Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)

RANCH MUSINGS: One day of sunshine and a good forecast for the future

As organic matter declines, so declines the protein content of the plants we grow

By David Zirnhelt

With lifetime high water making it impossible for us to cross the valley to our main hayfields, my mind turns to drought again because that is the climate change prognosis.

I go back though some of the articles written about drought proofing our farmland. Most of these articles tell us we need to increase the organic matter content of our soils.

As organic matter declines, so declines the protein content of the plants we grow. This has happened when we cultivate our soils and add chemical fertilizer. Yes, productivity can increase. But land not having irrigation available leaves us vulnerable to drought.

I need to continually remind myself that our long-term goal is to increase the biological activity which enhances the natural fertility and actually builds rather than depletes soil organic matter.

As crop farmers around North America have specialized on those crops and have quit the livestock industries in the name of “efficiency”, they have lost sight of long-term sustainable productivity which inevitably means some level of profitability.

Outside income poured into farms must be seen as a return of financial capital to restore ecological capital (soil and organic matter.)

Most of us have built our ranching operations on financial investment which uses technology and various inputs into the crop production.

I am not harping here, just reminding us all, that growing the soil which feeds the plants we use, is the endgame of sustainable agriculture.

Moving on to new frontiers in an era of climate change is a dicey strategy. Deserts are replacing grasslands and some traditional food producing lands around the world.

These frontiers involve places like the Amazon basin. Or, what might be in our minds, is the lands from which ice and snow (and permafrost) are receding.

The story of humankind can’t be about moving away from whole regions ( Roman Empire, Middle East, parts of America) in order to exploit news lands (North America) and using up the stored ecological capital—organic matter in our pursuit of productivity required to feed the world.

As we emerge from the first phase of the impact of COVID we are seeing stresses from a lack of farm labour to harvest and manage crops and many promises of new technologies that promise to maintain or enhance food productivity.

I am writing on this topic just to remind myself and food consumers that the greatest technology is the farming culture that values good land.

I have on my bookshelf a Canadian government publication from 1984, Soil at Risk. Now, almost 40 years later I wonder what of this report has been heeded. Efforts at soil conservation have on the whole been diminished in the government realm — extension experts, relevant locally based research.

Now this might be changing, but simple solutions are not readily available, although just the discussion of soil health and the innovation in farming techniques by progressive farmers may be changing.

Governments must keep their eyes on farmers, future farmers and the support they need to revive farming as we pull out of this pandemic crisis.

The role of livestock in maintaining soil productivity must be recognized, particularly on the soils such as ours in the interior where there is little preexisting organic matter.

I know this is a common theme, but it does take 13 repetitions of a message to for it to sink in for the average person.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

Williams Lake

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A search was launched for missing Xeni Gwet’in member Randolph (Rando) Quilt on Friday, Dec. 4 in Williams Lake. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty speaks in the House of Commons. (House of Commons Photography)
LETTER: Help should only be 3-digits away

Research has shown that more Canadians, especially our most vulnerable, are thinking about suicide

Cariboo Art Beat artists Tiffany Jorgensen, left, and Sarah Sigurdson celebrated the installation of the mural they have created for the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
VIDEO: Williams Lake recreation complex boasts new ice sports mural

It was created by local artists Tiffany Jorgensen and Sarah Sigurdson

A dream catcher with 91 ties of tobacco was placed over a fire. The ties represent the 91 years St. Joseph’s Mission operated as a residential school. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Tl’etinqox women find strength at former B.C. Interior residential school site

Healing ceremony part of video project to honour legacy of residential schools

Dr. Albert de Villiers, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
‘People need to start listening’: IH top doc combats COVID-19 misconceptions

Dr. Albert de Villiers says light at the end of the tunnel will grow in step with people’s adherence to PHO guidance

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of paymens for household incomes up to $175,000

KIJHL games have been postponed through Dec. 31. (File photo)
KIJHL postpones all games through end of 2020

Due to provincial health orders, games up to Dec. 31 have been pushed back

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Former Kelowna social worker arrested for allegedly stealing from foster kids

Robert Riley Saunders was arrested in Alberta and will be brought back to B.C. to face charges

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

Most Read