The Secret to Better Soil Health Lies in Proper Management 

The Most Valuable Asset That a Crop Farmer Can Have is Healthy Soil

Danie Bester operates a farm on Rietbult, which is located close to Balfour in Mpumalanga. His scientific approach to manufacturing is well known throughout the industry as a whole. He claims that his whole farming operation is predicated on the enhancement of his soil, which is the subject of a significant amount of the studies that he conducts. He describes, “The day I decided to concentrate on the nutrition of the soil was the day my entire enterprise transformed, and I haven’t gone back since.”

Bester also emphasizes the fact that farmers in South Africa are cultivating water, saying, “We must control our available sources of water efficiently and optimally.” In order for crops to grow, the soil must have moisture in it, and in order for the soil to retain moisture effectively, we require healthy soil. My entire manufacturing system revolves around the rich, nutrient-rich soil that naturally occurs in healthy environments.

“Profit growth and environmental responsibility are closely intertwined; you can’t get one without the other.”

Nevertheless, the health of the soil and its productive capacity is both dependent on taking a holistic approach. According to him, the ability to effectively manage water and soil resources are two of the most critical factors for pulling a farmer through challenging climatic conditions. According to him, the state of the soil accounts for eighty percent of the total yield.

“The soil has a natural capacity for productive output. Your output and revenue growth is largely dependent on a number of factors, the most important of which are the accessibility and absorption of fertilizers, in addition to soil processes and moisture levels. Because it is only via biological actions that the soil’s nutrients become accessible to plants in a form that they can use, having a healthy soil biology will unleash the potential that your soil has.

“The remaining twenty percent of my output is dependent on the varietal I choose, the implements I use, and the accuracy of my planter.”

The Context in Its Entirety

According to Bester, soil management is not a stand-alone method and should be integrated into the farming business as a whole. He uses no-till techniques, which are also essential to the practice of restorative agriculture, to maximize the soil’s capacity to retain moisture, minimize soil compaction, and expand the population of advantageous soil microbes.

Due to the cooler soils, improved ability to retain moisture, enhanced root development, and increased biological activity that result from no-till farming, Bester’s crops have benefited from this method of agricultural production. However, he emphasizes that maintaining healthy soil involves more than just practicing conservation tillage alone. His method places a strong emphasis on crop rotation, cover cropping, and precision farming practices.

Winter wheat is planted as a crop rotation of maize and soybeans, and he prioritizes the production of soybeans and maize. “Each type of cover crop offers an answer to a different issue that must be addressed. It is therefore essential to understand the nature of the soil problem to determine the best course of action.

Precision Agriculture

Throughout the year, he collects soil and leaf samples, then sends them off to be analyzed to assess the levels of fertilizers and the accessibility of those nutrients. In addition to this, on a yearly basis, he determines the yield of each parcel of land to evaluate the results of any modifications he may have made as a result of the research.

The value of precision agriculture, according to Bester, cannot be overstated; however, the practice entails a great deal more than simply planting crops in orderly rows. He claims that he utilizes the data he gathers both during and after each season to make decisions regarding variable-rate planting and the use of chemicals.

As part of his actions to enhance the soil, he will sometimes need to implement lime or other components, depending on what the soil analysis recommends. This will allow him to bring the pH status of the soil back to where it should be. Plants can make better use of sunlight thanks to the presence of micronutrients in the soil. They stimulate the activity of enzymes that are associated with respiration and the metabolism of nitrogen, which enables plants to convert sunlight and carbon into sugars through the process of photosynthesis.

“I can recognize what has shifted and determine why it has done so as an outcome of comparing the data from multiple years with the findings of the soil and leaf evaluations,” she said. They use the data to determine, on a more concrete level, whether water stress, soil compaction, or nutrient depletion caused poor root growth, or if any additional factor resulted in differences in yield. I also determine whether or not any other factor contributed to differences in yield.

“I also employ the data to fine-tune equipment and modify tillage practices,”   In the event that a dilemma has been recognized, remedial actions may be taken in response to it. This is the central challenge of sustainable agriculture and the preservation of healthy soil.

Bester warns, however, that maintaining the health of the soil is not a one-and-done endeavor: The management of your soil is an ongoing process that requires your undivided attention. You are required to conduct ongoing assessments of the scenario and make modifications to the information at your disposal.

In addition to this, he recommends that farmers get in touch with one another so that they can discuss issues and think of potential solutions.

“Get results by conducting investigations and gathering information. He concludes that “there is always an explanation as to why your yield is up or down, and the majority of the time, the reason can be found in the soil.”

Restoring the Health of the Soil

Near Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal and Warden in the eastern Free State, the Zunckel family raises wheat, maize, and soya bean crops on their farms. In addition to this, the company places a significant emphasis on its livestock.

The recovery of carbon and organic material in the soil is one of the fundamental aspects of Zunckel Farms’ business model, which is based on the company’s core belief that a good healthy agricultural system is capable of sustaining all forms of life.

Tyson Zunckel, who farms with his father and brother, stresses the importance of leaving one’s footprints on one’s lands as a critical component to achieving success, particularly with regard to maintaining the health of the soil. “Even though other folks can offer recommendations, you need to look into what is going on in your fields on your own.”

He explains that the bacteria in the soil and the fungi in the soil work together to make the minerals and nutrients in the soil obtainable to the plants, which in turn enables the plants to absorb the nutrients through their root systems.

When we worked to improve the quality of our soil, the plants that grew, as a result, were stronger and better able to absorb carbon from the air and deposit it in the ground through the process of photosynthesis.

“We believe in causing as little disturbance to the soil as possible, using as few chemicals as possible, and concentrating on regenerating the soil.” Our farming methods are determined by what is most beneficial to the soil and its health of the soil.

They implemented diversification crop rotation, and cover crops like oats and radishes are now a permanent part of the rotation that they use on their land. They can accomplish maximum soil cover through the use of either living plants or plant residues, and they maintain a living root system in the soil at all times thanks to this method.

According to Zunckel, “Cover crops play an important role in countering nematodes and assist in enhancing overall soil health.” Cover crops also help to prevent erosion. Following the planting of our soybean crops, we immediately begin planting our cover crops. In addition, cattle graze on the cover crops and the residue of the maze.

“Both the root systems of plants and the microbes and bacteria that live among these roots make significant contributions to the overall improvement of the soil’s health and structure,”

The Proof is in the Pudding, as the Saying Goes

His assessment of the results of their labor is as follows: “We can see a difference in our soil; it’s darker, softer, and contains more organic matter.”The examination of the samples reveals that] over the last decade and a half, we have succeeded in elevating the carbon content of the soil.

Our methods have also contributed to the reduction of soil erosion, the improvement of water infiltration, and the increase of moisture retention, all of which have resulted in a production that is more sustainable and greater yields over time. On the farm, we have noticed an increase in both birds and antelope, as well as a rise in the number of beneficial insects, particularly bees.

In accordance with the findings of the grid sampling that is carried out on a rotational basis every four years, they add lime and nutrients to the top layer of the soil. The topsoil and subsoil are each greeted at 1 ha and 2 ha, and samples are taken from those areas. The findings are used to formulate variable-rate planting prescriptions specific to each piece of land.

According to Zunckel, the ever-increasing cost of fertilizer has caused them to rethink their business strategies over the past few years. As a result, they now rely more heavily on manure from livestock and poultry than they do on fertilizer.

When applying the manure, they do so according to a rotation system that takes place every four years, he adds. They apply 10 tons of manure to the ground after investigating the soil during one particular season.

Although our yields remain the same, we have the impression that we are contributing additional components to the soil through this method. When we return to that specific section of the farm after four years, we perform a new soil analysis in order to determine what it requires.

The Significance of Making Plans

In addition to conducting a soil analysis, Zunckel emphasizes how important it is to carefully and thoroughly plan.

Before making any final choices regarding your preparations for the upcoming season, you should first consider the state of your soil and the forecast for the upcoming period of time.

The health of the soil, the management of water resources, the elimination of weeds, the prevention of pests and diseases through the use of seed treatments, and the rotation of crops are all part of our interconnected farm management strategy. Before switching to a minimum- or no-till system, he says, a farmer should first switch their cultivation practices to something more sustainable.

“Over time, we shifted our mentality and made investments in various pieces of cultivation equipment. It is important to have patience because adding organic matter to the soil and building up a layer of mulch both take time.

“Although our methodologies contributed to increasing our profitability, our primary focus was on modeling our actions after those of nature and performing actions that were beneficial to the soil.”