Forestry Ink columnist Jim Hilton. (File Photo)

Forestry Ink columnist Jim Hilton. (File Photo)

Ramial chipped wood promotes longterm soil health

Jim Hilton breaks down soil technology

Starting in the 1980s a group of scientists from Laval University lead by Professor Gilles Lemieux set out to improve the lives of the women in developing countries who produce most of the local food.

Their research focused on using local resouces and technologies to reverse degradation of soil and improve yields and heath of the food with minimal inputs from outside expensive sources. After decades of research they focused on a new technology, known as ramial chipped wood (RCW) for establishing a sustainable fertile soil. The substance, also known as branch wood chips, is made from tree parts, branches (less than 7 cm diameter), twigs and leaves rich in nutrients, sugar, protein, cellulose, and lignin, which all play a precise and specific role in the formation and maintenance of fertile soils. This is not the case for bark, trunk wood, sawdust, wood shavings, and all industrial wood waste material which will rob soil of nitrogen when added.

A report published in 2000 describes the research which has expanded to Sénégal, Madagascar, Ukraine and The Dominican Republic. Some of the highlights are the following:

Better soil conservation due to the water retention capacity of humus; a yield increase up to 1000% for tomatoes in Senegal, and 300% on strawberries in Quebec; a 400% increase in dry matter for corn in both Côte d’Ivoire and the Dominican Republic; a noticeable increase in frost and drought resistance; more developed root systems; fewer and less diversified weeds; a decrease or complete elimination of pests (under tropical conditions, a complete control of root nematodes); enhanced flavour in fruit production; higher dry matter, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium content in potato tubers; selective natural germination of tree seeds.

The report describes the advantages and disadvantages of mineral fertilizers, organic fertilizers and RCW .

While mineral fertilizers additions to soil, give quick results they often contaminate groundwaters and surface waters. Dissolved nitrogen in the form of nitrate (NO3-) is the most common contaminant identified in groundwater. Human activities have doubled the amount of nitrogen cycling between the living world and the soil, water, and atmosphere. Organic compost has many advantages over mineral fertilizers but requires yearly application to maintain these advantages.

“The first and single most important advantage RCW comes from the fact that soil is regenerated by a technology based on the way nature makes soil. As a result, this technology does not require any nitrate addition… RCW, like compost, has the ability to improve soil water holding capacity, to fix and release nitrogen as needed by plants, and to mitigate sources of pollution.”

There is reduced reliance on pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides by providing a balance in microbial and nutrient environments.

In summary RCW’s are better described as “soil upgraders” rather than fertilizers or soil amendments (organic matter) because they bring energy for the biological enhancement of the soil, while contributing to soil structure, plant productivity and groundwater quality. Most important, they contribute to a biochemical balance responsible for all biological and physical factors of soil fertility into a dynamic process.

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