What: USA Farm Tour
When: July 2012
Author: Brett Petersen
It’s late July 2012 and we’re on a farm study tour of the USA organised by Bruce Hore of Agriganics. 16 Kiwis determined to look, listen and learn from other farmers and growers that have been practicing the Albrecht-Kinsey method of soil fertilisation for longer than we at Kiwi Fertiliser have. In fact, Kiwi Fertiliser was started specifically to introduce this growing method to NZ farmers. Our group, from Northland to Southland, was composed of farmers, consultants, soil fertility specialists, and fertiliser, lime and Dolomite mine owners. The Albrecht-Kinsey system when properly employed, addresses NPK plus the soils’ base saturation needs, trace elements, soil structure and biology, to improve quality and quantity of any crop or pasture known to man. The idea is to use certain fertiliser properties (the "chemical") to alter the soils' physical properties, to create a suitable environment for the microbes. It is biological farming, involving proven specifications. There are at least four manuals of rules and examples involved. It works the best of any system I know of, and is used in >75 countries around the world.
Our first outing was under the care of soil consultant Paul Borges at Modesto, NW of San Francisco. He took us to Ratto Bros who run about 10 vegetable ranches totaling 1,200 ha, where they grow 70 different crops including parsley, kale, silver beet, leeks, cabbage, watermelon and carrots for local supermarkets. Being a Sunday, the Ratto Bros were not there, so we didn't get up close and personal. Most of their crops are in 0.2-0.4 ha lots. In the next valley, Salinas, they grow 12-16 ha per crop. The difference is the buyers, being national supermarkets, not local ones. Lines of tractors, buses (each with loo in tow), and trucks greeted us on arrival, along with impressive buildings and cool stores. At Ratto Bros. crops can be picked, packaged and delivered locally within 6 hrs.
The area is also dotted with cattle feedlots, where P205 levels get up to 1,000-1,100 kg/ha (excessive) owing to the number of cattle held on limited areas. The manure generated being spread back on the land, overloading the P levels. Lucerne is used in rotation to mop up these excesses. Compost is also applied in great quantities, making nutrients readily available for when the vegetable growers move in. However, regulations restrict manure applications within a certain time of being turned over to vegetable growers, as salmonella can be a problem.
With total exchange capacity (TEC) of less than 7, the soils are light. Such soils suit a base saturation percent of 60-65 calcium and 15-20 of magnesium. This is a relatively high amount of magnesium. Given the sandy nature of the soil, higher Mg is desirable, as the Mg molecule is smaller than calcium’s, giving the soil better water holding capacity. Sandy soils can compact worse than heavy soils, so ripping is part and parcel of soil maintenance. In the case of sandy soils, sulphur, sodium and boron build up against the compacted layer, and ripping is used to prevent these nutrients from becoming excessive. Compaction is caused by the constant use of tractors operating rain, hail or snow. Too bad if ground conditions are not suitable; the show must go on.
The best time for harvest coincides with Mayday. Watermelon crops can yield 95t/ha. Net profit can be as high as $250,000/ha, but get it wrong and the losses can be well over $100,000/ha.
We next visited an impressive irrigated maize crop. It was not far off harvest, which will happen in August. Using a 12-row chopper, the trucks are filled in 1.5 minutes. Planting is up to and by May 15 for the better crops. Using the Albrecht-Kinsey method of building soil fertility, yields of silage are 100-112 tonnes/ha (33%dm) in the truck at the weigh station.
Feed lots holding thousands of cattle for fattening buy the silage for $55/t. This is an income of $5,000-$6,250/ha and a payment of about 17 c/kgdm. The soils are very light, around TEC 8-10. Under this particular crop, the soil could be completely turned over and still give the same fertility readings. No starter was needed and N inputs totaled 250 units. Since the plant makes early “decisions”, ample N and foliar needs to be in place by the 4th leaf stage.Water is not only needed to sustain crops, but also to keep sodium levels at bay.
The Modesto Irrigation District sources its water from the Don Pedro Dam on the Tuolumne River, supplying enough water delivered through open canals to irrigate 23,500 ha. The origin of that water being mountain snow-melt. Since evaporation loses are high, booster bores are sited along the canals to replace lost water. It is now proposed to pipe and pressurise the water to reduce those losses.