Treat your soil like an Olympic athlete for peak performance

What do Canadian speed skater Kim Boutin and your soil have in common? They both prosper and succeed when you treat them like an Olympic athlete.

Boutin’s Olympic training earned her three medals at the recently-concluded Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. What would happen if farmers treated their soil like an Olympic athlete? Soil microbiologist Kristine Nichols says you won’t likely win any medals, but you will certainly build resilient soils that are up to the task of delivering strong yields under more stressful growing conditions, including extreme weather.

Dr. Kristine Nichols says healthy soil needs a consistent, well-balanced diet and it need to be challenged – just like an Olympic athlete.

Earlier this week, Nichols, former chief scientist at the organic-focused Rodale Institute, shared this perspective with those attending the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario annual meeting in London, Ontario.

In this interview with Real Agriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Nichols says farmers are often so focused on seeding and timing application of inputs such as fertilizer that they lose sight of the big picture.

“if you really think about treating the soil like a living organism, like you would an athlete…we want to make sure that that athlete has a good, well-balanced diet; it’s eating on a consistent basis; and is eating a good, diverse diet,” says Nichols.

That’s not the way many farmers manage their soil. Too often we pound the heck out of our fields during planting and harvest, then leave them uncovered and underfed for six months.

Like athletes, soils also have to be able to fend off challenges. Soils are certainly being tested today by climate change, shifting weed and insect populations, and weather extremes. That’s not a bad thing, says Nichols.

“All of those things can be really good because it helps the plant to become much more vigorous and much stronger, just like an athlete will be much stronger and be able to thrive in competition, and that’s what we want to have in our soils.”

Listen to Bernard Tobin’s interview with Kristine Nichols at the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario annual meeting.

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