What does Mother Nature want? As farmers, we do a lot to fight her. If the soil is hard, we till it. If our crops have weeds, we spray them. If the land doesn’t have the right amount of nutrients, we inject them.
This has been the way to farm for the past 50 years. And there was a period where it gave us exactly what we wanted – consistent, healthy, high-yield crops. But recently that hasn’t been the case. Farming has always been hard work, but with soil degradation, sagging commodity prices and input costs on the rise, producing ‘consistent, healthy, high-yield crops’ often feels like a thing of the past. It’s time we each stop and ask, “If fighting Mother Nature isn’t giving me what I want, what is it exactly that she wants?” It’s this question that has sparked the soil health movement.
“One of the basic tenets of soil health is keeping armor on the soil,” says Selby, South Dakota farmer and soil health champion Doug Sieck. “In a well-managed pasture, you don’t see bare ground. Mother Nature wants that to be covered and she’ll bring in plants that are fast growing, things we consider weeds.” Farming conventionally, if we need to suppress weeds, we turn to herbicides, but when we work alongside Mother Nature, we see weeds and other issues as opportunities for learning. The more we learn, the more efficiently we farm… we just have to start asking the right questions.
“When it comes to working with Mother Nature, we need to look at it and ask, ‘What can we do? What will stay out there and keep the soil covered?’ One of the things we’re doing is adding more diversity into our rotation. Instead of just a corn and beans rotation, maybe we work in wheat or oats or maybe we’re using cover crops. By adding diversity and keeping a living root in the soil, we get weed suppression because we’ve done what Mother Nature wanted.”
Keeping the soil covered is just one part of what Mother Nature wants. As Sieck says, she also wants diversity and living roots in the soil as well as minimal disturbance and the incorporation livestock. Of course, all these things go against the grain of conventional farming, but these principles didn’t just fall out of the sky. They aren’t ideas peddled by industry or corporations. They came about on their own in farming operations around the globe, all from asking the simple question, “What does Mother Nature want?”
To hear more about Doug and his operation, check out our exclusive 7-part series, “Integrated Systems with Doug Sieck“.
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