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Speaker Urges Farming with Nature

by Caitlin Yoder

Published: Friday, February 8, 2019

The Northern Indiana Grazing Conference took place last Friday at the Michiana Event Center in Shipshewana. The keynote speaker, Ray Archuleta, spoke to producers about how they can avoid turning their land into a desert.

"This is what I see throughout the country," Archuleta said. "I see Rural America. The wealth of the farm community has disappeared. The blessing of the land flows through the farmer and rancher."

Archuleta said the wealth is going to the tools farmers use on their land, such as fertilizers, chemicals and tractors. Farmers are going broke as a result.

"Farming and ranching is probably the most elegant, the most beautiful thing that we humans can do," Archuleta said. "And yet, the suicide rate has increased. In the top 30 careers, farming is one of the top suicide rates."

Archuleta said so many farmers are taught to force the land to produce a higher yield by manipulating the soil and adding things like chemicals and fertilizers. According to Archuleta, this type of mindset is why farmer incomes and yields are decreasing.

"Your job if you're going to farm is to emulate nature," he said. "To love it, nurture it, to understand it."

One reason it is difficult to change a farmer's mindset, according to Archuleta, is because his paycheck depends on it. Many are afraid to make big changes because what they are doing seems to be working. They are wary that if they change, they might end up losing money.

Archuleta discussed how important cover crops are to protecting the soil. He showed videos demonstrating the effects of a rain storm on unprotected soil versus fields with cover crops. The soil with no cover had muddy water runoff after the demonstration. The soil plot with cover crops had nearly no runoff.

"The worst enemy you have is bare soil," Archuleta said.

Cover crops bring nutrients and energy from the sun and put them back into the soil. Archuleta said farmers who leave fields bare are losing money and nutrients.

No-till is also an important conservation method for keeping soil healthy and preventing runoff. Archuleta took a chunk of soil from a field that has been tilled for 30 years and sprayed with pesticides and fertilizer. He placed the soil in a vase of water, where it immediately fell apart and muddied the water. He then showed a piece of soil that had not been tilled in 40 years and had diverse plants on it year-round. When he this soil was placed in the water it stayed together and the water remained clear.

His demonstration shows how no-till can be an advantage on the farm. When the soil holds together, there is less erosion and loss of nutrients.

According to Archuleta, producing hay continuously on a field can create problems. If farmers are constantly taking away from the field, the soil quality will suffer because they are not allowing nutrients to go back into the soil. When farmers graze the hay field, for example, nutrients are put back into the soil and replenish the land.

Fungi bacteria are important to quality soil as well. Fungicides, insecticides and tillage can damage beneficial insects. Archuleta said farmers need to understand the importance of these organisms to prevent creating a desert. The beneficial organisms break down organic residue and add nutrients back to the soil. According to Archuleta, farmers need to protect that bacteria because the soil prefers the nutrients from those organisms to chemical fertilizers.

"It's the excretions and secretions of life and death that make the coating that change the soil," he said.

Changing the mindset of farming can lead to improvements in the soil, plants and income, according to Archuleta. If farmers provide biology and diversity, their soil will be healthier than if they use chemical tools. Archuleta said he knows farmers who have completely eliminated the use of pesticides and fertilizers and have increased their yields. He encouraged producers to make changes to make their farm an oasis.

"Why do we have problems on our farms? We do not appreciate and understand the power of life," he said.

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