This article is part of a series profiling farms and ranches that have received support through the New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Soil Program.
Images and text by Kimberly Bostwick, Barnhouse Farms, Melrose, NM
My husband, Toby, and I have been in agriculture for over 25 years. The land has been a blessing to us in various ways, including the provision of a nurturing environment to raise our family. Despite our love for the area and the land, we have spent many days watching the soil blow away, crops wither and die in the field, combines run through the field knowing our yield wouldn’t cover our expenses, and heavy rainfall running out of our field. We recently discovered a possible answer to our dilemma. We hope to support and promote a method that will increase sustainability and profitability for our agricultural community. It requires an entirely new mindset (for us) in regard to farming, and old habits are hard to break. We are committed to working with the amazing ecosystem God created for us, rather than against it.
We have recently been awarded an NMDA Healthy Soil Program Grant to assist in implementing our soil health goals. Our most immediate resource concerns are wind erosion, decreased plant productivity and health, as well as low soil organic matter. We will focus this year on soil health principle number 1, keep the soil covered. We planted a multi-species, no-till cover crop to keep the soil covered and a living root in the ground year-round to stabilize and build soil. Soil health principle 5, integrating animals, will be utilized as well. Integrating animals into land management is intended to stimulate plant production through manure and urine deposition as fertilizer as well as the biting and pulling nature of cattle affecting plant physiology. Trampled plant matter will contact the ground, preserving soil moisture and feeding soil microbes and insects.
On rangeland with depleted plant matter, we are using bale grazing with the intent of preserving growing plant matter and leaving additional organic matter behind. All paddock grazing will involve adaptive high stock rates with temporary fencing and mobile water systems. Here, the primary soil health-specific objective is to build soil organic matter and the soil microbiome. The organic matter will help retain moisture and feed soil microbes. The soil microbes will symbiotically feed plant material and help correct imbalances in the soil. Water is a precious commodity in New Mexico. Water conservation is yet another reason building soil health is so crucial. The organic matter we hope to build will help retain that rainfall we receive.
We have learned so much this past year, mostly that we need patience. We have already seen improvements to our farmland because it is covered, and it is not blowing as the surrounding fields are. On our rangeland last year, we saw significant gains in turf as well as impressive grass regrowth just by utilizing a rotational grazing system. We are very excited for the opportunity to learn more as we improve our soil health.