Gary Zimmer shows off feed corn which has 16 kernels around the diameter, indicating that the soil has a good supply of nutrients.
Gary Zimmer in a cover crop test plot. “Feeding soil is like feeding livestock—both need high quality, nutrient-dense foods.”
Zimmer digs up a daikon radish in a test plot to show visitors earthworm activity near the radish.
Zimmer digs up a soybean plant to point out the work of nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of soybeans.
The 2012 drought devastated the crops of farms across the United States. Dane County in south-central Wisconsin was no different, yet Gary Zimmer’s corn outperformed the county average by a wide margin.
“The county average that year was around 88 bushels per acre and we were about double that, getting between 160 to 176 bushels per acre on some fields,” Zimmer said. The farm averaged 116 bushels. What’s more, because he farms organically, his crops commanded a higher price.
Zimmer’s son and daughter work about 1,000 acres on Otter Creek Organic Farm outside Spring Green, Wisconsin. Zimmer’s son, Nicholas, farms the crops while Sadie oversees about 150 to 175 dairy cows. What makes the family’s style of farming different—and arguably more successful—is that for decades Zimmer has focused on what he calls “biological farming.”
Here are 6 must-know facts from Advancing Biological Farming by Gary Zimmer and Leilani Zimmer-Durand
1. Test and balance your soils and feed the crop a well-balanced, supplemented diet at all cost.
2. Use fertilizers that do the least damage to soil life and plant roots and have a low pH. Watch salt and ammonia levels. Use a balance of nutrients and soluble and slow-release fertilizers. Use homogenized micronutrients, add carbon and apply them properly to enhance their performance.
3. Use pesticides, herbicides, biotechnology and nitrogen in minimum amounts and only when absolutely necessary.
4. Be sure to create maximum plant diversity by using “green manure” crops and tight rotations.
5. Use tillage to incorporate organic materials and to manage soil air and water. Zone tillage, shallow incorporation of residues and deep tillage work great on many farms.
6. Here is the final poop: feed soil life by using carbon from compost, “green manures,” livestock manures and crop residues. Apply calcium from a good, plant-available source.
This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Spring 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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