First Experience With Biological Soil Management In South Africa

The more we learn about soil as a natural resource, the more we see its importance for growers and agriculture.

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It is not just that without soil we can’t cultivate food, but with the world’s population growing, the soil that we have has to be used more efficiently while also minimizing erosions, degradations or salinization. Thus, good soil management is not just important; it’s essential.

There is a fairly large toolbox of soil management options, from artificial fertilizers to different tilling philosophies and even the use of biological or microbiological soil inputs. I wondered what kind of experience farmers have had with the biological approach. Therefore I got in contact with my colleague Shaun Berry from the biological team in South Africa. Shaun met with Roland Rencken, a South African sugar cane and timber farmer with 30 years of experience. As one might expect, Roland’s own soil management toolbox was not only very well-refined, he understood virtually every hill, low spot and lump of dirt in his fields.


“I enjoy the challenges and opportunities that farming presents. You get out what you put in. Farming teaches a person not to take the environment for granted. You can’t fight natural elements. You have to deal with them,” Roland explains. And he knows what he is talking about. Since he started in farming in 1986, a lot has changed. “Pests and diseases are increasing, especially rust diseases. Labor gets more complex and resistances are becoming a challenge.”

Roland started to experiment with biological tools for soil management by using microbial soil inoculants in conjunction with CMS (Condensed Molasses Stillage) last year. Molasses is gaining importance in South Africa. as described in a research paper from Wynne A. T. and Meyer J. H. (2002): “The value of molasses as a fertilizer has recently become of interest due to the rapid devaluation of the Rand (South Africa’s currency) and the reliance of South African agriculture, including the sugar industry, on mainly imported N and K fertilizer. Molasses is used primarily as a source of potassium but it has other significant advantages such as increasing organic matter in the soil and microbial activity associated with nitrification. […].” Read more


Besides CMS Roland is also making first experiences with chicken litter, which can be used to suppress bad nematodes. “I believe this will be beneficial for the soil. Also it promotes healthier roots and foliage in your plants.”

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For the future, Roland will continue looking for additional ways to use different biologicals. That way he can ensure efficient, effective farming practices that also benefit his bottom line. In particular, he concludes, “I will be looking at utilizing microbial solutions this year for improved soil health, which will automatically benefit the sugar cane plants.”