Saturday, January 3, 2015

Improving Soil Health - One Seed at a Time

Today our Jordan Valley team began the process of growing winter barley.  The barley is significant for its contribution to our soil health enhancement program.  While the process of growing rainfed winter barley is remarkably simple its effects are meant to be highly significant to our crop rotation.  Barley is unique in that it utilizes a lot of salt in the production of its stalk and head.  This makes it an ideal candidate for a process called phytoremediation.  While this process is most often used to cleans soils of heavy or toxic material it can, theoretically, also be used to cleans soil of anything that the plant will uptake as it grows, in our case salt.  The process is simple; spread grain on the open field, disc it into the ground, wait for rain to germinate and grow seeds into full grown plants, harvest both head and stalk material and remove them from the land carrying the undesirable material with them.  The main reason that we have chosen to grow this crop in the winter is so that it can be produced without the use of saline irrigation water adding further salt to the soil.  Cover crops, like wheat, grass and barley, also enhance organic content in the soil through their root systems and encourage infiltration after precipitation, further flushing the top layer soil from salt deposits. 

Barley seed is spread thorough the field

The field is then disced to plant them

 Nature does the rest until harvest.

This process is both very inexpensive, costing us around $5 per dunum (1000m2), and easy.  The whole process took no more than 2 hours to plant 5 acres, 20 dunum.  Research on phytoremediation shows that the benefits can be significant - enhancing land productivity for years.  This aspect of our soil health program is designed to give local farmers simple and inexpensive alternatives to leaving their fields untouched during resting rotations which most often just forms a hard pan at the surface of the field discouraging rainwater infiltration and further reducing the organic content of the topsoil.  

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