There is great joy in this work and I am thankful for my lucky life on a daily basis. I get the opportunity to travel the world inspiring food producers to reclaim their passion for the most important profession of all. I also get to see the world through rose-coloured glasses. I know that there must surely be unpleasant people out there, but I never get to meet them.
The souls who are interested in improving their soil and the food they produce are some of the brightest and fairest. In 22 years in this industry, for example, NTS has never had a bad debt from a farmer. Compare that to the building industry, where dishonesty is so common, you need to factor the likelihood of deceit in to your prices.
It is so rewarding to witness the turnarounds and observe the successful shedding of old paradigms. It is such a pleasure to be able to help these wonderful people discover a more successful path and to make their profession more viable and their lives more healthy and happy.
It is particularly satisfying when I am given written feedback from happy growers. Recently I received the following email from Paul Collett of Speelmanskop Farming in Cradock, South Africa.
I trust all is well with you. I won’t ask if you have been relaxing at home for the past few months, because I know that this is an impossibility.
The reason you hear from me is to report on some great news.
Earthworms have always been in short supply with me on my farm. My best land last year was yielding about 1 earthworm every second shovel of soil.
After attending two of your seminars over the past 2 years I have made several changes to my practices.
- Reduced Roundup use to a bare minimum
- No insecticides on my maize
- Use of humates with my N
- Learning how to cover crop
- Balancing my soils using the 6 key ratios you introduced me to (which has transformed my soil correction approach and saved me a lot of money)
This week I have been digging in my cover crop following maize on a pivot, which gave me 16 tons/ha last season and used no insecticides. I counted 5 random shovel-fulls and got between 18 and 28 worms in each one!
The crumb structure is amazing to see, there is AMF* everywhere and I can’t wait to plant maize again in 6 weeks’ time into that soil teeming with bio-life.
Thank you once again for the life-changing work you do.
I don’t need to attend your courses anymore as I understand your mantra as it has become mine.
Keep well - Paul
The Wonderful Earthworm
Paul's excitement about the return of his earthworms is well founded. Let’s take a closer look at this remarkable fertility builder.
The most visible of your soil workforce are the earthworms and it is no accident that they look like free-living intestines. They are, in fact, like part of the plant's stomach, which is external and a little less connected than our 30 foot digestive tract. There is a powerful parallel between our stomach and that of the soil. The trillions of organisms that inhabit a healthy digestive tract support their host (us), with almost identical functions to the army of organisms supporting their benefactor, the plant. In fact, many of the biochemical contributions are identical.
During my four-day course, when I pose the question, "who among you have significant populations of earthworms remaining in your soils?", there are very few raised hands. You need to know what you are missing. The Holy Grail of the Nutrition Farming® approach is to achieve average counts across your farm of 25 earthworms per shovel of soil. At that point, you have literally hit paydirt and there will be little need for off-farm inputs. That workforce is now delivering 300 tonnes of earthworm castings per hectare, per year. Vermicompost often costs at least $100 per tonne so you are generating $30,000 worth of free fertiliser each year!
The earthworm is a little fertiliser factory, for what emerges from the backend is very different from what was consumed. The castings contain significantly higher levels of available nutrients including ten times more potassium, seven times more phosphorus, five times more nitrogen, three times more magnesium and 150 percent more calcium than the surrounding soil. It is not just minerals in this mix. The castings are also laced with millions of unique soil microbes that are incubated in the earthworm's gut and are only available from this source. If you don't have earthworms, you won't have these critically important microorganisms in your soil. Earthworms come equipped with a gland that injects calcium carbonate into all they consume. You now have a fertiliser works and a lime works in your field.
The earthworm is among the most important players when considering the links between the soil and climate change. In that context, it is a disaster that we have decimated this vital contributor. The earthworm composts and creates humus four times more rapidly than conventional composting and every tonne of humus they create is carbon that has been effectively sequestered from the atmosphere. Their burrows offer aeration pathways to allow the entry of oxygen, the most important element for healthy plant growth and thriving soil life. Oxygenated soils will always build more humus than a tight, closed soil that struggles to breathe.
Earthworms also transport minerals into the root zone from deep in the soil and they stimulate soil-life via the specialist food with which they line their burrows.
It is always a thrill when a passionate producer shares his success. These reports can spark others and I ask any of you with a story to share, to email me your experiences whenever you feel inspired. Thank you.
*Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi