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Down and Dirty

The Role of Soil in our Environment

Thursday, February 09, 2012
Since man has inhabited the earth the soil has been the medium in which to grow and produce food for himself and his animals.

Soils vary in fertility from country to country and region to region and it is well documented that healthy, fertile soils produce the most nutrient dense foods leading to a healthy immune system and healthy animals with high productivity and reproduction.

Australia has one of the oldest soils on earth with inherent acidity problems and regions of low fertility with only very small areas being used to produce our foods.  It is absolutely imperative that we care for this small amount of productive soils we still have left.

If we are to continue to till these soils consideration must be given to the type of fertiliser inputs and the impact they have on the soil, both chemically, physically and biologically.  It takes all three of these components to have a healthy, fertile soil while prime consideration must be given to enhancing the biological component, an area that has been disregarded in favour of soluble fertilisers.

The over emphasis on the N, P, K, approach has raised these levels, regrettably to the detriment of our soil structure, (excess Nitrogen burning out our organic carbon) and at the expense of the quality of water in the river systems.   The soil has not been regarded as a living breathing system responsible for the recycling and storing of nutrients, but merely a medium in which to stand a plant and feed it soluble fertilisers.

Biological agriculture takes into consideration the overall mineral balance required to grow healthy plants as well as the role of soil biota in improving soil structure and reducing disease, weeds and pests.  If our past practices had been a solution to our low soil fertility we would not have the problems with our river systems, disease, insects and pests and weeds that we have today.

It is now time that a balanced approach is used as a management tool to address the problems rather then hide behind short term fixes that then compound into greater problems.

Fortunately there are total biological programs available to balance the soil with fertilisers that will not harm our environment but build soil fertility, and produce the highest quality food possible. Biological farming is based on sound scientific principles and works to create fertile soils, which in turn create strong and healthy plants, animals and humans.

It combines the best of conventional and organic farming with an emphasis on attaining naturally productive soils that display a high level of biological activity.

The main purpose is to maximise the activity of soil micro-organisms through the provision of good soil nutrition and structure, together with adequate supplies of energy, air and water.

It is an environmentally responsible 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 reaping the profits.

Biological agriculture provides a unique approach to sustainable and profitable agriculture production through the use of biological farming techniques.

Farmers become inspired to face the challenges of contemporary farm management and face the future confidently knowing they have the answers to soil fertility and long term sustainability.

A definition of soil fertility that is inclusive of environmentally responsible land use considers the three components of soil fertility:  biological, physical and chemical activity.

Skilful biological/organic farmers have learnt how to solve their underlying (nutritional) problems and thus have reduced or removed their need to use costly inputs, especially agro-chemicals; these often only assist farmers in suppressing recurring symptoms of a sick farming system (e.g. disease, weeds, pests)  

‘Whatever you see that needs to be corrected you start taking care of it ’ Jim Rohn.  This certainly takes into account Australian Soils.

Putting the Eco Back into Agriculture

Monday, September 26, 2011

With the most serious environmental issue currently before us, we as a society need to embrace change to ensure the future survival of agriculture, our planet and society.

Only when we recognise the limited nature of our planet’s resources will we be able to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Agriculture has a huge role to play in assisting with lowering greenhouse gas emissions by adopting farming methods that combine ecology with economics.  Perpetual growth, not valuing natural resources and discounting the future are all keys to why our economy is not working for the environment.  Both economists and environmentalist need to work together to battle climate change effectively.

Re-localising fertiliser and food production is seen as a way of transforming agricultural systems to ensure the future of farmers and a way of been able to produce enough nutritional food to feed the growing world population.  Using local waste, producing local fertiliser to grow local food is a sustainable option that we have that will enhance our local economy and communities.

Industrial agricultural systems depend on fossil fuels and other non renewable resources such as mineral fertilisers for production.  These will be replaced with low input systems that rely on natural capital available to us within our soils and nature.

‘The food production and consumption systems most common today are harmful to the earth, to its ecosystems and to the peoples that inhabit it.’ says Wendell Berry, a farm poet in his book, Eating is an Agricultural Act’

It is now becoming known that the organic carbon levels in Australian soils has dropped from 8% to around 2% in the last 200 years with current farming practices.  Still today we lose 12.5 kg of soil through wind and erosion to grow 1 kg of wheat, equating to 250 grams of soil lost per slice of bread.

In Australia, we have approximately 60 years of top soil remaining if we don’t take full responsibility for increasing soil organic carbon levels from where they are today by using responsible practices such as rotational grazing, retaining stubbles and increasing soil organisms to glue the soil particles together to reduce wind erosion.

For every tonne of carbon lost from soil we add 3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide gas to the atmosphere.  Organic carbon, particularly humus is central to successful soil health, underpinning the future of agriculture in Australia and illustrating to governments that agricultural soils have an enormous role to play in reducing green house gas emissions worldwide.
The level of public awareness pertaining to our environment has never been higher than the present time.  Everyone is witnessing the negative impact society is having on the Earth with global warming and the flow on effect to human health.  It is only through a heightened awareness of our practices can positive change occur, helping to reverse the damage already done.

We can all play a role in reducing our carbon footprint to ensure the survival of future generations.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
- Chief Seattle

Pioneering Clean Green Agriculture

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Carbon is a certainly the ‘hot’ topic at the moment with Julia Gillard recently announcing the outline for a proposed carbon tax for all Australians, creating a clean energy future.

I believe that each Australian needs to become more aware of reducing their carbon footprint in an effort to alleviate the ever increasing levels of CO2 emissions; however I am not convinced that a carbon tax is best way to achieve this goal.

From an agricultural perspective this is huge as soils are the largest terrestrial sink in which to sequester carbon and can have a huge impact on reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere.

All over the world conventional farming methods have reduced the amount of carbon stored in the soil.  It is estimated that the total amount of soil carbon lost to agriculture, is many times more than the amount of carbon emitted by industry as CO2, since the industrial revolution began. For every tonne of carbon lost from soil we add 3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide gas to the atmosphere.

This means that soils have lost the ability to hold water and recycle nutrients rendering the soils lifeless. By adopting biological farming methods research has shown that our soils can sequester over 3 metric tonnes of CO2 –e per hectare, per year.

The Carbon Farming Initiative announced by the Government is promising funding, education, measurement techniques and incentives for farmers to change management and fertiliser practices to restore degraded land, as well as having the ability to earn substantial extra income, being paid for the carbon they store in the soil.  Farmers who take steps to reduce carbon pollution by creating credits for each tonne of carbon pollution stored or reduced will be paid a per tonne price.

Farmers moving to this ‘new form’ of agriculture will benefit in a variety of ways, from improved soil health, productivity and dollars made by carbon trading.  

Soils consist of three pools of carbon, with scientists proving that it is the humus pool that has been the most depleted.  This is where Humus compost, an active carbon, has a enormous possibility, dramatically improving the physical, chemical and biological aspects of the soil while building soil carbon levels.

Biological Farming and Humus Compost is a path for those who appreciate the great wisdom of traditions of the past, but feel a yearning for a new form of agriculture that is informed by a leading edge understanding of both the land and the environment that supports life.

The use of Humus Compost, which is organic matter digested and then transformed by soil microbes culminating into humus, has proven to fix carbon into the soils making it the ‘jewel’ in the future of clean green agriculture.

Now that there is a greater understanding of the role soils play in sequestering carbon, the face of agriculture is about to change. Both political parties are backing the soil carbon intuitive knowing it is the fastest, most efficient method to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. I believe we are about to enter a period of agriculture and food production where we build soil health rather than destroy it.

Rhonda Daly of YLAD Living Soils on 02 6382 2165