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What is Regenerative Ag anyways? Soil Health Principle 4

September 6, 2020

Principle 4 (of five) of healthy soil. - Living Roots

The fourth principle is to keep living roots in the soil as long as possible through the growing year. It's important to keep liquid carbon in the soil to sustain soil biology. 

An analogy for you: a farmer would never leave their livestock unfed for months at a time. So why do we not think to feed our "underground livestock" throughout the winter as well?

Keeping living, growing plants on the ground as long as possible helps keep the mineral exchange, carbon exchange, and soil healthy and thriving. It's a missed opportunity in a lot of places to convert solar energy into biological energy.

When a farmer takes a crop off, like corn, for the year and doesn't replace it with any sort of cover crop, they're missing out on a huge opportunity to build soil and better next year's crop. Even a 3-inch cover crop grown before the snow kills it off helps and is better than planting nothing at all.

If we're not pumping carbon back into the soil then we are not feeding the soil biology; if we're not feeding the soil biology we are not cycling nutrients.

Living roots also enhance the mycorrhizal fungi, which have more roles than we can count. It's as complicated and as vast as the job our gut has and makes a great comparison. Our gut is where our immune system lives and also talks to our brain (some even call it our second brain because of the major power it has over our health.) The mycorrhizal fungi also have a huge impact on how well an organism thrives, and the degree of health.

Keeping living roots in the soil also helps increase the water carrying capacity in the soil by increasing organic matter. (Think back to the bread vs flour exercise we did back in principle 1)

Approximately 2/3 of any increase in organic matter is due to roots, so you can see why they're so important.

In our pastures, we try to keep a diverse mix of cold-season and warm-season grasses because that is what you find in nature and is nature’s natural way of making sure that ecosystems remain healthy and the carbon cycle keeps going even through parts of winter.

When your soils are healthier, so are your animals, and therefore so are you! That old saying "you are what you eat" is more true today than ever. So we try to keep that forage growing on the fields and don't ever spray it. It's amazing the more we learn about soil and the HUGE roles it plays in our daily life, good healthy soil is priceless.

Megan Wilcox