Ok so after a long time waiting for a response from Carlos Crovetto (and I'm still waiting), here is something I whipped up a while ago about him farm.
“The soil must be alive. How can farmers feed people if we don’t feed soil,” says Carlos Crovetto.
Crovetto owns Chequén Farms, 400 hectares of land in Florida county, about 45 kilometers outside Concepción.
On his farm, he practices a method called no-tillage, which means he doesn’t use a plow on the fields after each season. He also doesn’t burn the fields, which is another popular method for Chilean farmers.
His farm is one of many farms in the small county, but his farm is unique from others.
“Sixty percent of the area is planted with pine and eucalyptus tress, and 40 percent of the land is in the hand of poor people. That today is abysmal life because the soil doesn’t produce,” Crovetto said. “And they didn’t listen (to my message) and didn’t understand the message.”
His message to his neighbors was that they needed to change how they treat their soil, otherwise the soil would stop producing.
“My neighbors, they plow and they are not able to produce anymore because the soil doesn’t have any food inside,” he said. “The fertilizers are not a nutrient for the soil. Fertilizers are nutrients for the plants. The soil has a tremendous ability to produce its own nutrients, but in the long term. Not in the near future. Not today, not tomorrow.”
Crovetto said Chilean farmers have used a plow to cultivate agriculture since the 1700’s. And when he inherited the farm from his father, along with his brother Tómas in 1953, he saw the soil couldn’t produce in the same capacity if he continued tilling. That is when his interest in no-till farming began.
“I learned about minimal tillage, but it wasn’t enough for me,” he said.
“In the 80’s I worked with farmers to the North, East and South ¬¬— because in the West is the ocean — in order to understand the problems of my neighbor. The people didn’t understand. It was difficult to try and teach because they didn’t want to change.”
Crovetto said there is a similar sentiment among farmers in the U.S. They know about no-till farming, but they aren’t convinced it’ any better than what they do, so they keep plowing and burning every couple years.
“In my country we don’t have real help for soil conservation,” he said. “We have a program about soil conservation or soil improvement, but the spirit of this law is to put the money in the pocket, not in the soil. In other words, the help to the farmers is ok, but the help doesn’t arrive to the soil.”
Crovetto lives on land that is mostly hills, like much of Chile, so many farmers have to deal with erosion. Erosion happens when fine particles in the soil (organic matter) are washed away with watering or rain. Crovetto said it’s those particles that keep the soil alive, and healthy.
“I have been to Andalucia, Spain several times,” he said. “They have completely destroyed it (the soil). One meter of soil is gone! Do you know what the means? No farmers can rescue all these small soil particles that are going to creeks, rivers and then to the ocean. You cannot put it back where it came from.
I can recover organic matter, but I cannot recover the soil genetics. The pattern material, I cannot do that.”
Crovetto said he hasn’t used a plow since 1959. Since then, he has increased the organic matter in the soil from 0.8 to six percent.
Crovetto raised the organic matter in his soil by making sure it had the proper nutrients, also by adding a mulch (hay) as a top layer to the soil. He has a saying that goes, “The grain is for the farmers, the straw is for the soil.”
“If you take the energy from the soil, the name of the energy is carbon, if you don’t release enough residue to the soil, the micro organisms and mesofauna, you cannot feed them,” he said. “And these animals will disappear. When you plow, there are hundreds of birds coming behind the plow eating the small animals that belong to the soil and not the birds!”
Crovetto has traveled worldwide, including to Argentina over 40 times to promote the no-till revolution. He said it is now popular in Argentina and he feels proud about what the work he done there. He has a phrase he teaches to all the farmers who are interested in replenishing their soil.
“Puedes mirar (You can take a look), which is nothing. Puedes ver (you can see), which is better. Puedes observar (you can observe), which is the best.”