Why you should treat soil like bank ac­count

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Front Page - ME­GAN MASTERS me­gan.masters@thechron­i­cle.com.au

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.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

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.

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