Profit is derived from the excess of income over expenses. To increase profit, one would either increase gross income or decrease gross expenses. In today’s environment with high commodity prices, high input levels followed. The question is, how do we cash in on high commodity prices and reduce input costs?
Fertilizer is one of the largest expenses on most farms, especially nitrogen. Australian soil ecologist Christine Jones reports there is approximately 440 MT of nitrogen over each square metre of earth. By utilizing legumes with proper inoculants in both monoculture and polycrop situations, we provide the opportunity to fix atmospheric nitrogen and create plant available nitrogen.
Polycropping or intercropping is the practice of growing two or more cash crops together. By growing a legume with other cash crops, we help reduce the amount of nitrogen that is required to be purchased. Utilizing species that are mycorrhizally friendly and require lower amounts of nitrogen in the intercrop situation may provide all the required nitrogen for the mix.
Phosphate is the other “must have” in fertilizer application. Again, utilizing “nature’s intelligence” and using intercropping can reduce the need for phosphate fertilizer. Nature has through centuries of evolution developed a beautiful system of making nutrients available.
One of the keys to proper nutrient cycling is mycorrhizal fungi, especially for non-mobile nutrients like phosphate. Having mycorrhizal plants from different functional plant groups, namely grass, legumes and broadleaf plants, helps the soil maximize microbes that increases the soil-available phosphate.
Instead of relying on in-crop fungicides, compost teas can replace fungicide applications. By increasing the amount of good biology on the leaves and stems, you’ll place biological material on the plants that will help suppress disease-causing organisms. These fungicides “clean” the leaf by removing a large amount of materials that can lead to future infections. By creating a healthy immune system in the plant, you help the disease levels to stay under control.
The way to keep soil biology alive and functioning is to have a continuously living root of a plant in the vegetative stage. Plants in the vegetative stage will release up to 80 per cent of the carbon they capture through photosynthesis as root exudates. These root exudates will feed the soil microbiology which then reacts to the plant’s nutrient requirements.
One of the spinoffs is the vegetative plants will also help suppress weeds. Weeds are ecologically pioneering plants, meaning they thrive with excess nutrients. The vegetative plant will help “tie up” nutrients, preventing them from building up in forms the weeds can use.
There are some cost-effective ways to help your bottom line by using cover crops and intercropping. Building and supporting soil biology is the answer to many of today’s agricultural issues, especially building up of mycorrhizae fungi. Our soils are dominated by bacteria which creates a system that is dependent on inputs.
Budgets need to reflect net dollars per acre over a rotation, not just individual years. This will create a sustainable future, environmentally and economically.