Turning the Kinsey/Albrecht Model of Soil Fertility into Sustainable Profits
A Personal Experience
Paper Presented by Steve Mackenzie, 2014
1. Four school men friends had a reunion in their 40’s. Went to Fairweather’s because the bar staff were good looking. They met again in their 50’s because Fairweather’s had good lighting to see by. In their 60’s they went to Fairweather’s because they had wheel chair access. In their 70’s they went to Fairweather’s because they hadn’t been there before... more about this later.
2. I first discovered the balancing effect of soil nutrients over 20 years ago. I first met Neal Kinsey about then, at a seminar in Blenheim where he spoke for a couple of hours, without notes. Afterwards I showed him 2 soil tests, one where the Ca/Mg ratios were 68% and 12%, but P was low. The other test had Ca at 60% and Mg at 5%, but phosphate was high. He said most people would say the second test would yield a better barely crop, but in his opinion the first test was better. In the event he was right and we got a yield of 3 tonne of barley versus 1.5 tonne. It was then we started sending soil tests to America for analysis.
3. The first thing to show up was an acute copper deficiency to the extent where I was advised to take immediate steps to rectify this as the level was 0.03 parts per million (levels should be 2 to 4). We then injected our yearling bulls with copper and within 48 hours the results were unbelievable. They stopped riding each other, they stopped eating the dirt, they stopped scouring. In fact they started behaving normally, (ie eating, drinking chewing their cud and growing and putting on weight) all this from a proper soil test from a laboratory half way across the world.
4. The next thing on the agenda was to balance the cations, Mg, Ca, Na and K and also the trace minerals. We found as we progressed that thresholds are important. For example it is a waste of time putting 2kgs of copper on when it takes 5kgs to actually work.
5. Also the effects of calcium become much more obvious when we reached 60% of base saturation. This is the point where the pore space allows for the proper air and water movement and subsequent biological activity and consequently more plant and animal growth of better quality.
6. The balancing effect means hot or cold, wet or dry becomes less of an issue. Why? Because both air and water movement within the soil is enhanced. This encourages the right microbes to work to break down previous crop residue into humus and parent material into nutrients. Also legumes thrive giving the system the right amount of N.
7. We have found that it takes about 3-5 years to get our soil in balance, (i.e. Ca 60 – 70%, Mg 8-12%, K 3-5%, Na 1 – 3 %). Depending on how far out it was to start with. Funny things happen when the balance is right. Grass grub, cut worm and porina damage largely disappears, Bloat, milk fever, and hypo magnesium staggers also disappear. Others too disappear including backwards calves (iodine) retained placenta (selenium), and laminitis.
8. Weeds also tell us a story about what is right or wrong with the soil. Rhizome type weeds (e.g. couch yarrow California thistles, and morning glories) all tend to disappear. This is because under a balanced regime a fungus prevails which consumes Rhizomes and this is far more effective than any spray.
9. Broadleaf weeds denote wet sour ground, and wireweed means low calcium. Acid soil weeds include sorrel, docks, and hawk weed.
10. We grow red clover, and it disappears when there is a shortage of potassium. People say their pasture is run out! It’s not the pasture, it is the soil that is feeding it. Potassium is very often complexed and unavailable for plant to use when soils suddenly get dry. This is very important for both red clover and grapes. Hence the need for Foliar applications of K in grapes in the summer.
11. An interesting development has taken place in our vineyard. Monsanto has tried to register glysophate as an antibiotic (i.e. it kills bacteria). I believe that prolonged use of glysophate buggers the soil bacteria for long periods of the growing season to the extent that our vines are starved of nutrients. I have used an underwire mower instead of the sprayed strip this year with good results. The grapes matured earlier (before the rain) and tasted better, and we have good strong canes for next year, with no discernible disease spores. When we turned some sheep and cattle into the vineyard, they ate the clover under the vines first! By the way it seems also that under a balanced system that plants and animals provide more of their own protection against predator and insect attack.
12. We use suspension fertiliser (i.e. finely ground fertilizer mixed with water and applied in suspension to the foliage). The advantage is in the fineness of the material and the evenness of the spread, plants also absorb and translocate it to the root zone. This is very cost effective for maintenance fertilizer providing there are no drastic shortages with the exception of sulphur. Suspension of elemental sulphur is the only way of raising soil sulphur levels without leaching issues.
13. It is also very good with phosphate especially if the pH is low or out of balance. The phosphate does not lock up with Iron and/or aluminium as easily. Consequently much less is required. If however, you need large amounts of Ca or Mg we have found normal ground limestone or dolomite is required until levels approach thresholds. This applies also to all trace minerals.
14. It appears that the 15,000 odd dairy farms in New Zealand use 500,000 tonnes of urea on their grass every year according to Peter Burton (Marlborough Nelson Farming Magazine). That $350 million (or $25,000 per farm) could be used to balance soils and the subsequent clover will provide more than enough N in a form that doesn’t leach.
Effects of overuse of N:
• Elongation of the cell wall – longer grass with the same number of cells)
• Greater evapotranspiration – more water required
• Greater insect attack – insects can handle excessive N without ill effects (i.e. grass grub)
• Non-protein N – Bloat and nitrate poisoning
• Pollution – excess into the system means excess N out of the system.
• Calcium depletion – excess N departs as CaNo3, and this hardens the soil
• Crop lodging – elongation of the stem combined with copper shortages makes the straw weak in grain crops, which I have experienced with corn crops.
15. Do not put N on pastures after a dry spell. There is already an excess of N there waiting for rain – you wouldn’t give a drowning man more water!
16. Grow corn or wheat after a clover crop. Very little N is required. The rule is 1kg of N to be applied to help break down 100kgs crop residue. Over sow in grass and clover after 2-3 years to restore the balance.
17. If you are able to irrigate, grow crops and grasses that can tolerate heat, e.g. fescue timothy in place of ryegrass, red clover in place of sub clover, sweet corn and maize. Grow plants and animals that suit your conditions and select genetically last, after all the balancing areas have been addressed. Most people get this the wrong way round and end up selecting for poor conditions when they should have changed those conditions. A good example of this is Friesian Bulls will adapt to spring or autumn flushes far quicker than beef bred animals because their mothers have been selected for these conditions.
18. Some production figures since balancing our soils are:
• Red clover 750kg/ha
• Lucerne seed 500kg/ha
• Sweet corn 20 – 25kg /ha
• Barley 7 – 8 Tonne/ha with 58lb bushel of weight
• Steers average 1.1kg/day throughout the year running 3-4/ha
• 150% lambing without selecting for lambing ability (in fact tail end ewe lambs were kept)
• Averaging 15 Tonne grapes with excellent brix and acid levels to taste.
19. Not everybody enjoys these levels of production.
20. Currently crops are measured by weight, grass is measured by dry matter content, feed is measured by M.E. These measurements do not tell us the quality of our produce. We need to know more. In our grain crops the thousand grain weight or bushel weight is important.
21. Dry matter measurement doesn’t tell us the nutrient density or if the cell wall is elongated by excessive nitrogen use. M.E. doesn’t tell us the balance between protein and energy. This ratio is critical for proper production, i.e. 1 part protein for 3 parts energy. Boosted dairy pastures are 1 to 1. That is why cows supplemented with maize silage do so well. Because maize is high in energy. Barley straw will also do the job, especially if roughage is required. Half a round bale per 50 bulls every second day will double their growth rates and stop the laminitis during the Autumn flush. Contrary to what some experts may tell you (Marlborough Express 25/4/2014).
22. We have started under-mowing instead of spraying. One neighbour has been doing this for some years and he says the vineyard has become thatchy, however he is not balancing the soil and I don’t believe it will be a problem in our vines. I have been criticized for this development including by my wife (an avid and successful gardener), however I am unperturbed by this and I feel I am on the right track.
23. Think of your fertilizer programme as an investment and the golden rule of investment is to diversify. We have a vineyard, and we grow sweet corn, peas, clover seed, Lucerne seed, beef, lambs, hay and baleage and we have a contracting business. We also have profit from investments, all made possible by soil balancing.
24. Dairy farmers should, where possible, grow their own supplements to avoid risk of supply. Run off farms need to be balanced so the cows can restore the calcium in their bones, otherwise they won’t produce well.
25. Remember that bones are 2:1 Ca to P. If the ratio in the feed is less than that (say 1:1) then the excess P has to be excreted leaving a shortage of both Ca and P for bone growth. The end result is lower productivity, milk fever and infertility. Perhaps this is why New Zealand dairy cows only boast 5 – 6 lactations instead of 10 – 12.
26. Vineyards are vulnerable to bad weather events as evidenced this year (hail, rain and frost)
27. We are all vulnerable to political interference and market fluctuations, hence some other industry investments.
28. So how does this translate into sustainable profits? Expenses are less – Pollution is less, sprays and remedies for pests and diseases are not required, except for extreme challenges (for example this year in the grapes, powdery mildew was a greater challenge than usual and in spite of our efforts to balance things we still used a fungicide to control it. However the quality of our wine was still up in the top 10% thanks to our balancing programme.
29. Crops mature on time which meant that this year we were able to harvest before the bad weather. Note excessive use of N will delay harvest.
30. Grow the right crops for your climate. Keep rotation right for the N availability, use livestock in conjunction with crops to make use of crop residues and to improve the symbiotic relationship between rumen microbes and soil microbes.
31. Plant crops on time and preferably in the right moon phase. This is quite important, although less so on properly balanced soils.
32. Trace minerals are just as important as major elements. A good example is Boron. If in short supply, pine trees get die back, corn crops don’t fill up properly and clover seed crops set less seed. Up to 20% more sweet corn can be produced with just 2kgs Solubor (Boron fertilizer). Don’t be afraid to foliar feed when things show up short. It is better to remedy the situation than lose production and quality.
33. Irrigation costs are less because of the build up of humus, water holding capacity and the capillary action. As the soil dries out droughts and winters seem less severe. Total dry matter production is up there with the top 10%, however costs are lower, including fertilizer as little N is required.
34. If the structure of the soil pH is correct (i.e. Ca 60 – 70%, 8 – 12% Mg, 3 – 5% K, 1 – 2% Na) then whatever crop you grow will be king. Weeds and insects will be less of an issue, production in tonnes will be more, quality by nutrient value will be better and best of all profits will be greater.
35. If your pastures are running out look to the soil. If you are having to resort to fungicides, insecticides and herbicides – look to the soil! Make sure you don’t pug the paddocks or cultivate them when wet as the legacy of that lasts for many years.
36. Remember the final measurement is your bank balance. If it’s not right – look at your soil!
37. So, I put it to you - are your corps and pastures nutrient dense? Does this transfer into poorer feed for our tables and is this an issue where our own health is concerned? I believe it is, and it’s up to us as farmers to get this balancing caper right, because our city cousins are depending on it for their health and well being.
38. Remember our four friends from the beginning of this talk, and how they couldn’t see very well, were in wheel chairs and didn’t remember things. Maybe they would be better off if their food was more nutrient rich and grown under a more balanced approach. I certainly know how it works for us and all of the plants and animals we grow
39. Thank you ladies and gentlemen for taking the time to listen to what I believe is a very important message, which is balance your soils and subsequently everything else will fall into place, including your bank balance.