The health of our soils is just the beginning. It’s the beginning of an important cycle, so critical that literally our world depends on it. Due to the current climate situation, soil has never been more vital to the health of our planet and ecosystem.
Understanding soil is the beginning of a series of new questions- some of which we’ve identified and some of which we can’t yet imagine.
We know soil’s importance in the pasture cycle: soil gives life to plants via nitrogen & other minerals in the soil, when combined with sunlight and water they enable plants to grow. Animals come along and eat the plants and then redeposit their waste back into the soil- only this time their digestive tracks have worked some magic which then fertilizes the plants and soil. Rain and changing seasons assist in, and complete, this process.
While this is an oversimplification of the process it should be clear that soil- healthy, nutrient dense soil filled with nitrogen, minerals, and billions of microbes, are vital to the environment and raising properly managed cattle for food and life.
We came with vision but without sight
Without cattle, this process flat-out doesn’t work. The nitrogen content of soil cannot be replenished, starving plants. Plants that leak nitrogen cause erosion.
The true wealth of any pasture or prairie is in the soil- this is where the majority of the biomass resides. When farmers act like capitalists rather than conversationalists we all lose. These farmers might see a brief bump in production and profit, but long term this is not sustainable. The US government knows this, which is why substitutes exists for mono cropping via guaranteed price minimums.
Cattle being a requirement for soil health stresses the importance of allowing them to graze on pasture. Eating a natural diet continues the process that evolved and thrived for millions and millions of years.
Soil health, or sickness, is apparent and abundant in too many farms. Similar to humans, when we are sick, tired, over-worked or over-stressed, we show it. We are more vulnerable to colds, illness, and disease.
Plants act much the same way, they can get sick, be overtaken by a pest or disease, and die. When this happens it’s almost too late. The plant didn’t simple get sick and die, it was allowed to get sick from poor nutrient levels from the soil.
Humans can take medicine when we get sick, but like with plants and soil it’s easier and more effective to solve the problem upstream. The medicine will help you function and mask the pain of the issue, but doesn’t make you healthier.
Applying a pesticide or fertilizer works the same way. It masks the real issue but doesn’t make the soil, plant, animal consuming the plant, well- we’re talking about the entire ecosystem any healthier.
Nature Knows Best
This process has been happening and evolving over a long time. When plants suffer from an infestation, it’s not a shortcoming of nature or the process. It’s a plant that isn’t taken well care of. There are numerous potential impacts or causes for this, but one is likely the nutrient quality of the soil.
I have two garden bed in my yard. This past fall, when getting ready to sow new seeds I took the contents of my compost bin to mix in with the existing soil. But I only had enough compost for 1 bed. I figured it wouldn’t make much difference- the soil was healthy and just a few months prior I had an even mix of new compost additions.
For comparisons sake everything else between the beds was equal. The beds sit right next to one another. I water them by hand and each receive the same amount of water. They get the same amount of sunlight and are exposed to the same weather conditions.
I was wrong.
One of my garden beds did okay. Plants grew and I was happy. The other bed, the bed with the new compost, completely thrived. It was literally overflowing with plants. The plants grew faster and in greater abundance.
Replenishing the soil with new compost added nutrients and microbes to the mix. The bed that didn’t receive the compost was sick or unhealthy, but certainly wasn’t optimized the way the other bed was.
In the Weeds
Furthermore, the bed with the compost had less weeds surrounding it. Weeds are a natural way to determine what’s missing from the soil. For example, galinsoga is a weed that grows in carbon-deficient environments. Fertilizing soil too much can cause a correction in the carbon levels, and when it’s trying to balance itself out display vulnerability.
Clover, on the other hand, has the natural ability to fix nitrogen levels. Why is this important? Nitrogen from clover is better than chemicals because the carbon is kept in a stable form. Again, this goes back to the evolutionary cycle, it’s what the plants know and the reason for soil health. Additionally, it attracts earthworms in the soil.
The cycle is completed when animal waste fertilizes the soil and returns the nutrients.
If animals could talk
If animals could talk I’m sure they’d tell you that natural grasses taste better compared to chemical fertilized grasses and plants. If only they could talk…
Oh wait, they can. When looking at the gut microbiome of animals, and their meats we can see a difference in nutrient quality and taste.
It’s a win-win-win situation all around. When soil is treated well the environment wins by returning carbon and minerals into the ground, animals win when they eat a natural diet they can thrive on, and humans win when animals magnify the nutrients from the soil making them more bioavailability to us in our diets.
Superfarm is on a mission to support financially support the farmers raising well managed cattle in an environmentally positive way. We help these small, local, & independent ranchers thrive by making their products accessible to you.
You can support your local rancher when you buy at Farmer’s Markets, or have it delivered directly to your door when shopping on superfarm.org.