Dmitry Ivanovich, how should arable land be cultivated so that it remains favorable for the farmer and retains fertility for many years?
Dmitry Eremin: Mankind has not invented anything except the wheel; everything else was spied on by nature. Therefore, when working on the earth, we must take into account the conditions of its formation over thousands of years. The main substance of the soil is humus, which provides both fertility and crops. Lots of people know. But few have heard how it is formed. Humus is plant residue decomposed in conditions of oxygen deficiency. In nature, the raw materials for it are only the roots of outdated plants. That is, it is not formed from what is found on the surface of the earth. This principle is one of the main ones when working with arable land: vegetable residues and organic fertilizers must be in the soil. As proof, I will give a simple example: annually the mass of fallen leaves in forests can reach 100 tons per hectare, but there are very few humic substances in it, because no one buried it. Another dilemma: seasonal plowing improves the aeration of the upper layer: the microbiota is activated, and the mineralization of organic matter, including humus, increases many times. It seems to be bad, because humus reserves can “burn out”. But at the same time, nutrients that are responsible for the yield of the crop will be released. Big contradictions…
What to do in such a case? To plow or not to plow?
Dmitry Eremin: Be sure to plow. In the meadows under which the chernozem forms, the amount of root debris is greater than anywhere else. To make farmland fertile, that is, to accumulate and preserve humus, it is necessary to introduce organic matter into the soil, at least straw. And not just for spreading on the surface, but for plowing. Mineral fertilizers, especially phosphates, are also necessary for the soil. Since they are poorly soluble and move in the soil layers, they must be activated by plowing.
The soil is a guarantee of food security for the planet. What can be grown hydroponically – berries, vegetables – cannot feed the population
The question of the frequency of work must be decided by the farms themselves, based on their specificities. The best option is moldboard plowing in two to three years. During the “rest” organic matter and fertilizers have time to transform into humus. Annual processing increases the aeration of the arable layer, brings microbes to the peak of their life: if they do not have enough food, they will turn into humus. Therefore, this option is suitable for livestock farms with a large mass of waste. With free financial resources, it is possible to grow and then bury green manure: rapeseed, winter rye. But in order to sow special crops on time, which will give valuable biomass, it is necessary to harvest the crop on time. Therefore, to use green manure, you need to have a well-functioning labor organization, a sufficient fleet of machines and tractors, sorting and drying equipment, and extra hands. Yes, it is expensive, but it is worth a hundred times more. I never tire of repeating: it is easier to prevent the loss of humus than to restore it.
Today, each farm independently chooses how to handle allocations?
Dmitry Eremin: Yes, but in the conditions of technological development it would be better to do it together with scientists. There is even science-based agriculture. The farmer is not obliged to know the intricacies of soil formation, he has other concerns. Let the experts collect information and recommend a farming system to the farmer, taking into account his abilities and wishes.
The ground cover of the southern Tyumen region is heterogeneous. Not all municipalities were as lucky as the Isetsky, Zavodoukovsky and Omutinsky districts, which lie on black soil. In the region, many farms work in gray forests and podzolic soils, which are far from ideal. In the Berdyugsky, Kazansky districts – solonchaks and salt pans. Also, groundwater began to rise in Kazanka; there is a possibility that the territory will be subject to even greater salinization. Only scientists can develop technologies to improve the condition of different soils, helping the farmer to adapt to each specific area. At the Northern Trans-Ural Research Institute of Agriculture, for example, they launched a project to study the genetic tolerance to salt of new varieties of cereal and legume crops. Wheat, oats and barley have been produced that can withstand the degree of salinity corresponding to the southern regions of the Tyumen region. Of course, we will not get results, as on black soil (40-50 cents per hectare), but we will still get a harvest sufficient to at least provide fodder for livestock. Today it is believed that if 20 cents of grain was collected, then the costs have already been paid, but we need to develop further.
And how do you assess the culture of agriculture in Russia in general?
Dmitry Eremin: Unfortunately, I cannot say that it is high. It is often seen how technological processes are violated to the detriment of fertility to reduce costs. Yes, someone chooses a shortcut – to pump all the resource from the plots, and then sell it so as not to restore it. But there are farms that have made contact with agricultural science and are trying to adhere to the rules.
If our land was inherited, that would be great. When a father works the arable land with responsibility and love, he leaves an excellent dowry for his children. A fertile soil is a guarantee of food security for the planet. Those that can be grown hydroponically (berries, vegetables) cannot be fed to the population. We need wheat, rice, corn. Therefore, good nutrition can only occur in properly cultivated land.
Mineral fertilizers, good or bad?
Dmitry Eremin: When used wisely, it is an undeniable blessing. Do not forget that they are designed to feed plants, increase their productivity. But, before doing so, you need to study how the substances will interact with crops, microbes, and how they will affect a person. When I hear comments that this is bad, I immediately understand: for the sake of PR, against the background of environmental issues, an amateur is speaking.
Has man extracted all his resources from the soil?
Dmitry Eremin: With the rational use of soil resources, it is almost impossible to exhaust its potential. Unfortunately, rationality is not in fashion right now. The trend is the race for profit. With this approach, part of the land has already exhausted its resources and requires immediate restoration. If we talk about the potential of the Tyumen region, then we use it by 20 percent.
What can you say about no-tillage technology?
Dmitry Eremin: For some reason, it is positioned as a foreigner, but in the USSR it was also called “zero processing.” At the heart of a simple principle: sown – removed. From the outside, it looks like a simulation of a natural process. But I think the pesticide manufacturers are pushing for this technology. Where there is minimal interference with the soil, plant residues are not plowed up, they lie on the surface. Along with diseases, pests, weed seeds. That’s why no-till uses a lot of pesticides. And what, in this case, can be the greening of agriculture?
With this method, the nutrients also remain in the seedbed. Let’s see the example of the match: on the ground it moves a maximum of four centimeters. If we spread it on the surface, it will penetrate to a shallow depth and, therefore, will not reach the roots. Just money down the drain. Perhaps no-tillage can be a salvation for the Volga region, where there is a shortage of water. But in Western Siberia it is not applicable. Now we are using a combined approach: the first year – plowing with a moldboard, when the plow turns over the soil layer, two years – without a moldboard or direct seeding. In general, working with the land does not tolerate stereotypes, because each field has its own character.
Dmitry Eremin: Unfortunately, many farms choose a shortcut – to pump all the resource from the plots, and then sell it so as not to restore it. Photo: Irina Nikitina / RG
Are there blind spots left in soil science?
Dmitry Eremin: The deeper we dive, the more unknown we discover. Soil is a complex system in which plants and animals are harmoniously linked, reacting differently to climate and other factors. In my opinion, the era of geographic soil science has passed, the time for physical-chemical and biological soil science has come. The directions of modeling soil processes and creating artificial soils that are not inferior to chernozems are topical.
The Tyumen region has 560 thousand hectares of chernozem and almost two million hectares of meadow soils, very similar to chernozem, but differing in temperature and groundwater. I think young professionals should pay attention to the meadows. And that’s what As the southwestern part of Russia, until recently called the breadbasket, is gradually drying up due to climate change and endless exploitation of the land, Western Siberia, from the Ural Mountains to the Yenisei, has turned into a potential agricultural area. In addition, from this point of view, it is also interesting for foreign countries. Foreign colleagues say that soon we will feed the entire continent. When the latest technologies reach Eastern Siberia, the agricultural area will increase even more, but for now the soils are too poor. By the way, without scientists, it is better not to meddle in this issue, otherwise it will turn out like in Kazakhstan with virgin soil – they did not ask specialists, they processed it by traditional methods, without taking into account the absence of wind. barriers, as a result, the fertile layer was completely blown out of a million hectares.
Among the tasks for tomorrow, which ones would you name?
Dmitry Eremin: Something surprising: our solonetzes are not inferior in humus content to chernozem. Yes, they cannot give a rich harvest due to the high sodium content, but their area is very large, so thanks to the selection of technologies, the same chemical recovery and special plants, we can successfully work with them. I am sure that the southern regions, the Omsk region, the north of Kazakhstan will be grateful for these studies.
It is also necessary to create our own powerful seed breeding base. A new perspective is the advance of agriculture further north. Today they are planting potatoes behind Salekhard. Grow up, quite normal. It was only necessary to choose the right feed – an additive for sand and clay. It is much cheaper to grow vegetables in the north and store them immediately than to ship them from the mainland. Yakutia asks to develop fodder varieties of oats and peas, which will give a large green mass for animal husbandry. The priority is a healthy diet for all: beta-glucans can improve the functioning of the whole organism, despite the deterioration of the environment. So, there are a lot of tasks – it can develop in any direction, there would be a desire and interest.