Texas Soil Health Short Course: Health Found in Diversity

by Colin Mitchell

A Texas Soil Health Short Course took place on February 26th and 27th in Palestine, TX, sponsored by USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, Association of Texas Soil & Water Conservation Districts, and Texas Wildlife Association. NCAT Sustainable Ag Specialist Kara Kroger and I attended this event to gain some knowledge from the main presenters – Australian Soil Ecologist Dr. Christine Jones and Texas A&M AgriLife Research Ecologist Dr. Richard Teague. The focus of this conference was “Increasing Biological Wealth and Livestock,” but the one thing that makes increasing biological wealth and livestock possible is diversity: diversity in paddocks, diversity in soil microbiology, diversity in cover crops, diversity in native grasses, and diversity in stomach bacteria.

According to the diversity-stability theory used in ecology, typically the more biodiverse a community is the more stable it is. A more biodiverse community has several different species, and there can be different biodiverse communities in different components of agriculture systems – soil, plants, and animals. In the soil there is a diversity of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, arthropods, and more. In pastures, orchards, and crop systems there can be a diversity of plants such as grasses, forbs, legumes, vegetable crops, and trees. And of course a diversity of insects and animals.

Dr. Jones focused on diverse soil micro biomes and how to achieve them. She recommended using a diversity of grass and broadleaf cover crops and always keeping your soil covered. She also provided insights into health related to diversity. According to Dr. Jones, we need to eat at least 30 kinds of fruits and vegetables to achieve adequate populations and diversity of healthy stomach bacteria.

Dr. Teague asserted that a greater number of paddocks will lead to healthier cows and a healthier rangeland ecosystem. By providing a diversity of paddocks, you ensure that your cattle can move more quickly through a system, degrading it less and providing more time for the pasture to regenerate.

To sum it up: Diversity, in many scenarios, creates more diversity, and healthier farms and ranches.

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