Why you should treat soil like bank account
IF YOU were building a house, you wouldn’t do it without establishing strong foundations, and farming without healthy soil makes about as much sense according to soil health educator and agricultural consultant Sarah Fea.
She said whether you ran a cattle-raising operation, a cotton farm or a seasonal cropping enterprise, healthy soil was the foundation of it all.
With healthy soil management a grazier could minimise problems such as intestinal parasites and pasture decline, while a cropping farmer could dodge common issues such as herbicide resistance and over-reliance on pesticides.
Even using good old back shed favourite, glyphosate, was a lot more effective if the soil biology was good to begin with, though it came with the caveat that it has antibiotic properties and application would reduce healthy soil microbes.
She believed it was imperative for healthy soils and healthy consumers to move away from using it altogether.
Ms Fea said pests and problems tended to attack unhealthy plants, and after a decade of closely studying the effects of soil biology, she was pleased to say the message was getting through better than ever.
She said farmers were an innovative bunch, but often the problem was anecdotal observations by clever farmers were neither tried and tested nor spread as far as they ought to be.
But in an age of information sharing and digital collaboration, those clever observations and ideas were finally coming to the fore and many were surprisingly receptive to trying new methods.
“Often the sharing between producers during the breaks is just as valuable as what they receive from the guest speakers - the building of a like-minded network,” she said.
But she would love to see even more farmers look at their soil a little differently.
“I would love for people to be looking at things for the longer term, like the soil is your farm bank account, one of your most valuable assets” she said.
“It keeps things turning over, so think of how you’re making deposits into that.
“Every time you take something out, what are you putting back in? NPK is not enough.”
She said producers could carry out soil testing of varying descriptions to find out more about their soil’s health, but often the key was just being literally more in touch with it’s feel, smell, visual structure, colour down the profile, and workability.
Even weeds made for a good yard stick and if people saw them as less of an immediate threat they could learn a lot from them.
Ms Fea used her passion for healthy soil to start BEAR (Bear Essential Agricultural Resources) Biologics, which not only involved advising farmers on soil health, but also facilitating useful workshops on related topics so farmers and other industry professionals could get the latest on a variety of innovations and new farming methods.
To keep up with the latest news and workshops find BEAR Biologics on Facebook.
GOOD FOUNDATIONS: Soil health educator Sarah Fea (left) and Dr Christine Jones look at root development in an oat and vetch crop. Nice, fuzzy roots with plenty of dirt indicate good soil biology.