Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association members meeting in Spokane in early February heard a special soil health presentation that continued into the following week.
Natural Resources Conservation Service soil scientist Ray Archuleta appeared to inspire the audience with talk on mimicking nature to enhance farm regeneration.
While it may seem an exaggeration to say Archuleta's breakfast address to PNDSA members had the audience on the edge of their seats, that's what many indicated happened as the speaker seemed to electrify with demonstrations and dazzle with soil health revelations.
"It blew many farmers' minds and made them think there is so much they could be doing in their operations," says Kay Meyer, PNDSA executive director.
If there was a theme to his talk, it may be in his comment that "the more we mimic nature, the better the farm."
Nature, he adds "does not till the soil."
He praised the PNDSA for its direct seed work, noting that organic matter maintained on the soil surface by no-till farming provides the "glue" needed to create a healthy biology and porous soil.
"One of the most destructive things we do is till," he adds. "But not tilling is not enough." Vegetative cover is needed to protect the healthy soil integrity from rain, says Archuleta.
In what he calls the "kingdom of soil health," Archuleta says growers would not look to their neighbors to make management decision, but to nature. Most soil, he concludes, is "naked, hungry, thirsty and running a fever."
Global warming, he believes, is enhanced by uncovered soils.
Via "biomimicry," growers can use natural biological processes on their farms that will eliminate many conventional inputs used today, he says.
Some of his observations which caused eyes to widen included:
Weeds are nature's healers: they bring up nutrients from below.
When farmers ship off crop residue, they are shipping away food for healthy soil.
Those who start no-till on corn fail because the crop has ruined the soil; They conclude the process does not work.
We need to use cover crop mixes that look like the prairie.
You can plant cover crops while you harvest.
Technology will not save us, but humility and understanding when we farm in nature's image. Doing so, we can stop the desert (being generated by erosion and soil destruction).