Soil Health is one of the main tools that will help sustain farms in the future. It will help us feed the world. NRCS recognizes four principles of soil health. They are very basic but can be applied many different ways to any agricultural system. Here is how Matthew Craighead implements them on his forage fields.
1. Plant Diversity
Diversity is the spice of life; except for very specific instances Matthew avoids monocultures. When most people think of monocultures they think of annual crops, but it is very easy to get into a monoculture perennial forage system without realizing it. In his region of Tennessee, a lot of farmers’ pastures have turned into monocultures of fescue when it is cool and crabgrass when it is warm. This locks them into depending on these two species making a crop as well as reducing the biodiversity in the root system.
When Matthew is planting perennial pasture he normally does a minimum three species planting mix depending on what his goals are. Some of his favorite grasses for his area are fescue, orchardgrass, bromegrass, and crabgrass. He normally mixes some annuals such as triticale or rye in. For clovers he likes red and white with a little crimson mixed in. Matthew is a big fan of small amounts of vetch. He also likes mixing a small amount of tillage radishes in. This biodiversity means something is always growing and there for his animals to eat. It also provides multiple root structures for the microbes in the soil.
Source: Matthew Craighead, On Pasture, October 22, 2018