Soil Health Specialist
Buz is a research associate professor in the Environmental Health Sciences Department at the University of South Carolina (USC) Arnold School of Public Health. Buz is passionate about doing research on working farmland and collaborating directly with farmers on soil health research and projects. He is interested in how farmers can leverage regenerative farming systems while paying attention to biology to improve per acre income, mainly through savings in fertilizer. His work has moved him into the dual roles of research in, and telling the story of, regenerative farming in video and social media format. Buz’s guiding philosophy is his target audience is first and foremost the farmer. Buz started his professional life as a chemical engineer and spent 12 years in the mining/mineral processing industry in Namibia, Africa. After joining USC in 1999 and completing his PhD in environmental health, Buz fell in love with soils once he discovered that soils can change and heal. Buz holds degrees in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and an MBA and PhD from the University of South Carolina.
Why are healthy soils important to producers in South Carolina?
I often hear that in days past, once farmers “used the soil up” in eastern states like South Carolina, they moved west to find more fertile land to use up. South Carolina has a legacy of past practices that include large scale mechanical tillage, long fallow periods, monocultures, and, in the last 6 or 7 decades, applying chemicals for fertility, weed and pest management. The mindset that led to much of this degradation was a fundamental misunderstanding of soil ecosystems, namely that they were a “medium to grow plants.” We are rediscovering that soils are living mutualistic ecosystems. I agree with Jay Fuhrer (NRCS in North Dakota) who says “If you have more carbon entering the soil than leaving, your kids will probably farm your land,” by which he means that for the next generation of farmers to remain on the land, they will have to learn how to work with, rather than against, nature to truly understand what it means to be harvesting sunlight and water.
What’s the key to improving soil health in cotton systems?
Honestly, the keys to soil health in cotton is still to follow the five principles of soil health and have a system where all practices work in concert. If I were to say which practice has most revolutionized soil health and sparked the imaginations of the farmer in this state, it would be multispecies cover crops of four or more species. I’d also say that the most advancement of soils that I have seen in the last seven years is where the farmer included small grain in their rotation.
What is lacking in getting producers to adopt soil health improving practices?
As a society, we are addicted to certainty and short term. Farmers that move out of the conventional production agriculture box often face peer pressure to conform to conventional wisdom, and of course social inertia. For example, how often have you heard a no-tiller say, “Daddy would have turned in his grave if he saw my no-till fields today.” Farmers hear things like “carbon penalty,” “pseudo-science,” “cover crop suck the life out of the soil,” “job security for entomologists,” “trash farming,” (which in the past was “no-till, no yield”). It takes extraordinary courage, and in some cases, hardship and suffering, to make the switch, which always needs to begin in the mind, as Gabe Brown outlines in his book “Dirt to Soil.”