Understanding Solubility & Paste Testing

By William McKibben

Paste Testing

Low exchange capacity soils especially have a lot of issues when it comes to holding enough nutrients and maintaining colloidal balance. Sand with low organic matter is basically a soilless media. Since many of the nutri­ents required for crop production are not on the colloid, I find that the paste test is absolutely the best test for this situation. I also use the paste test along with the standard test on the higher exchange capacity soils. Since most of the nutrients taken up by plants are picked up by mass flow or diffusion at the air/water interface near the plant roots, the paste test better correlates to tissue analysis than the standard test.

The paste test is done primarily by taking a large sample, approxi­mately 200-400 grams of a composite soil mixture and saturating it with distilled water (or even better is to use clients’ irrigation water) until it becomes a pancake batter consistency.

Making Paste Analysis Recommendations

Making recommendations from a paste analysis incorporates both the SLAN approach and the BCSR approach. First, it is critical to meet the minimum strategic nutrient levels for growth and reproduc­tion (Figure 16). Secondly, the nutrients in solution should be kept in balance to minimize interference issues. Even if all the strategic levels have been met, if a nutrient such as potassium is two or three times higher than the desired level, other cations such as calcium and magne­sium should be elevated in order to maintain a balance. The type of crop and the level on the standard test would help make that determination. For crops such as corn or alfalfa that require a lot of potassium if the standard test does not show good levels of potassium, I would probably let the level stand and not elevate the calcium and magnesium. When raising levels to just balance out one nutrient, care must be taken not to create a salt issue. If the nutrient in excess is sodium and irrigation is available, flushing the soil may be the best solution. Most of the sodium issues that I see are created by irrigation practices. Irrigating with poor quality water or using poorly designed irrigation systems may result in the accumulation of sodium and/or bicarbonates.

Discussion of Paste Guidelines

The guidelines for the paste test shown on Figure 16 are just that —guidelines. I cannot emphasize enough that everyone needs to adjust these numbers based on their own crop tissue analysis and the subsequent crop response. There is one unknown factor that we face when using paste numbers and this is what I call the “flow rate into solution.

Paste level guidelines
Figure 1.0

Solubility Testing

Just what is a soil paste or solubility test and when should you consider running the analysis? Solubility analysis is an attempt to see what is in the soil solution, or that which can readily go into solution off the colloid.

The diagram below is a conceptual picture of a root hair in the soil solution in proximity to a clay particle or soil colloid.

The diagram 1.0 is a conceptual picture of a root hair in the soil solution in proximity to a clay particle or soil colloid. The standard soil analysis measures the dots (nutrients) floating in solution as well as the dots (nutrients) held on the surface of the clay mineral, but not those trapped between the clay layers. In a standard soil test, the minerals attached to the surface of the clay particle are removed for analysis by using an extracting solution. A solubility analysis primarily looks at only the blue dots (nutrients) floating in solution.

Soil test diagram

It makes perfect sense to look at a test that measures nutrients only in solution when you study the research work done by Barber and Olsen in 1968 and Dennis in 1971. That research showed the bulk of the soil nutrients taken up by plants was through mass flow and diffusion from the soil solution. Very little nutrition enters the plants by the roots directly intercepting nutrients from the colloid or soil particles. So when should you use a solubility analysis? Those soils with exchange capacities less than 10 should be the first targeted for solubility analysis. This includes all sandy soils even calcareous sands, which tend to get exaggerated TECs on the standard soil test. It is nearly impossible to balance and hold that balance on low exchange capacity soils.

It makes perfect sense to look at a test that measures nutrients only in solution when you study the research work done by Barber and Olsen in 1968 and Dennis in 1971. That research showed the bulk of the soil nutrients taken up by plants was through mass flow and diffusion from the soil solution. Very little nutrition enters the plants by the roots directly intercepting nutrients from the colloid or soil particles. So when should you use a solubility analysis? Those soils with exchange capacities less than 10 should be the first targeted for solubility analysis. This includes all sandy soils even calcareous sands, which tend to get exaggerated TECs on the standard soil test. It is nearly impossible to balance and hold that balance on low exchange capacity soils.

Since the holding capacity of low exchange soils is so small, plants grown on these soils primarily get their nutrition from applied nutrients with variable degrees of solubility. Solubility analysis will take you to a whole new level of understanding the relationship of soil and plant nutrition. When combined with the standard soil test and plant analysis you will get a much clearer picture of what soil nutrition means.

Source: The Art of Balancing Soil Nutrients

How to Read a Soil Test

By Charles Walters

The first step on the road to achieving healthy soils able to sustain productive plants is the soil or plant analysis test. For optimum results, the initial test relies heavily on proper sampling.

Quality samples submitted to the laboratory and excellent testing methods can produce the most accurate results possible but without an interpretation of the nutrient recommen­dations that speaks to the grower — all may be for naught.

Graphs and charts filled with color-coded lists of numbers speak volumes to those that know how to read them. But the uninitiated may glean just a fraction of the total message.

A soil or plant analysis test from a quality laboratory contains much more than just the raw data. Using an integration of field and cropping history with the test results, interpretations and recommen­dations are formulated to tell the grower the meaning behind the num­bers. It is these soil and plant test interpretations and recommendations that matter most and have the greatest benefit for many people.

Agronomist Esper K. Chandler, author of Ask the Plant and founder of TPS Lab, was asked to look at several plant and soil analysis tests from different crops and give his expert interpretation of the results. The results are below. For each example, Chandler’s com­ments offer new insight and enlightenment about what the results said to him. The soil and plant test samples presented in this chapter are actual real-life examples included here with Chandler’s dictated interpretation and recommendations — presented so others can gain a deeper insight into the important messages held within. For each example, the most important messages have been highlighted and explained by Chandler.

Above: A Guide from TPS Lab on Compost STA Test Reports. 

Source: Ask the Plant;

Towards Natural Crop Nutrition

By Newman Turner

When I was farming in Ireland I always noticed that the cottager’s goat and donkey had abundant grazing long before there was any hope of pasture, even on the most forward leys, on my farm. The Irishman’s ‘long acre’—the banks and hedgerows of the roadside—upon which the landless maintained considerable numbers of grazing animals—provided lush growth a month or more before cattle could be turned on to even the best managed farm pastures.

This happens everywhere in the world, but it struck me more forcibly in Ireland because the ‘long acre’—as the Irish call the free pasturing of the roadsides—is made much more use of in Ireland; and I became as green as the banks with envy, when my well-treated fields grew hardly a blade of grass, while a cottager with barely a back garden was feeding his goats, donkey, turkeys and maybe even a couple of cows, for nothing.

Why is the hedgerow growth so much earlier and quicker to recover after grazing than the field growth? Can we imitate the conditions of the hedgerow to reproduce the same early and abundant growth in the field?

pulling out silage
Cattle pulling silage out of an almost sheer face.

It is not difficult to discover the reasons for this superiority of nature in the hedgerows and to apply them in establishing our cultivated pastures. The herbal ley comes as near as possible to this ideal pasture, so long as the soil conditions of the hedgerow, as well as the variety and type of ingredients, are imitated for the ley.

What, then, has the hedgerow grazing got that the field has not?

I summarize these desirable factors as follows:

  1. Ideal soil conditions—i.e. fertility, friability, moisture-holding capacity, and warmth from bacterially-generated heat.
  2. Shelter—the hedge acting as a cloche to encourage an early start to all crops growing under or near it.
  3. Deep-rooted ingredients and early-starting herbs.

Each autumn nature begins to prepare the soil for the early spring growth of the following year. Seeds of all varieties fall into an already warm, moist and friable soil. Then starts a succession of leaf-falls of various kinds, which, intermixed with a tiny proportion of animal wastes, covers the seeds. A slow process of decay, through which the fallen leaves then begin to pass, assisted by rain-given moisture held in the surface sponge of organic material, creates all the warmth and nutriment that the seed needs to germinate and grow. The seed which contains the nucleus of life is covered, warmed and fed by leaves which have died and fallen from the trees, bushes and grasses above the soil. During their growing period those leaves have gathered the raw materials of chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, proteins and sugars from soil, sun and air, and in addition, no doubt, many elements of which we know nothing, from sources of which we are even yet not aware. These are transferred by the leaves to the surface soil to join in the work of soil bacteria, mycelia, fungi and the minute living creatures of the soil, to supply, in adequate quantities and ideal proportions, every single requirement of health, nutrition and growth for the young plant as well as for the established bush and tree.

No synthetic nutrient need be added and, because the resultant crop is always naturally healthy, no poison sprays are needed to ‘protect’ the plants from pests and diseases.

In spite of the complete absence of artificial nutrients or stimulants, the roadside grasses, clovers and herbs, quickly recover and produce fresh growth after frequent cuttings by council roadmen in Britain and the grazing of ‘long-acre’ livestock in Ireland. How much more ought we to harvest from our pastures, even without chemical stimulants, were we able to imitate these ideal soil conditions of the hedge bottom. For we have the advantage of generations of selective breeding of leafy strains of grasses and clovers, in addition to the natural herbage of the hedgerow, from which to constitute our leys.

grazing fertility fields
Cattle grazing in one of Newman Turner’s “fertility pastures”.

But the fact is, that on most farms, little or no attempt is made even to observe, let alone profit by nature’s methods of soil preparation and fertility building. When I first observed how nature got at least one month ahead of me in providing ‘early bite’, I too was following the accepted system of soil cultivation, with all its attendant costs in fertilizers and health supplements (which were made necessary by the inadequate diet which resulted). But once having recognized the superior method of soil management and manuring, I quickly started to adapt my ley preparation to it.
I needed no scientific confirmation of a method I had observed with my own eyes to be superior and less costly than any accepted method of achieving ideal soil conditions for early growth. The simple comparison of growth in the field and around the hedgerows, provided convincing evidence from the only really genuine scientist—nature. Facts are good enough for most farmers without the supporting explanations of laboratory-bound professors, though men who have gone to the fields for practical information have since supported nature’s methods of cultivation and manuring as the best means of ensuring constant foolproof fertility, instead of the misleading and variable measure of chemical analysis.

Over twenty years ago, Sir Albert Howard insisted on the importance of the biological, as distinct from the chemical, assessment of soil fertility. He declared that chemical soil analysis was, at very best, nothing more than a rough guide, to be checked against physical examination and a close observation of biological and botanical indications.

When he first visited me at Goosegreen, we discussed this subject at length. He had made suggestions which were contrary to the indications of a recent soil analysis. ‘Forget the soil test,’ he said, ‘look at the weeds that are growing there.’

I had grown up under old-fashioned farming conditions, and a father who was suspicious of the mathematical tyranny of soil-analyses and other scientific arrogance. The true farmer knew his soil by its feel in his hand and under his feet, and by the plants which nourished under natural conditions. We knew that the heaviest crops resulted from the most muck, whatever N, P, or K a soil analysis might suggest. So what Sir Albert said made sense to me.

Newman Turner's herd
The author’s herd. Note the capacious udders and big bellies to utilize high-quality natural food.

When, with the change-over to surface cultivation, I found that keeping organic matter in the top few inches of soil resulted in increased crops and the apparent correction of ‘soil deficiencies,’ I described the phenomenon in my book Fertility Farming. Dr. Dahr, head of the chemistry department of Alahabad University, visited me and said that what I was doing on a farm scale to demonstrate the biological release of plant nutrients, confirmed experiments in which he had shown that the chemical analysis of the soil was profoundly influenced by the method of application of organic matter; that surface application, in the presence of sunlight, added not only the chemical constituents of the organic matter itself, but collected and manufactured, by photosynthesis and bacterial action, additional quantities of essential elements and released further otherwise unavailable minerals in the top soil, during the process of decomposition. Soil analyses were thus useless, as they would vary according to biological activity, which in turn varied with seasonal sunlight, rain, and surface organic deposits of crop residues and insect and bacterial life. Sir Albert’s view of soil analyses was thus justified; my own experiments and claims recounted in Fertility Farming were scientifically confirmed; and our assertions regarding the complete adequacy of organic methods, and in particular organic surface cultivation, were firmly established.

As though to clinch the matter, we were further supported by Struthers and Sieling of Massachusetts University, who declared that organic matter on the surface of the soil has the ability to collect from the atmosphere ‘aerosols’ containing phosphates and calcium, and that adequate surface organic matter was the best means of maintaining and increasing essential available nutrients in the top soil.

Source: Fertility Pastures 

Using Lime to “Restock” the Soil

By William A. Albrecht

When limestone is put on the soil, it accepts acidity from the clay, just as other minerals do in the rock weathering processes. As a carbonate, it changes the active acid, or hydrogen, into water, of which compound the hydrogen is not such a highly active acid element. Therefore, the lime­stone corrects or neutralizes the soil acidity.

It has, however, been shown that this neutralizing effect from the liming operation is not so much the particular benefit derived by the crop, because compounds of calcium that do not neutralize the acidity, like calcium chloride, calcium sulfate or gypsum, and even ordinary cement for example, can improve the legume crop as well as calcium carbonate. Liming the soil puts calcium (or both calcium and magnesium if dolomitic limestone is used) on the clay, and thereby makes up this shortage on the list of nourishment of the crop.

It feeds the plant this one nutrient that the better forage legumes need so badly for their good growth and which is so readily removed from soils under higher rainfalls. It is the calcium put in, more than the acidity put out, that comes as the beneficial effect from liming the soil.

A farmer liming his fields after harvest.
A farmer liming his fields after harvest.

Source: Albrecht on Calcium