Healthy soil means a healthier you

    Jeff Martin, who is a past president of the Chicago Farmers and the owner of Martin Farms with his wife Jean and sons Doug and Derek, discussed the importance of healthy soil and the strides he is making on his farms during his January 11, 2021, Chicago Farmers’ webinar presentation.

    “The nutrient density of our food is 15 to 70 percent less than it was 50 years ago,” said Martin. “This is causing health problems that are tied to the health of our soil. The nutrient density of  our food is not what it should be.”

    Martin said that farmers need to study and compare the conventional practices to the opportunities that are available today. “If you want different results, you have to manage and think differently; you have to have an open mind, whether you are a landlord or a tenant,” he said.

    He noted that many producers are losing money with today’s conventional practices. Martin added that the key to profitable farming is the soil health, which also is referred to as soil quality. That soil quality is an eco-system that supports animals and humans and has the continued capacity to function as a vital living eco-system that sustains plants, animals and humans.

    If the soil is healthy, the essential minerals in the soil will be available to the growing crop due to nutrient cycling. Those minerals come to humans through the plants and through the animals that eat the plants and grain.

    “I believe I have a responsibility to improve our grain and food production not only for our health, but for the health of our grandchildren,” said Martin.

    According to Martin, the single largest issue that impacts farm profits is that many farmers have the wrong expectations for the soil and continue to pour on inputs.

    He said that soil is composed of the vital living creatures that inhabit it, and a healthy, functional soil system will suppress diseases and retain the essential nutrients that plants need. A healthy soil also:

    • Decomposes toxins
    • Reduces water needs
    • Increases water infiltration and the soil’s holding capacity
    • Increases root depth and oxygen in the soil

    “These things reduce, and possibly eliminate, the need for pesticides and fertilizers,” Martin said. “We have seen this in our operations, not 100 percent, but we are getting there.”

    He shared that the goal is to develop soil that is functional and healthy and fosters an environment that favors beneficial microbes and the plant, soil, soil microbe system (PSSMS). Martin said that he and his family have found that gypsum, lime, kelp, and photosynthesis act as synergists with the soil, while aggressive tillage, myco fungi , nh3, KCI,  DAP, and poor Ca:Mg ratios act as antagonists. He related that high NO3 plant levels attract insects. If the nitrate levels are in balance, insects will fly over the field in search of another field that will provide the nitrate they seek.

    Martin noted that the goal is to cut back on the nutrients, which is possible through nutrient cycling, creating plant available nutrition from insoluble sources and from free nitrogen that is in the air and in the organic matter in the soil.

    Martin said that for the past five to six years, his family has employed the Agribio Systems/Regenerative Program versus a conventional farming program. The Agribio system costs totaled $158.02 per acre and included the use of lime, gypsum, urea, boron and humic acid.  When cover crops were added, the cost was $180.82 per acre. Round-Up is not used because it is an antibiotic and harmful to certain microbes in the soil and ties up specific minerals in the plant. For the conventional method, using DAP, potash, and lime with anhydrous ammonia added, the cost was $221.60 per acre.

    Martin encouraged people to view a video at to learn more about the system.

    In response to a question, Martin said that cover crops are just part of the system. If they were incorporated into the system completely, he believes that drainage would be helped, but he is not certain that they would prevent the need for tiling. He added that he believed with the proper balance of microbes, soil aggregation, and cover crops, the need for tiling could possibly be eliminated. Martin said that 50 percent of the fields they work on have cover crops and they would like to do more, but timing is important and when harvesting is not completed until mid-November, it is too late for most cover crops to grow enough to become effective, with the exception of cereal rye.

    Regarding landlords’ response to the Martins’ approach, Martin said they spend a lot of time educating the landlords and farm managers on the system, ensuring that they understand it and that they are aware of the success it achieves. He added that the landlords and farm managers are mainly concerned with cutting back on inputs. Martin said the system has been implemented on 90 percent of the farms in which the Martin family is involved. He said that most of their leases are one to three years and it takes at least four to five years with proper management to get the soil to the balance that the Martin family wants. He said that due to the education they provide for the landlords and farm managers, the Martin family is not worried about losing a lease.

    Written by The Chicago Farmers Editor, Denise Faris