4 years ago, I presented a paper relating to 20 years’ experience subscribing to the Albrecht-Kinsey model. What have we found in those 4 years….
1. Copper. Most of this country is desperately short of copper. Under 1ppm in most cases initially. I made the mistake of not putting enough copper on to pass the threshold of 2ppm. This takes at least 5kg/ha preferably 10kg/ha per year. We may need to stop using copper for a while. A soil test will tell us.
2. Copper again. At a previous conference, Neal mentioned the fact that some crops require more copper than others. He said raspberries are one of those. They need 15ppm to prevent rust. Well he was right. I put 50kg/ha on my raspberries and the bad rust disappeared completely. We were eating raspberries from Dec to May this year.
3. Sulphur. Once again, sulphur is in short supply in Marlborough soils. We have used Neal Kinsey’s recommended rates on our soils, including the grapes. Sulphur and copper are the main drivers of taste. We won the prize for the best tasting grapes out of 75 co-op growers. Over 10,000 tonnes collectively.
4. Cation balance We have balanced our cations to the extent that we have 66-70% calcium, 10-12% magnesium, 3-6% potassium and 1-2% sodium which are shown in our soil tests. This has enabled us to withstand some pretty unusual weather events in the last 2 years. E.g. in Jan/Feb of this year we had 60% of our annual rainfall, when 20% is expected. The one thing we noticed that in spite of excessive rainfall, 70-90mm overnight, there were no puddles. There was no run-off. The neighbours paddocks were awash! How did this happen? The answer of course is because of the calcium/magnesium balance. The soil has the right pore space and the right amount of air and water at all times. (Except extreme events) This means proper in-soak, proper transfer of excess water to the subsoil. Very little, if any, runoff and proper capillary action as the soil dry’s out. This means: Less irrigation, no pollution, more production resulting in higher profits.
5. Soil microbes. Soil microbes break down crop and animal residues, creating more humus and more resilience against adverse events. Under a balanced system there is very little pollution of the waterways! This of course begs the question. Is fencing on our waterways the right pathway to less stream pollution, or should we be better off concentrating on enhancing the soils and the associated microbes to control runoff.
6. Government. There is a move from government circles to limit fertilizer use and cow numbers. How ridiculous! Even if you had only 1 cow and if she was feed the wrong feed she would pee almost straight ammonia and have laminitis and want to be in waterways for relief. The answer is in the mineral balance of the soil, then the microbes and then the feed. This applies to our health as well. You will not have good health by building hospitals. Spend the money on soils which transfers to soil health, microbe health, plant and animal health and human health. All over the world human health is deteriorating. Why is this? It is because we are not addressing the health of our soils.
7. Measurements We have discovered that measuring before and after is most important. Proper soil test taken regularly…most important. Use only proven tests. E.g. do not use Olsen P on low pH soils. Otherwise you will overdo the application of phosphates with disastrous results. E.g. zinc deficiencies. It takes a long time to use up excess P in the soil. Don’t forget there is a phosphate ion in the middle of every cell. Cancer is rampant cell division. Is excessive P in our food a factor in increased human cancers? We need to measure our soils, our water, our lime and fertilizers for both nutrients and contaminants.
8. Fertilizer We have followed the recommendations from Neal Ninsey and now our tests are coming in with: • 66-70% calcium (Aim 68%) • 10-12% magnesium (Aim 12%) • 3-6% potassium (Aim 5% for pasture and 7.5% for vines) • 1-2% for sodium (Aim > 0.5%) • 3-5ppm for copper (Aim 5ppm) • 12-18ppm zinc (Aim 16) • 300-600kg/ha phosphates (Aim >500kg/ha) • 12-16ppm sulphur (Aim >50ppm) • 3-5% humus (Aim 5%) • 50-80ppm manganese (Aim 100ppm) • 200-300ppm iron (Aim 300ppm) We use dolomite where necessary, lime, RPR plus trace minerals. We use 200kg/ha K2SO4 (Potassium sulphate) plus 100kg/ha DAP on hay and baleage paddock after every cut. The only N applied is in the DAP. We are relying on the soil microbes to supply the rest, up-to 400kg/ha on most paddocks.
9. Fault line. Incidentally we have a fault line running through our property. It was heavy clay with a TEC (Total exchange capacity) of 22. The rest of our property has a TEC of 13-14. On the fault line this year we found 5902kg/ha of calcium which represented 60% of base saturation. On the vineyard the TEC was 14 and the calcium found was 4150kg/ha representing a base saturation of 65%. It has taken an extra 5 tonne of lime/ha to raise the calcium levels on the fault line. A bit more is still required. However, we are now getting good drainage on that area. The pH on the lighter soil is 6.2 but we are still under pH 6.0 for the heavier clay soil. Another year should bring this into line.
10. Foliar tests. We have found we cannot rely on foliar testing for soil amendments. We had good soil zinc levels but low leaf levels because of the high phosphate in the soil. A small foliar application (2kg) bought the levels up to where they should be. Be wary of soil amendments especially for magnesium if foliar tests show a shortage. Too much magnesium in the soil shows up as a shortage as does too little. Better to correct this by foliar feeding and rely on the next soil test for ground applications.
11. Pests. Imbalance in the soil minerals means poor microbial activity, which leads to pest and disease issues. A good example is grass grub. Plants have a symbiotic relationship with the soil microbes. The plants exude sugars in the root zone to encourage the microbes to supply them with the nutrients in exchange for sugars. A plant under stress will exude more sugars than usual. That plant will also give off signals that insects pick up and the brown grass grub will lay its eggs where the extra sugar is present. When we balanced our soils the grass grub damage disappeared. Other pests controlled include porina, Psa in kiwifruit, clover root weevil, facial eczema…and who knows, maybe this approach is the best way to control (but not eliminate) Mycoplasma bovis.
12. Disease. We have largely eliminated fungal diseases in our grapes with minimal use of fungicide. However, we do use biological fungicides to back up our soil fertility programme. We have stopped spraying the under-vine and mow instead. Is this combination of soil and plant management helping to make the plant defence mechanisms more effective?
13. Bad aphids. Last year our area had bad aphids in Lucerne crops and my neighbour asked me what insecticide I used. Of course, we did not spray. We had some aphids but not enough to warrant a spray. At the next cut we had lots of ladybugs on the mower but no aphids. The Lucerne crop went onto make a record crop of seed of 900kg/ha which was up 400 kg or 40%. Recently another neighbour told me he can’t grow brassica crops anymore because of club root. It turns out he hasn’t used any lime or trace minerals for 6 years. He just used phosphate and nitrogen. If he had balanced his soils and used trace minerals, he would not have had a problem.
14. Nitrogen. Did you know that the inhibitor put into urea inhibits the microbes, which convert the urea from a diamide of carbonic acid into NH3 (Ammonia gas), HN4 and NO3? This is the same family of microbes that fix N from the atmosphere into the soil! Well that’s a good way of selling more urea! In a pasture, if we balance our cations, the enhanced microbial activity will provide enough N for 20 t DM/ha. So, don’t put urea on pastures. It will cost you money and pollute our streams. If you feel the need to use N fertilizer, use an ammoniated form such as ammonium sulphate or DAP. This will be slower but more effective and will not pollute. Too much nitrogen causes less uptake of copper and zinc!
15. Restrictions We are in danger of having restrictions put on us by politicians. We need to get our act together and use N responsibly otherwise we can’t grow a 14-tonne wheat crop.
16. Nitrogen use vs production. Last time I spoke, I made a list of the effects of too much N. 4 years ago NZ farmers used 500,000 tonnes of Urea annually. Now they are using 750,000 tonnes annually. Does this correspond to extra produce or is it causing pollution and distress?
17. Solving issues. The message is that balancing soil cations and addressing trace element issues is fundamental for solving most of the important issues, which effect our everyday living. Pollution, sustainability and health are all improved…but most of all, look at your bank balance. If it’s bad, then look at your soil.
18. Forestry. Neal tells me he advises on forestry with good results. I am about to embark on a forestry venture and I hope to make an impact on production by 40-50% by balancing the soil under the trees. We may be able to solve some issues with needle blight…. Watch this space.
19. 2014 address. The address I made in 2014 still applies. However, the risk of bad political decisions is higher now so therefore our investment in our soils is at risk from people who are in power. We need to educate these people to help them make the right decisions for the good of us all. We can only hope that good sense will prevail.
20. Balancing feeds. Cattle need balanced feed in terms of protein/energy ratios and they also need roughage in order to ruminate properly. In winter/spring grass is short with very little roughage and a protein/energy ration of 1:1. We add barley straw to balance things. Last week I shifted the break before feeding the straw. I didn’t feed the straw until the next day and the cattle had eaten twice as much grass than is usual. I can only conclude that they were eating more grass trying to find the roughage and energy that was lacking. Balancing feeds physically, chemically and by protein/energy ratios of 1-part protein to 3-parts energy is equally as important as balancing your soils. Production usually increases by about 20-30% with minimal cost. Under irrigation straw/hay is feed out for 9 months of the year.
In conclusion, follow the programme. Look at it as an investment with a long-term return. After a few short years you will see the difference in both production and lack of issues, regardless of what you grow. You will be able to transfer what you grow to your bank balance with minimal effect to the environment.
Good luck and thank you for listening.
Steve Mackenzie June 2018