Jurgen Johannes Streichter is a grain farmer in South Africa’s southern Cape and which lies within the Gouritz Biosphere Region where we are currently engaged in various projects.
Jurgen started converting from conventional farming practices, which includes the tilling of soil, towards conservation agriculture as early as the 1980’s. He did this for various reasons such as to ensure the optimum utilization of the sparse rainfall in the area where he farms that is now being increasingly impacted by climate change.
It is working well enough that other farmers in the area are now also starting to convert since they are able to see how successful it can be to practice better land management.
The Three Principles of Regenerative Farming
The principle of regenerative farming concerns the top 30cm (12 inches) of the soil surface on which we farm: by managing and caring for it and improving the soil structure so that a good crop can be harvested and that the soil improved for the next generation of farmers.
The 3 principles are:
- Moisture management
- Soil structure management, conservation and improvement, and
- Soil health: ecology, microbial, insects, earthworms, etc.
Moisture management originates at the end of the previous harvest when all the detritus remains. This creates a complete ground covering which acts as mulch which conserves moisture as well as mitigating the effects of direct sunlight and wind evaporation.
The chemical management of all green material between harvesting and planting causes any rainfall during this time period to be absorbed by the soil, therefor the soil will retain moisture longer. Additionally, no ploughing occurs during this period, which also preserves soil moisture content.
It is only during the planting process that the seeds and fertilizer is planted with a no-till planter with a tooth width of no more than 10mm (3/8 inch) wide, which causes minimal disturbance to the soil. A disc plough removes plus or minus 25mm (1 inch) worth of rain moisture from the ground, where that alternative (N’tand Berwerking – translated as A tooth worker) removes moisture at a depth of about 15mm (5/8 inch).
Soil StructureSoil structure improves because there is minimal disturbance. By balancing the soil with the macro and micro-elements in the correct proportions and amounts also improves soil structure. Earthworms in the soil improve drainage and moisture retention and processes organic material. A more friable soil structure is the result. By following the same tracks and routes while spraying and planting, the compaction of the soil is further reduced.
Soil HealthSoil health is determined by the amount of living soil organisms, e.g. bacteria, fungi, earthworms and other microbes, etc. These living organisms utilize the organic material and increase the carbon content of the soil.
Results of Applying These Measures
The goal here is to increase your carbon content to as high as possible, ideally above 4 percent. Higher carbon content in the soil facilitates production by the soil of a higher nitrogen content therefore reducing the need to apply artificial chemical fertilizers.
Wheat has the potential to produce 9t/ha (4 tons/acre) under ideal conditions, however each limiting factor, not improved by the farmers’ intervention drastically reduces the potential yield.
Rainfall is however the unknown factor which the farmer cannot control.
Yields are linked to the amount of rain during the growing season and the norm is 20-30kg wheat/ mm rain (about 250 lbs/1 inch rain) measured during the growing season.
Crop rotation with legumes and other crops is also an important factor in the practice of regenerative farming.
When lucerne (alfalfa) is planted during a crop rotation, the soil gets a rest of 4-5 seasons.
There is increasing evidence that regenerative farming is the only way to sustain a balance between food security and nature conservation with benefits to both humans and nature simultaneously —
particularly with climate change impacting agriculture more each season.
We are grateful to Jurgen for his contribution and wisdom on the subject and hope to share more about this in the future.
Watch this space!