“Backward” farmers like myself may not look so backward after all in the future. Ralph Rice, who farms in northeastern Ohio, just emailed me a photo of his unbelievably lush corn, unbelievable because it is an open-pollinated variety and has no chemical fertilizers on it at all. The reason I believe Ralph’s photo is because I have similar corn and it is just beautiful. I hate to tempt fate by bragging— we could get a wind storm tomorrow and blow it all over. But the case just must be made. Granted that this is, so far, a very good year for corn, no one with an open mind can look at Ralph’s or mine and not wonder if maybe we backward guys are really going forward.
All the literature from about 1870 to 1910 states that four-fifths of the plant nutrients in animal feed is still in the manure when it hits the ground. With careful handling and application of the manure, most of those nutrients can go back to the soil. Careful handling means using bedding and manure packs in the barn, not flushing the manure out with water as if the confinement building were one giant toilet bowl, which is what it really is. The other one fifth of the nutrients needed— and more— can come from green manuring with clovers, say the old books, and as both Ralph and I are convinced is true from actual experience.