– Daniel Lima, OSU Extension Educator, Belmont County
Plants are biochemical factories that are at the base of the food pyramid for nearly all animals on earth (surface). The raw materials plants utilize for synthesizing essentially all components for life are found in the air, water, and in the soil.
To break it down further, 96% of plant requirements are CO2 and water. If you include Nitrogen, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Phosphorous, you arrive at 99.4% of all plant requirements. (Taiz and Zeiger, 2002) Proper soil health and environmental conditions such as sunlight, water and soil nutrients are essential for plant health and resiliency from pests and diseases. Even though 99.4% is close to 100%, it isn’t quite there. It is very important to understand that amending the soil is a major part of plant nutrient needs, but it does not achieve 100% of a plant’s requirement. Having plant diversity and microbe life in the soil will increase the availability of micro-nutrients and increase plant stability in an ecosystem. Whether it be a garden, pasture, or forest; the resiliency of that ecosystem increases with diversity to both biological and abiotic stresses (pests and environmental factors).
One way to increase ecosystem diversity is to incorporate legumes in a pasture field. Legume incorporation in a pasture field has been shown to increase output with decreased monetary input in many experiments across the nation. Things to consider when incorporating legumes in a field are:
* Could there by residual effects from a pesticide?
– Products like Milestone can have up to 2 years of broadleaf residual effects on broadleaf plants
* Did I inoculate the legume seed with the proper bacterial inoculant?
– Nodules are a symbiotic relationship between the legume plant and different types of Rhizobia bacteria. If the Inoculate spores are not compatible to that plant, expired or non-viable due to improper storage, nodules will not appear and Nitrogen fixation will not occur.
* Have I recently applied Nitrogen to the soil?
– A legume will not establish the symbiotic relationship with the Rhizobium bacteria unless there is a need for more N. When Nitrogen is plenty the plant will not make nodules or very few.
There are many ways to increase bio diversity, including: forbs, a variety of grasses, and legumes in a pasture field are some examples. Doing so will create a balance in nutrient uptake and availability resulting in stability. Remember that plants are the foundation of the food pyramid, creating a stable foundation will only increase output above that!
A quote from Bill Murphy, Greener Pastures On Your Side Of The Fence, 1998: “If you do not find any legumes, a soil fertility or pH problem most likely exists. It’s absolutely essential to have 30 to 50% legume content in your pasture to obtain the excellent quality forage needed to achieve high livestock production levels at low cost.“