Global warming, decreasing precipitation, and other phenomena have caused a decrease in soil fertility. Furthermore, during the periods of drought, winds lift the soil’s top layer and carry it away. Hence, modern farmers strive to use all possible means to protect their lands from these negative phenomena.
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One of farms concerned with their soils quality is the Yefrem farm, the Your Nuts company, and their head, Ivan Yukal. Our journalists talked to the farmer and found out that the land has not been plowed on his farm for about 15 years, stubble has never been burned, and the entire territory is lined with trees. Read on to find out what other environmental projects his farm is implementing on their lands and why this is so important.
Ivan Yukal — Farmer, Nut Grower, Breeder, Father and Grandfather of Many Children
Ivan Yukal’s farm is located in the village of Lisove, Kopaihorod settlement community, Zhmeryn district, Vinnytsia region. The farm owns about 900 hectares of land. Currently, it is divided between Ivan Yukal’s children while the farmer himself manages the nut orchard: he selects different varieties of nuts and prepares them for registration, sells them on Ukrainian and foreign markets, and plants his elite nut orchard including the best varieties of walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts, most of which he himself produces on his farm.
The farmer was born in the same village — Lisove, but left it at the age of 15 to study at Vinnytsia University. There he graduated, got married, ran his flower business, and built a house, but then decided to return to his native village. The entire Yukal family are believers, and Ivan Yukal even graduated from the Lviv Seminary and came to Lisove to build a church and be a pastor. However, at that time, land shares were distributed there, and Ivan decided to simultaneously try himself in farming. Therefore, for more than 20 years, he has been engaged in farming and has been a spiritual mentor in his village.
He left his house in Vinnytsia to his 11 children while he, with his wife and younger children, moved to a village house to arrange his farming life. His older daughters and sons-in-law, who have adopted their father’s experience and actually taken over all the fields already, help him.
Nut Trees — The Best Protection against Wind Erosion and an Additional Income
Already when Ivan Yukal just started farming, he was interested in how to maintain soil fertility and retain moisture in it.
“The issue of soil erosion is a rather old one,” Ivan says. “But previously it was the state’s responsibility. When the land became private property, farmers who understand the issue’s importance started to work on it. Soil erosion is the destruction of its upper fertile layer. It can be wind one, when the wind blows away the topsoil during droughts, and water one, when the upper layer of fertile soil is washed away by rains into ditches, rivers, and lowlands. I studied this issue 20 years ago: I read about it and consulted with other farmers. It was important for me not only to get profit from the farm, but also not to exhaust it. After all, farming is a long-term business, and land needs care and nourishment, because if this is not done, every year it will provide decreasing incomes. That’s why I plant nut trees on my plots of land — along the perimeter, on the slopes, in the ravines. This is a perennial hardy tree that grows for 100 years or more and gives additional income in the form of fruits.
Ivan Yukal is a breeder who has bred more than 10 of his own varieties and about 100 forms of low-growing (growing up to 3 m), medium-growing (growing up to 6 m), and tall (over 6 m) varieties of walnuts. He submitted some of them to the State Register of plant varieties suitable for distribution in Ukraine. To reduce soil erosion, he plants the species and varieties that grow better in the specific area: withstand wind gusts, have a strong root system, and tolerate low and high groundwater levels.
Having got the love for nut trees from his father, Ivan Yukal got interested in this culture and started to carefully study it over 30 years ago. He read much about it and visited all nut nurseries and orchards in Ukraine as well as famous breeders abroad. Then, from the best known foreign varieties, he began to breed those that take root and grow best in the conditions of Ukrainian climate, have a soft shell and a white and tasty kernel, and quickly start to bear fruit. In his garden, he focuses on the low-growing, early-ripening, and multi-fruited varieties, the nuts of which are easier to collect. He was the first to start a detailed description of his own varieties by type and period of flowering, fruiting, growth conditions, etc.
Hence, the farmer understands well where and on which soils which crop grows best. Therefore, in the lowlands, he plants hazelnuts on Turkish hazel or black walnuts, which can withstand moisture. On the hills, he plants walnuts and pecan. He used to plant only walnuts, but a few years ago he began to study pecans and realized that this crop will eventually become quite popular and widespread in Ukraine. Ukrainian climate is changing, getting warmer, and, therefore, more favorable for pecans growth, whose native country is America. Besides, pecans are much more expensive than walnuts. Pecan is best suited for areas wind protection. It may grow over 10 meters high, has an extremely powerful and deep root system, and is hence resistant to droughts and is not afraid of moisture. That is why Ivan Yukal is increasingly planting this nut tree on his lands.
“We’ve already lined about two hectares of land in this way, and we’ve still got seedlings for 50 hectares, but of course this is a long-term project that requires a lot of time,” says Ivan.
Hasn’t Plowed Land for 15 Years
Wind protection is not the only ecological project of the farmer. On Ivan Yukal’s farm, the land has not been plowed for more than 15 years. The farmer’s family strip tills it — that is cultivates soil by cutting slits in it in autumn. Thus, water permeability of the soil increases, the destructive effect of water erosion decreases, and moisture accumulates in the soil. In spring, before sowing, the soil is cultivated once again with a bladeless milling plow, which also does not mix soil layers while preserving moisture in it.
“Plowing damages the land, because by mixing soil layers we reduce its fertility. Different bacteria live in different soil layers. When we lift the bottom layer of the soil up, the bacteria living there die on the surface. The bacteria that lived in the top layer of the soil, falling down, also die due to the lack of air. Moreover, plowing fosters drying out of the soil and the loss of moisture. That’s why we use strip-tilling — we cut the soil across the slope. Consequently, in autumn-winter and spring periods water doesn’t flow down the ditches but remains in the ground (up to 90%). The groundwater level rises and thus moisture is preserved,” the farmer shares the details.
However, to preserve moisture on his lands, Ivan adheres to a comprehensive approach, in which strip-tilling is only one of the components. The farm also uses all crop residues and mulches the soil with them.
All plant residues on the farm are used to nourish the soil.
“Using the disking method, that is loosening the soil with disk harrows, we mix the remains with the top layer of the soil and sprinkle it with ground, but no more than by 12 cm. Under no circumstances should stubble be burned. We grind all the stubble, everything that remains after harvesting, in the chopper, and then return that on the soil. This also helps preserve the moisture. Besides, over time, this mulch will be good food for worms and various bacteria and fungi. We use all the post-harvest,” says the eco-farmer.
In some areas of Ivan Yukal’s farm, perennial plants are planted: clover, alfalfa, galega, etc. They also help preserve moisture in the soil, nourish it, and, in addition, are good honey-bearing herbs for bees.
“After planting the garden, it should be sown with perennial plants — this will help save moisture and develop a honey base, and in case of rains, the water won’t wash the soil away,” shares Ivan his expert advice. “For this purpose, siderates are used — crops that are not mowed but disked after harvesting of the main crop. For example, we sow barley, and clover with it, in spring. At the end of May, barley completes its vegetation (development) process and the culture gives enough light for clover germination. During the harvesting of barley, clover sprouts by 5-10 cm, and by September it already gives a good mass of up to 30-40 cm. Then we disk it and it provides good nutrition to nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which improve the mineral nutrition of plants, stimulate their growth and development, and increase resistance to diseases and pests. Thus, we have several benefits: we don’t plow (we don’t mix different soils and don’t weaken their quality), the field doesn’t overgrow, and we also have clover siderate and barley remains, which we then return to the soil as fertilizer. This is how we save moisture and feed bacteria and fungi.”
“Walnut is one of the crops that needs much moisture, so its cultivation can create a significant load on water resources. Complex practices that allow preserving and accumulating moisture in the soil are needed as most of the territory of Ukraine has an insufficient level of moisture, and climate change increases water stress even more. This farm’s practices, in addition to preserving the so much needed moisture, enhance quality properties of the soil, which is no less critical for sustainable agriculture,” comments Anna Danylyak, sustainable agriculture expert at NGO Ecoaction. — We also talk about such approaches within the online course ‘Ecopractices for Agriculture and Communities.’”.
Planting Seedlings and Saving Water
Of course, the farmer uses drip irrigation at the nursery since new selective varieties and young seedlings need care, but here too Ivan Yukal tries to save water to the greatest extent possible. He developed a system of saplings planting that reduces water use. This is MIKOSENERGY technology, with Ivan Yukal being one of its authors. Thanks to this technology, trees need to be watered several times less often.
“We put reeds or branches tied in bundles into the hole so that the air could pass down. There should be four of them, on each side of the tree. Reed allows the plant to breathe, bacteria and fungi develop more actively, and the nut’s root system also develops faster. The reeds will eventually rot, but the passages will remain. Dew will fall from the air through the tubes. Hence, the plant will additionally get a certain amount of moisture saturated with nitrogen, that is oxygen. Under such conditions, the tree will need to be watered about five times less often,” shares the nut grower his secret.
Mikosenergy technology is aimed to accelerate plant growth in the most natural conditions while stimulating the work of bacteria and fungi.
Ivan Pidlisnyi tells about the technology in the video.
Garden Compaction with Vegetable Crops
In addition, in order to enrich the soil with various trace elements, the farmer plants different cultural plants rich in trace elements between the walnut rows. When the garden is young, there is enough space between the rows, and apart from soil enrichment, the farmer receives additional income. This year he planted potatoes, onions, and tomatoes.
While the war is ongoing, a farm from Mykolaiv, which is currently unable to work on their plots, plants their vegetable crops in Ivan’s garden between the rows of nut trees. Thus, the farm managed to resume its activities, at least partially, and provide its employees with work.
Ecological Farming — Productive Farming
It is not difficult to run a farm ecologically. There are numerous approaches that not only help preserve nature, but also improve lands productivity. Ivan’s farming is an example of that. He managed to combine the most effective known farming approaches with his own methods developed via experience and continues implementing new sustainable practices for even better results.
Ivan advises all farmers not to focus on old technologies but to mainly work on the advanced ecological approaches, which will have a positive effect not only on the environment, but also on the harvest, and, therefore, enterprise profitability.
Author: Iryna Rudyk-Mala, photos by Author
This article was written within the “Prospective of Sustainable Development of Rural Areas” Project funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.