Ray Archuleta, who is often referred to as a soils guru, wants farmers worldwide to focus on the ground under their feet. But first he wants farmers in Iowa to pay attention.
Archuleta is a conservation agronomist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service in Greensboro, N.C. He spoke to NRCS professionals, soil experts and producers Wednesday at the Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites in Fort Dodge.
Archuleta has been making the rounds in Iowa this week, talking about his specialties: soil quality and the principles of agro-ecology.
-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Ray Archuleta starts an infiltration and slaking test during his “Farming for the 21st Century: How Soil Health will Save the Farm” seminar Wednesday at the Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites in Fort Dodge.
"We need to change not only agriculture in our country, but in the entire world," Archuleta said. "We need to make farmers more sustainable by having them learn how soil functions and emulating nature."
Archuleta opened his presentation by conducting an infiltration and slaking test using different soil types. They included soil from a no-till field and a field where conventional tillage is performed.
Slaking is the breakdown of large, air-dry soil aggregates into smaller-sized microaggregates when they are suddenly immersed in water. It occurs when aggregates are not strong enough to withstand internal stresses caused by water intake.
Archuleta's test was aimed at showing the stability of soil aggregates and resistance to erosion. It suggests how well soil can maintain its structure to provide water and air for plants and soil biota when it is rapidly wetted.
"If the water fills the pores and breaks up, there is no filtration, which is a visual indicator the soil is not working," he said. "We do not have a run-off problem. We have an infiltration problem."
It was evident on soils brought from North Carolina and also on soils taken from within Webster County. Some of the better soil tested was that from land that has been in no-till since 1976.
Archuleta thinks producers should do slaking tests on their own soil to learn what they are up against.
"If you farm, and do not know how your soil works, you are disconnected from your land," he said.
Archuleta said any sort of tillage can damage land.
"The most destructive thing you can do to your soils is till them," he said. "When you till, you tear the factory down and kill all of the factory workers." That includes earthworms, bacteria and fungus.
Archuleta put no-till and conventional-till soil samples to a rain test.
The no-till soil sample held water showing that biotic glues were present to keep the pores together and open. Rain on the conventional-till clods ruined the soil structure, preventing water take-up and creating runoff.
The test mimics the way soils perform in drought.
"Keeping organic matter is how you'll make your soils drought-resistant," said Archuleta.
Archuleta wants farmers to see soil from "Mother Nature's view," in global and national contexts.