Five innovations that boost soil fertility
Farmers and scientists are going beyond the massive use of chemical fertilizers to find innovative methods to improve soils and yields.
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Livestock Integration in Action: International organizations are beginning to recognize the potential and value of these integrated farming systems. The African Wildlife Foundation’s Heartland program and the multinational TerrAfrica project are both promoting sustainable land and water management practices in drought-prone areas of the continent. In Botswana, the Mokolodi Nature Reserve is both a wildlife preserve and an educational center, sending staff to teach local farmers sustainable ecoagriculture and integrated livestock farming techniques.Skip to next paragraph
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5. Preventing Nitrogen Leaching (Inhibitors): Nitrogen is essential to healthy soil. Chemical fertilizers and nitrogen-fixing plants, such as legumes, can help provide nitrogen to soils. Yet, nitrogen, like water, follows a cycle that includes leaching or escaping from the ground as a gas. Poor land management, erosion, overfertilization, and chemical runoff can all contribute to nitrogen depletion, which will leave the land dry and unusable. To combat nitrogen loss, soil scientists have been experimenting with chemical inhibitors that will keep vital nutrients in the ground longer.
Inhibitors in Action: Studies show that chemical inhibitors do actively stimulate the nitrogen cycle, keep more nitrogen in the soil for longer periods, and may increase crop yields. Dr. Bob Hoeft at the University of Illinois recorded 15-20 bushel / acre increases after using chemical inhibitors. Internationally, tests in Brazil found a marked increase in sugarcane production after applying the chemical nitrogen-fixers. These inhibitors are not the absolute solution to nitrogen depletion, but if they are used in small doses properly with natural nitrogen-fixers and better land management, they can rebuild healthy soil into the future.
• Joseph Zaleski is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
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