Farmer Focus: Learning from biodiversity in the wild

In South Africa, this summer has continued the way it started, hot and dry. Most days are in the high 30s, often with wind. Every now and then we get a smattering of rain, which in these temperatures doesn’t last long.

I recently spent a week at the Kruger National Park with my family. A few hours drive from my farm, the Kruger Park consists of 2 million hectares of natural scrub. That is roughly the size of Wales.

There are approximately 3,000km of tar and gravel road on which one can self drive and view game.

See also: Kent grower sees top rapeseed yields without using insecticides

It is truly special to drive in the bush at 5am and find a lioness playing with two cubs a few metres from the road.

As a no-till farmer, I got thinking. Who ploughs this functioning ecosystem? Who loosens the soil to allow these crops, (grass and trees) to grow?

To me the key to this functioning “farm” is biodiversity. The Kruger Park takes biodiversity to a whole new level. There is massive diversity in species of grass, shrubs and trees and then, of course, diversity in harvesters.

I am not talking Case or John Deere but termites, squirrels, antelope, giraffe and elephants.

Did you know that tortoises will seek out hyena droppings and eat them! Gross, I agree, but hyenas eat bones so their droppings are high in calcium, which the tortoise needs for its shell.

Ecosystems

What about the microbiological biodiversity? The bacteria and fungi in the soil, as well as in the rumens and guts of the wildlife. I have never seen a thin zebra, but every zebra is host to one million parasites, (worms, ticks etc.).

Clearly a herd of elephants will not be beneficial to my maize crop, and a pride of lions will not help my cows’ conception.

What I am saying is that we should bring some semblance of biodiversity back to our cropping. Crop rotation and multi-species cover crops will make a big difference.

Creating an environment conducive to a variety in microbiology in the soil will be beneficial to the growth of the primary crop. And of course, there is absolutely no need to turn your soil.

NOVEMBER
3

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