Pop quiz: What farming practice prepares the land for growing crops through the digging and stirring of soil?
If all of us were posed this question, I’m just about certain we’d all be screaming the (conventional) answer: conventional tillage. In a way, we’d be right on the money, but there’s also another acceptable answer: earthworms.
Okay, earthworms aren’t exactly a “farming practice”, but in a sense, they can be viewed that way. After all, there’s a reason they’ve been coined, “nature’s plow.”
EARTHWORMS: A FARMER’S BEST FRIEND?
So what role do they play exactly? Soil Ecology expert Clive Edwards has the answer:
“Earthworms dramatically alter soil structure, water movement, nutrient dynamics, and plant growth. They are not essential to all healthy soil systems, but their presence is usually an indicator of a healthy system.”
To break down some of the more prominent benefits, earthworms:
For a more in-depth look at how earthworms can be a farmer’s best friend, check out the The University of Ohio State’s Clive Edwards’ informative breakdown here.
EARTHWORMS AND TILLAGE
So why are we pushing the earthworm agenda?
Unfortunately, the very practice of tillage is devastating earthworm populations. This seems to be yet another reason of why SDSU’s Dwayne Beck, who also knows a bit when it comes to farming, says that, “Tillage is a catastrophic event.”
As far as earthworms go, researches from University College Dublin, Ireland as well as University of Vigo, Spain have been studying this reality for over 65 years. Their research spanned 40 countries and involved over 200 fields. The results?
“What we see is a systematic decline in the earthworm population in the soil after continued ploughing and a significant increase in the abundance of earthworms in less disturbed soil, although some soils would need more than 10 years to show good signs of recovery.” – Olaf Schmidt, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin.
That’s not where the research ends, however.
“Our study also identifies the conditions under which earthworms respond most to a reduction in tillage intensity,” says University of Vigo Professor Maria Briones. “These findings can be translated into advice for farmers in different parts of the world. For example, strong results are achieved in soils with higher clay contents (>35%) and low pH”
TRUTH IN YOUR OPERATION
Can earthworms help your crops? Is their role really worth considering when it comes to your farming operation? Of course, the only way to know for certain is to find out for yourself, in your own fields. This, to a degree, takes an admitted leap of faith. As Olaf Schmidt admits, some soils require over 10 years for their native earthworm populations to fully recover. That reality in and of itself should show us how deeply conventional practices have devastated our lands.
The transition to no-till and regenerative farming is not realized over-night, but if this research is of any indication, increased earthworm populations have a bevy of benefits that are tough to ignore. After all, that’s the reason they’ve been called, “nature’s plough.” Could they be put to work for you?
JOIN THE REVOLUTION!