Secrets of turning white sandy soil black — in a few short years

Josh Boan has farmed 16 years in north Florida. His specialty: raising a perennial peanut. It's a forage legume, mostly for the high-quality hay race horse hay market. It's a Brazilian relative to the peanut with dense rhizome roots but no nuts.

Feb. 24, 2017 — Josh's irrigated yields of perennial peanut hay are four to six tons per acre. Fifty-pound bales at the farm sell for $10, which works out to about $400 per ton. Stands last for several years, enriching the soil like other nitrogen-fixing legumes. 

The soil around Pinetta, Florida, where Josh farms has an average CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) of 2.5. CEC indicates the soil’s ability to retain nutrients. 

Josh Boan

Josh told his audience at the recent AgriEnergy seminar in Princeton, “The guys down our way say, ‘We could fertilize our fields with y'alls soil.’ The ground I farm starts out as pretty much white beach sand.” 

An average soil in central Illinois might have a cation exchange capacity CEC around 14. To raise Josh’s sandy ground from 2.5 CEC to 3.5 by only adding raw crop residue, manure or other crude organic matter would require application of 10 tons per acre.

However, forage perennial peanuts and a biologically enhanced nutrient program enabled Josh to double his CEC from 2.5 to 5 in only two seasons. After working with AgriEnergy biologicals about six years, his fields average a CEC of over 6.

Certainly the massive rhizome root system of perennial peanuts contributed to this nutrient holding capacity. Since Josh irrigates with pivot systems, the soil’s ability to store and release water is especially critical. But Josh reasons that the increased soil health was only possible by increased biological activity of his soil. Microbial life captures oxygen and carbon from the air, and hydrogen from water. About 95% of soil biomass is carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Josh applied  an array of AgriEnergy biologicals such as Residuce, Bio-Humus and SP-1. These live microbial blends multiplied underground, accelerating decomposition of old roots and crop residue. The carbon additions don’t come from the modest 10 to 15 pounds of Bio-Humus he applies. Rather, the humic and fulvic acids trigger a multiplication of mycorrhiza and microbial life which generate active humus.

The transformation on Josh’s farm attracted attention from many other growers, and Josh started getting calls for consultation across the Southeast. The same biological tools worked well in other low-organic soils through the warm, humid regions. 

Josh showed the visible change in soils on one Georgia farm, where a red soil with little aggregation held lots of raw crop residue — but the residue had barely decomposed after two to three years because of poor fungal and bacterial activity. In just one season of using Residuce, Bio-Humus and SP-1, the soil had visibly changed. 

“You could feel the difference in how spongy the soil was when you walked on it,” Josh reported. “The farmer had called me back there, saying ‘You just have to come and see this to believe it.”’

This type of report is consistent with our observations of growers using microbial blends — fungi and bacteria and related nutrient stimulants — from AgriEnergy and other sources.  Soils in warm climates with low organic matter respond most quickly to inoculation with live, naturally beneficial organisms. We’ve seen the most dramatic differences in the extreme Southwest such as Arizona, New Mexico and southern California when traveling those states with AgriEnergy founder Dave Larson.

Cantaloupe in Arizona, for example, had twice the size and brix level where two years of SP-1 and other biologicals were applied. Interestingly, we’ve also seen the most striking responses with WakeUP in warmer climates. Especially near the equator, where tropical rain has often leached out most soil nutrients. 

Josh ended his presentation at the AgriEnergy seminar with this perspective: “We can seek council, we can plan, and we can take care of our soils. But it all comes down to what Proverbs 3:9-10 says: ‘Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.’”

 Terry and Blake Carlson contributed to this report, based on notes and interviews at the AgriEnergy seminar.