Maintaining soil fertility

BioTropic visits the Workshop for Humus management & Aerobic composting

This is an admittedly long-winded title for an unusually interesting seminar, attended by our BioTropic managers and some of our staff at the Achleitner organic farm in Austria in March. Under the direction of the soil experts Angelika Lübke-Hildebrandt and Urs Hildebrandt from the URS Landmanagement business consultancy we acquired an insight into the concealed soil world. Above all, what has to be added not only to make the soil fertile, but to keep it permanently too.

As a result of current agricultural practice heavy demands are placed upon farmland as a result of the higher crop yields expected. Synthetic compost, untreated organic waste such as manure or slurry and cheap fertilizers do not help the soil, and some of it is even harmful for the soil and environment. If the topsoil is not treated with consideration, there is a risk that it will lose its structure and that it will not allow rainwater to percolate away; the result will be that valuable nutrients will be washed away leading to a drop in yield. In short: the soil will be leached. Maintaining the humus does in fact play a key role in maintaining soil fertility. Humus is decayed organic material in various stages of decomposition. Microorganisms, fungus and microbes convert the material so that the original components can be absorbed once more by plants.

In the seminar we learned that not a great deal of time is required to revive anaerobic, leached soils containing low levels of oxygen.
What is, however, required, is good quality compost to activate the soil into producing humus again. Manure, straw, green waste and kitchen waste, green cuttings and soil are suitable materials for creating good aerobic compost. Suitable green manures with legumes containing nitrogen etc. and a suitable crop rotation are important support measures. This requires expertise and is labour-intensive. Daily monitoring is absolutely essential. Effort and time will be rewarded with a living, fertile soil which will also be less susceptible to erosion and deals better with dry periods.

What does a healthy soil actually consist of? It smells of fresh humus and has a damp crumbly structure. The soil contains oxygen and it is full of microorganisms and microbes.

Our objective is to pass the knowledge we have acquired to our fruit and vegetable producers throughout the world. Since only a healthy and properly managed soil can deliver high crop yields and top quality produce. Above all it is our producers and small farmers in countries such as the Dominican Republic and the Ivory Coast who will benefit from such knowledge. Soils managed incorrectly and subject to local climatic conditions are often rapidly leached. By understanding agricultural factors and inputs and selecting the manures suitable for their soils our producers will be able to increase their crop yields cheaply and at the same time improve soil quality.

And what is our conclusion?
"Humus is not manure, but a source of life"

Link for further reading:

URS Landmanagement

Tags: Austria (GB), Seminar (GB)

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