Bioreactor, crop roller boost soil health, yields
Connor Peirce grew up on the farm and always observed and learned from his father Cameron. Last year when Connor returned to Hutchinson with his degree in agronomy from Kansas State University, Cameron told him they were now a partnership.
Cameron kept trying new things, from farming methods like no-till and cover crops to crop rotation and new crops like sunflowers and canola. Every time he experiments he does so with a lot of research. Connor does the same.
As with all farmers, your dilemma is how to produce a great crop with a decent return on investment. Both Connor and Cameron realize that they need to revitalize their soil and work to get rid of weeds and unwanted plants without many pesticides.
The Peirces property is part of the Cheney Lake Watershed District. The Watershed Organization helps farmers improve water quality by working on education and outreach.
On Thursday, Connor demonstrated to more than two dozen farmers how his bioreactor containers and the stick chopper, which he and his father are converting into a harvesting roller, will help revitalize the soil.
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A bioreactor can increase yield, nutrition and diversity
With plastic bags, steel cages, straw and leaves, Connor set up his bioreactor, which is based on David C. Johnson’s research. For less than a dollar an acre, a composting bioreactor increases crop yield, nutrition and biodiversity in the fields.
Less than a decade ago, David C. Johnson, a faculty member at the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at California State University-Chico, discovered a new type of composting – he invented the Johnson-Su Composting Bioreactor. Since then, he has refined, tested, and experimented with this inexpensive device and asked others to join him.
By using the Johnson Method, severely depleted soil can thrive and, when treated with this composting extract, can withstand heavy rainfall.
Johnson’s bioreactor produces fungus-rich compost, which promotes plant growth and carbon sequestration in the soil.
“It’s about adding mushrooms to the ground,” Connor explained to the crowd. “Every gallon produced will cover one acre.”
The problem – it takes a year to make the special mix. A bioreactor is made by forming a cage, laying plastic around the inside, placing pipes with holes in the middle, and adding either chopped leaves or hay for less than $ 10. For it to work, a gallon of water must be added to the reactor every day and kept above freezing. It can be housed in a barn or a workshed.
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“The resulting microbial diversity is the key to healthy soil,” said Connor. “When it’s done, it will be the consistency of clay.”
After the mixture is ripe, it is mixed with water and placed in the field. After the treatment with the mushroom tincture, compacted soil that could no longer absorb water can be infiltrated. In addition, since fewer fertilizers and herbicides are used, fewer pollutants enter the groundwater. Insects are also abundant, weeds are dying out and less water is required for irrigation.
Harvesting rollers from discarded stick choppers
Connor also showed the farmer how he and his father make a harvesting roller with a discarded stick chopper – a machine for chopping corn stalks – and a toolbar.
The machine is pushed and not pulled. This action avoids tire marks and uneven flattening.
“Our biggest hurdle will be to drive straight ahead,” said Connor. “You don’t get as much crimp where the tire tracks go.”
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The Peirces hope this machine will break down weeds and kill their rye and triticale cover crops. They also showed the group how to experiment with two-row plants.
Austin Schweizer, a farmer in Reno County, converted a stick chopper to work as a roller crimper.
“It seems to suppress weeds,” he said. “It helps retain moisture and circulate nutrients.”
The agronomist Kevin Schoenhals said these types of products help improve conservation. and water reduction so farmers can use less pesticides.
“I’m proud to have Connor here on the farm and to let him introduce all the new ideas and energy,” said Cameron. “We don’t learn without the new ideas.”