How Milk Improves Soil Health

“Can raw milk make grass grow? More specifically, can one application of three gallons of raw milk on an acre of land produce a large amount of grass?”

Milk as Soil Improver

Milk as Soil Improver

David Wetzel is the person possibly most responsible for bringing the ancient practice of applying milk to soil in order to improve the health, disease resistance and productivity of the soil. As part of a 10 year study in collaboration with the University of Nebraska soil specialists and weed specialists as well as insect specialists have proven the effectiveness of milk as a soil improver.

It started with David having excess skim milk that he didn’t want to waste, so he started applying it to a pasture on his farm and noticed several oddities about that particular pasture. When his dairy herd was turned out on it, the butterfat content of the milk increased 3-4% within 2-3 days of being in that pasture, every time. Not only that, but the herd needed fewer vet visits, maintained their weight better and the pasture recovered faster and produced more hay than other pastures. David contacted his next door neighbor, Terry Gompert, an extension agent for the University of Nebraska about the phenomenon, and a multiple year study was born. One of the additional benefits of spraying the milk has been a drastic reduction in grasshopper populations in the pastures, as the milk sugars are toxic to soft bodied insects. One theory is that grasshoppers will leave healthy plants alone, as the milk feeds the plant as well as the soil.

The linked article is from Ralph Voss, a student of David’s methods, followed by David’s own observations on what is working on his farm.

Finally, An article featuring the attributes/observations on applying raw milk to the soil.

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12 Responses to How Milk Improves Soil Health

  1. Sherrie August 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    Great info! Can’t wait to give it a try!

    • Stephen August 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

      Thanks Sherrie, let us know how the milk works for you!

  2. Agnes Doue November 15, 2013 at 5:12 am #

    Have you tried using raw milk yourself? We are excited about the idea. However, when I try to find more information on the internet, I can find very few reports of results. There is an article by a University of Vermont grad student which reports little benefit: There are several reports of people trying it, but hardly anyone reports back later on the response. There are a couple of positive reports here:

    In particular, I wonder if you’ve tried raw milk on garden soil, rather than pasture?

    Thank you for any information!

    • Stephen November 18, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      Agnes, we do use milk on our property on a regular basis. We use it in the compost pile, in the garden as a soil feed along with blackstrap molasses, as a foliar feed and soft bodied insecticide. I write from both my research and from my experiences in our blog.

      My usual recipe is for a 20% milk mixture – 2 cups of milk into 8 cups of water with 1/8 – 1/4 cup of blackstrap molasses mixed in. I will spray this using a pressurized sprayer with the nozzle on a fan pattern, not quite wetting the soil as I go. Remember that healing and feeding pasture is not really very much different than garden soil – you want to encourage the biology to take hold and gain some traction. Milk is still such an easy and proven way to build up the soil, but is not accepted due to a supposed “lack of research”. Phooey on that! The research has been done, but isn’t the easiest thing to find, so many give up. In my historical research, I’ve found that milk was used by both the Persians and Inka in Peru, at about the same time – 2,000 years ago. The Canadian government conducted 2 – 3 decades of research on the benefits of using milk in agriculture, but stopped in the early 1950s. I’m trying to find that research and make it available now. David Wetzel is probably the one person most responsible for bringing the knowledge of milk back to life, along with the decade of research that was done on his property by leading soil, insect, grass and cow researchers. Wagner Bettiol published a scientific peer-reviewed paper from his Brazilian research into the effectiveness of milk on fungal blights, which was further corroborated by New Zealand and Australian melon growers in strict field testing against the leading chemical fungal agents. Milk proved to be more effective time and time again.

      So why are people hesitant to try using milk on their gardens? I’m not sure. It won’t harm anything, won’t poison anything, will cause no lasting harm if it doesn’t work as advertised, as opposed to the chemical approaches.

      • Aggie December 12, 2013 at 7:06 am #

        I know that I inadvertently asked this question in two places, forgetting to bookmark and check for response. I went looking for your article that you recommended in the other place, and found this response instead. Stephen, I cannot thank you enough for this information. Am off to download your Acres article, and we will definitely be using this. We will also be contacting you for a seed quote shortly. Thanks again for all the teaching work that you do.

      • Stephen December 15, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

        You are so welcome Aggie! Thanks for the kind words and please let us know your thoughts on the compost article in Acres USA!

  3. Melissa February 12, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    I had recently read another article on using milk in gardening, fascinating! This information is concise and easy to understand. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Stephen February 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

      I’m glad you found it helpful! Let us know if the milk works well for you this year.

  4. Rod Sprague February 24, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    I know that buttermilk is used to encourage moss to grow on soil and other surfaces. My thinking is that the bacteria and the casein form a bio-film that combined with the other nutrients found in milk gives the soil organisms a foothold along with the moss spores that show up. That the resulting artificial soil crust forms a matrix for a natural crust. As raw milk is basically inoculated but unfermented buttermilk, it might do in the soil what buttermilk does to the soil surface.

    • Stephen February 25, 2014 at 10:32 am #

      That is an interesting thought in that milk helps to create a sort of cryptogammic crust, similar to what is seen in the Southwest deserts. I don’t know if this is what happens, but do know that the milk feeds the soil micro-organisms, increasing their populations many-fold and helping to bring the soil back to life.

  5. Ralph Coon March 25, 2014 at 6:08 am #

    I reread your article on Milk and Molasses Magic and was really interested in the insect repellent segment of the article. Do you know if anyone has used milk against squash bugs? I haven’t had problems with powdery mildew here in Tn. but the squash bugs are a problem. I am going to try it and hopefully it works. I am going to try a couple test plants of zucchini and see if it has any affect on the squash vine borer also.

    • Stephen March 26, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Good to hear from you Ralph! I don’t know specifically about the squash bugs, but one of our customers just relayed that the milk and molasses works against stink bugs. Try it and let us know how it works, it won’t hurt anything!

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