What is the best soil for agriculture

AgricultureThe best soils are created when animals graze

"Here you can see wonderfully, our compost, what goes in there - we have the leaves here, we have the vegetable waste from the garden, we have the coffee grounds, neatly from the restaurant and the vegetable scraps from the large kitchen."

Lisa Dobkowitz stands in the Prinzessinnengarten, an urban garden project in Berlin, in front of a large mountain of fresh compost. Right next to it is the somewhat older heap, almost black earth. Most of all, crops need nitrogen, but also phosphorus, potassium and many other macro and micronutrients so that they produce good yields. The plant waste in the compost or in the field is mineralized by microorganisms and earthworms and converted into plant food:

"That's enough, we have pretty good qualities," says horticultural scientist Lisa Dobkowitz. "We also re-fertilize for the heavy eaters - for example pumpkin or zucchini, they need a lot of feed, we also fertilize in liquid form with vinasse from the sugar beet industry, which is a waste product, smells a bit, is a very nitrogenous fertilizer . In general, I think that agriculture does not necessarily require animal husbandry. "

Fertile soil needs organic material

And that also applies to conventionally produced foods. Almost half of our food today grows with artificial fertilizers instead of manure or liquid manure. Plants can immediately utilize the minerals added in the artificial fertilizer - but nothing remains that could feed the soil life. Because soil organisms need organic material, for example to build up a humus layer.

This organic material can get into the soil via plant residues and roots, but also via animal excrement. So from cows, pigs or chickens or of course from people.

Grazing animals make for better soils

However, the best soils are created when animals graze, says veterinarian Anita Idel. As one of 600 scientists, she worked on the so-called World Agricultural Report around ten years ago on behalf of the World Bank:

"Soil fertility arises from a growth impulse that occurs through grazing, and over time then actually, about the root growth one can say: The roots of today are the soil of tomorrow."

Grass grows better when animals graze on it. And grass also grows where arable farming is not possible. For example in damp floodplains, dry steppes or above the tree line. This land can only be used for agriculture by animals. Steppes and savannahs still cover huge areas of our earth - for the peoples who live there, animal husbandry is existential, and meat and milk consumption are the basis for survival.

Pasture farming instead of factory farming

In this country too, meadow landscapes shape entire regions. At the same time, as is well known, many millions of animals live in mass housing systems in stalls and not on pasture. In certain regions they produce more manure than the soil can absorb and the nutrients spoil streams, rivers and groundwater. Animals are important for soil fertility, but there shouldn't be too many, says Anita Idel:

"We have to look: Is it a sustainable system in which I keep the cattle, or is it extremely feed and energy consuming."

For organic farmers, for example, grazing is compulsory, at least seasonally. And since they are not allowed to use mineral fertilizers, the manure from their animals is indispensable for most organic farmers - in addition to the so-called legumes such as clover or peas, which loosen the soil and supply it with nitrogen.

Agriculture thanks to seasonal grazing

Without grazing animals like the earlier bison or wisent, agriculture - as we know it - would not be possible, says veterinarian Anita Idel:

"The largest areas that we call granaries today, the prairies in the American Midwest, or here in our country, the Hundred Point Soils, Magdeburger Börde or Hildesheim Börde - all of the most fertile soils, all of the steppe soils that have been seasonal through millennia Grazing has arisen. "

Keeping animals costs money. And farmers have to sell their products, i.e. milk, eggs or even their meat, in order to make ends meet. There is nothing wrong with not eating the roast at Christmas either. But to celebrate the day, you can also afford a delicious piece of meat from species-appropriate husbandry.