The Role of Trace Elements in Conventional Farming

In many ways it is more important for the conventional farmer to keep the soil minerals balanced than for an organic operation. The system of organic agriculture naturally restores mineral levels and balance over time in a process of convergence. It is interesting to note that the main problems for the organic farmer arise when a hitherto intensively farmed conventional unit goes into organic conversion, whereupon the soil deficiencies and imbalances show up in stark relief. Without help, the convergence process can, in such circumstances, take many years and break both hearts and wallets.

For the conventional system the signs and symptoms of soil deterioration are less obvious. Over a period the growth response to fertiliser slowly falls away, crops and animals become less disease-resistant. Livestock fail to thrive, take longer to finish, need more mineral buckets, boluses and medication. Dairy cattle need more and more ‘cake’ to produce sufficient milk, fertility declines and the cull rate rises. Mastitis and poor feet are common and the herd becomes more and more time-consuming. Lambing percentages fall and mortality rates rise.
When soils are tested comprehensively and regularly, it is possible to spot the developing problems and prevent the deterioration before it becomes serious. Yields and growth rates remain high and input costs, particularly of fertiliser and mineral feed supplements, drop sharply.

The greatest effects of all are the sustainability of the new system and the enhanced bottom line.

The great irony about this is that the principle of and need for mineral supplementation is well understood by many livestock farmers, but there is a blind spot where food crops for direct human consumption are concerned. In the main fruit and vegetables are grown for yield, uniformity and appearance, not for nutritional content. Were we to use food animals as “court tasters” of our fruit and vegetables, we would be horrified to discover how nutritionally inadequate they have become. If a piece of mineral-exhausted land causes stock to die, without our intervention, from selenium, cobalt, copper or other deficiencies, then that same land is unfit for human food production until it has been re-mineralised.