How Milk Improves Soil Health
Applying Raw Milk
Part 1 of 5
David Wetzel is the person possibly most responsible for bringing the ancient practice of applying milk to the soil in order to improve the health, disease resistance, and productivity of the soil. As part of a 10-year study in collaboration with the University of Nebraska soil specialists and weed specialists as well as insect specialists have proven the effectiveness of milk as a soil improver.
The following article is from Ralph Voss, a student of David’s methods, followed by David’s own observations on what is working on his farm.
Finally, An article featuring the attributes/observations on applying raw milk to the soil.
“This article appeared in the March 10, 2010, issue of the Unterrified Democrat, a weekly newspaper published in Linn, Mo., since 1866. In addition to writing for the paper, Voss raises registered South Poll cattle on pathetically poor grass that he is trying desperately to improve.”
An Illinois steel-company executive turned Nebraska dairyman has stumbled onto an amazingly low-cost way to grow high-quality grass – and probably even crops – on depleted soil. Can raw milk make grass grow? More specifically, can one application of three gallons of raw milk on an acre of land produce a large amount of grass? The answer to both questions is yes. Call it the Nebraska Plan or call it the raw milk strategy or call it downright amazing, but the fact is Nebraska dairyman David Wetzel is producing high-quality grass by applying raw milk to his fields and a Nebraska Extension agent has confirmed the dairyman’s accomplishments.
David Wetzel is not your ordinary dairyman, nor is Terry Gompert your ordinary Extension agent. Ten years ago Wetzel was winding up a five-year stint as the vice president of an Illinois steel company and felt the need to get out of the corporate rat race. At first, he and his wife thought they would purchase a resort, but he then decided on a farm because he liked to work with his hands. The Wetzels bought a 320-acre farm in Page, Neb., in the northeast part of the state, and moved to the farm on New Year’s Day in 2000.
“We had to figure out what to do with the farm,” Wetzel said, “so we took a class from Terry Gompert.” They were advised to start a grass-based dairy and that’s what they did. “There’s no money in farming unless you’re huge,” Wetzel said, or unless the farmer develops specialty products, which is what they did.
In their business, the Wetzels used the fats in the milk and the skim milk was a waste product. “We had a lot of extra skim milk and we started dumping it on our fields,” Wetzel said. “At first we had a tank and drove it up and down the fields with the spout open. Later we borrowed a neighbor’s sprayer.”
Sometime in the winter of 2002 they had arranged to have some soil samples taken by a fertilizer company and on the day company employees arrived to do the sampling, it was 15 below zero. To their astonishment, they discovered the probe went right into the soil in the fields where raw milk had been applied. In other fields, the probe would not penetrate at all.
“I didn’t realize what we had,” Wetzel said. “I had an inkling something was going on and I thought it was probably the right thing to do.” For a number of years, he continued to apply the milk the same way he had been doing, but in recent years he has had a local fertilizer company spray a mixture that includes liquid molasses and liquid fish, as well as raw milk. In addition, he spreads 100 to 200 pounds of lime each year.
Gompert, the extension agent that suggested Wetzel start a grass-based dairy, had always been nearby – literally. The two are neighbors and talk frequently. It was in 2005 that Gompert, with the help of university soils specialist Charles Shapiro and weed specialist Stevan Kenzevic, conducted a test to determine the effectiveness of what Wetzel had been doing.
That the raw milk had a big impact on the pasture was never in doubt, according to Gompert. “You could see by both the color and the volume of the grass that there was a big increase in production.” In the test, the raw milk was sprayed on at four different rates – 3, 5, 10, and 20 gallons per acre – on four separate tracts of land. At the 3-gallon rate, 17 gallons of water were mixed with the milk, while the 20-gallon rate was straight milk. Surprisingly the test showed no difference between the 3-, 5-, 10- and 20-gallon rates.
The test began with the spraying of the milk in mid-May, with mid-April being a reasonable target date here in central Missouri. Forty-five days later the 16 plots were clipped and an extra 1200 pounds of grass on a dry matter basis were shown to have been grown on the treated versus non-treated land. That’s phenomenal, but possibly even more amazing is the fact the porosity of the soil – that is, the ability to absorb water and air – was found to have doubled.
An excerpt from “How Milk Improves Soil Health“, Terroir Seeds.