Introduction into Biological Farming
Biological Agriculture understands the necessity for a balanced relationship between the three aspects of the soil, namely the physical, chemical and biological to sustain life. Everything comes from the soil and returns to the soil, it is a living system alive with trillions of organisms that recycle nutrients and sustain life.
How we manage the soil and microbial life determines not only the health and vitality of the food but the health of the society in which we live.
The growing epidemic of disease such as, cancer and mental illness, as well as the continuing degradation of our environment, can be related back to the mismanagement of the eco-system. Raised awareness of the damage caused by past practices illustrates how critical the balance between nature, agriculture and society is. We are quickly realising that these past practices are unprofitable and unsustainable. YLAD Living Soils’ mission is to assist with the repair of this damage by offering biological fertiliser products and soil fertility programs to return the agricultural eco-system to a profitable, balanced sustainable state.
What is biological agriculture?
Biological farming is about looking at the whole agronomic, environmental picture, nutritional and biological components of what constitutes a healthy soil.
Biological Farming combines the best of conventional and organic farming with an emphasis on attaining naturally productive soils that display high levels of biological activity. The main purpose is to maximise the activity of soil microbes through the provision of good soil nutrition and structure, together with adequate supplies of energy, air and water.
Biological farming is using modern technology and new methods, but uses only those that do not interfere with natural systems and do not cause harm down the road.
Biological farming aims at attaining balance between the physical, chemical nutrients and biological facets of the soil aided by improved organic carbon content. Measuring, planning changing and taking control of these three aspects give a more complete view of soil fertility and a greater degree of control over the growing environment.
This, together with sustainable management practices, ensures the stabilisation of our fragile soils similar to the way a sponge takes up water.
This ‘sponge’, stores and makes plant food available, has greater water holding capacity, and enhances vigorous root growth. Many farmers strive to balance the chemical nutrients of the soil but results fall short without them really knowing why.
Soil biology is crucial to making these applied nutrients available to the plant and bringing into play the interrelationships with soil chemistry (nutrition) and physical properties. Over the past 50 years our past farming practices have decimated beneficial soil biology, leaving our soils lifeless.
A brilliant scientist, Dr William Albrecht, Head of Agronomy at the University of Missouri in the late 50’s and early 60’s wrote about the importance of maintaining a healthy soil and formulated the Albrecht soil test, that looked at more then mere pH, and soil nutrient use. Unfortunately the chemical revolution had begun and his research was dismissed until the 1970’s.
Today agriculture is turning back to Albrecht’s basic principals of balance after recognising that ‘conventional chemical’ agriculture is not the solution. Plants grow on the energy released from the interaction of nutrients, these nutrients needing to be in a balanced ratio for maximum plant growth. i.e. Ca:Mg. Mineral balance is at the heart of balanced fertility, impacting on soil structure, weed pressure, nutrient utilisation and microbial activity.
Who Practices Biological Farming
The biological approach requires a farmer to understand natural processes and natural indicators on the farm that identify the lack of soil life activity and hence plant available nutrition. The biological farmer uses an environmentally responsive farming method which is becoming increasingly accepted by farmers worldwide who want to ensure the long-term productivity of their land, while growing better crops and producing superior animals and reaping the profits. He sees insects, disease and weeds as indicators of poor available nutrition.
He looks for the root cause of these problems and addresses the cause not the problem. He uses natural laws and beneficial soil life – bacteria, fungi, earthworm etc. Skilled biological farmers learn how to take care of soil life- they nurture it, feed it a balanced diet and use tillage tools and animals to enhance soil life. They learn how to evaluate soil for its health, tilth and soil life. Biological farmers learn the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of fertiliser use for soil correction, feeding soil life, balancing nutrients and feeding the crop with the proper balance between soluble and slow-release materials. The biological farmer understands the necessity for a balanced relationship between the elements to sustain life.
- The productivity of a soil can never be greater than the plant food element in least supply.
- A healthy soil system contains very high microbial activity to naturally recycle nutrients.
- Biological agriculture provides a unique approach to sustainable and profitable agricultural production through the use of biological farming techniques.
- Soils have been so badly degraded that they struggle to support plant and animal health let alone enhance water and air quality and human health.
Benefits of Biological Agriculture
- Looks at the whole agronomic, environmental picture in relation to balance and profitability
- Returns the soil to a balanced living system, improving soil structure and fertility in a least toxic manner
- Dramatically reduces or even eliminates chemical dependency, while at the same time increasing yields, quality, soil fertility and profitability.
- Farms become more sustainable, safer workplace for employees with reduced use of chemicals
- Restores the mineral and microbial balance in the soil and increases soil carbon levels
- Increases water holding capacity of the soil
- Reduces the need to depend on high analysis fertilisers, chemicals, pesticides, insecticides and fungicides
- Reduces disease levels, insect, pests and soil erosion. Weeds and insect pests are becoming resistant to chemicals. Bigger weeds – stronger chemicals.
- Reduces the leaching of nitrogen and phosphorus into our waterways
- Aids in the production of nutrient dense food for animals and humans
- Helps reduce human health problems, which have been linked to conventional farming • Leaves our soil in a healthy balanced state for future generations
As the quality of the soil fails, so does the quality of life it supports
What do Soil Microbes do?
The soil food web comprises of millions and millions of microscopic organisms ranging in size from the tiniest one-celled bacteria to the more complex nematodes up to the larger visible earthworms and insects. Worms and soil microbes change the soil into a loose, crumbly, biologically active soil which resists erosion and soaks up water like a sponge. Soil organisms help release and recycle nutrients from the soil. This makes for healthier plants which provide their own disease and weed protection.
What do microbes do that makes them worth worrying about, let along worth trying to manage? In simplified human terms, the microbes are primarily in charge of food preparation for the plant. Beneficial microbes also help defend the plant against pathogenic microbes.
We do not tend to think of fertiliser as requiring “preparation” before it can be utilised by plants, but with the exception of nitrogen, all other nutrients require “microbial preparation” before they can be absorbed by the plant’s root system. In the same way humans get their calcium from milk or cheese as opposed to limestone, plants get their minerals from by-products of a microbe that digested a particular mineral rather than getting it directly from inorganic minerals.
30% of the daily total of plant glucose production is exuded into the root-zone to attract and feed beneficial microbes. The plant sacrifices 30% of its glucose to feed the microbes that assist the plant in the process of nutrient solubilisation and absorption.
Microbes also breakdown organic matter and are responsible for making the carbon, phosphorus, sulphur and many other nutrient cycles function. In short, without microbes, the plant cycle would end.
Managing microbiology is perhaps the hardest concept to master in the System largely because the microbes themselves are too small to be seen - bacteria for example are 4/100,000 of an inch wide. It is particularly hard to manage something you cannot see. Because managing the microbiology is so important we will attempt to help you visualise your team of microbes...
In the right environment species multiply and come into a proper balance, the theory been to promote the environment for this to happen. Correct nutrient balance in the soil as well as active carbon provides the soil structure for aerobic microbes to flourish.
The claims of benefits usually include some of…
- increased plant growth
- higher Brix levels (more “energy” in the plant)
- better plant nutritional quality
- increased ability for nutrient uptake
- increased fine feeder root formation
- particular benefit for legumes (e.g. in pasture)
- increased nodulation in legumes
- increased chlorophyll content (for photosynthesis)
- lower free nitrogen content in plant tissue (higher quality)
- reduced pest and disease pressure
How to Start:
- Gain information and understanding of natures systems and products and programs available.
- Soil Test for essential nutrients
- Balance you soil with good fertilisers
- Re-evaluate your tillage and chemical usage
- Start feeding the life in the soil
- Stop treating your soil like ‘dirt'
Do you need to incorporate biological farming products and programs into your enterprise?
Answer these questions to determine if your conventional agricultural methods have worked.
Over the past ten years have you...
- Increased your use of chemicals?
- Increased your use of herbicides?
- Increased your use of pesticides?
- Had an increase in disease?
- Had an increase in weeds?
- Had an increase in pests?
- Had an increase in soil erosion?
- Seen a decrease in soil carbon levels?
- Had an increase of salinity outbreaks?
- Observed your soils becoming more acidic?
- Observed your nutrients being available or locked up and unavailable?
- Observed hardpans in your soils?
- Observed a decrease in visible signs of soil life?
- Treated the symptom not the cause? Monitored only soil pH and not the full caution balance?
- Increased your reliance on soluble fertilisers?
- Increased your dependence on artificial nitrogen inputs?
- Experienced a rise in the cost of production versus output?
- Increased farm inputs?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, biological products and programs may have a role to play in your business. If you would like further information on this modern, ground breaking approach to agriculture please contact us.
Do you understand the critical relationships between the chemical, nutrient, physical and biological aspects of the soil?