Con­nect­ing with the com­mu­nity

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

One of the big­gest ben­e­fits of the project for this small ru­ral school has been strength­en­ing ties with the lo­cal com­mu­nity. The prob­lem solvers have en­listed the help of more than 30 ex­perts and spon­sors who pro­vide their time and ex­per­tise for free, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Whangarei Bee Club, lo­cal farm­ers, con­trac­tors and mer­chants. Jo­ce­lyn Yeo­man, who sup­plied the school’s al­pacas, is also a mem­ber of the school’s Board of Trus­tees.

“When I saw what Basti­enne was do­ing, I was ab­so­lutely thrilled that we had a prin­ci­pal who had the vi­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion to get every­body in­volved. It’s now a huge com­mu­nity project and a great thing for the school,” says Jo­ce­lyn. “We have a lot kids at this school, par­tic­u­larly boys, who come from farms and who are not into learn­ing in a sit-down en­vi­ron­ment. There’s so much learn­ing around this type of ed­u­ca­tion, which gives them more in­ter­est. Hope­fully it will help us to re­tain that top end of the school, the older chil­dren, in­stead of them go­ing off to In­ter­me­di­ate.”

Basti­enne agrees that the lo­cal com­mu­nity’s in­vest­ment in the school has been one of the most pos­i­tive out­comes of the project.

“I coached another prob­lem solv­ing team seven years ago at a dif­fer­ent school and we fo­cused on healthy eat­ing and ac­tiv­ity. We changed the whole school’s per­cep­tion around eat­ing, which is how I know the pro­gramme de­vel­ops real life learn­ing for every­one. But that was a hard one, be­cause at first it was re­ally dif­fi­cult to con­vince the com­mu­nity and the chil­dren not to eat pies! This was a great pro­gramme be­cause every­body wanted to be in­volved.” n

a fer­tiliser, while pro­pri­etary bi­o­log­i­cal sea­weed fer­tilis­ers and bios­tim­u­lants process the raw sea­weed us­ing a range of tech­niques to con­cen­trate the de­sired com­po­nents and/or en­hance cer­tain com­po­nents to cre­ate the fi­nal prod­uct.

Fo­liar-ap­plied biofer­tilis­ers (and min­eral fer­tilis­ers) can boost nu­tri­ent up­take even when soil nu­tri­ent lev­els are at an op­ti­mum. In some cases this can in­crease yield and qual­ity, but in other cases it can also lead to ‘lux­ury up­take’ which can have neg­a­tive ef­fects such as lodg­ing, sappy growth, in­creased pest at­tack etc. More is not al­ways bet­ter.

Soil-ap­plied biofer­tilis­ers can­not be taken up by plant roots be­cause the mol­e­cules are mostly too big to get across the root epi­der­mis. They have to be de­com­posed (min­er­alised) into in­or­ganic salts/min­er­als to be ab­sorbed. Nu­tri­ents sup­plied by biofer­tilis­ers sit in the same queue for plant up­take as the ex­ist­ing soil nu­tri­ents, so the po­ten­tial for a bi­o­log­i­cal form of a nu­tri­ent to have a markedly dif­fer­ent ef­fect to a min­eral form on im­me­di­ate plant up­take is small.

How­ever, there are im­por­tant sys­tem level ef­fects to take into ac­count. Min­eral fer­tilis­ers don't con­tain bi­o­log­i­cal forms of car­bon and don't sup­ply energy to soil bi­ol­ogy so they can cause a re­duc­tion in soil or­ganic mat­ter as mi­crobes use up the soil or­ganic mat­ter to make use of the ex­tra min­eral nu­tri­ents. By def­i­ni­tion, biofer­tilis­ers do con­tain bi­o­log­i­cal car­bon so there is a much re­duced like­li­hood that they will cause mi­crobes to con­sume soil or­ganic mat­ter. Whether they cause a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in soil or­ganic mat­ter de­pends on how much is ap­plied. For ex­am­ple, com­post, ma­nure, biodi­ges­tate, wood chips and sim­i­lar bulky ma­te­ri­als, ap­plied at tens of tonnes per hectare on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, are just about guar­an­teed to no­tice­ably in­crease soil or­ganic mat­ter. Highly pro­cessed prod­ucts ap­plied at ki­los per hectare are un­likely to re­sult in com­pa­ra­ble in­creases in soil or­ganic mat­ter. De­ter­min­ing whether any par­tic­u­lar prod­uct works is where things get com­plex and a bit tricky, so we’ll start with an anec­dote.

Back in the 1980s, the first wave of sea­weed bios­tim­u­lants came to mar­ket. A vin­ing pea grower in the UK was in­ter­ested in the claims be­ing made, but thought he would test the prod­ucts be­fore us­ing them over his whole farm. He sen­si­bly set up a sim­ple ex­per­i­ment in a field, spray­ing sev­eral strips of the sea­weed prod­uct up his field of peas with un­sprayed strips in-be­tween.

It was soon pretty ob­vi­ous where the peas had been sprayed as the plants were both big­ger and greener, a prop­erty that lasted un­til har­vest time. To test the ef­fect on yield he drove the har­vester across the strips: ev­ery time he hit one of the sprayed strips the har­vester groaned and he had to put it down a gear and hit the throt­tle. He as­sumed that it was the weight of ex­tra peas. For­tu­nately his farm ad­viser sug­gested that he get off the har­vester and ac­tu­ally have a close look at the crop it­self. It did not take long for the grower to re­alise that the ex­tra work the har­vester was do­ing on the sprayed strips was noth­ing to do with peas, be­cause there were hardly any pods on the sprayed vines, let alone peas. The sea­weed bios­tim­u­lant was one that con­tained plant hor­mones (phy­to­hor­mones) which are chem­i­cals that reg­u­late plant growth. In this case the phy­to­hor­mone was one that en­cour­aged veg­e­ta­tive growth in peas and sup­pressed re­pro­duc­tive growth. The strain on the har­vester was not lots of peas – it was lots of vine.

There are a cou­ple of key lessons to take from this true story. It is sim­ply im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict the ef­fect of com­plex prod­ucts (those con­tain­ing sev­eral in­gre­di­ents, as op­posed to one or two) on plants and the rest of the sys­tem. The only way to de­ter­mine the ef­fects is by em­pir­i­cal sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ment (spray­ing strips up the field).

How­ever, you must make a di­rect mea­sure­ment of the re­sults such as count the num­ber of pods and peas on the vines and not rely on in­di­rect mea­sure­ments like the re­sponse of the har­vester. Big­ger vines and less peas was not what the farmer wanted. It is es­sen­tial that the prod­uct has been tested on your spe­cific crop (even spe­cific cul­ti­vars) for the ef­fect you want to achieve, at the point in the crop's life­cy­cle you plan to use it (eg, early growth, post flow­er­ing). Just as there are se­lec­tive her­bi­cides that will kill weeds and not the crop, any one biofer­tiliser or bios­tim­u­lant may have quite dif­fer­ent re­sults on one crop species than another, and dif­fer­ent ef­fects at dif­fer­ent growth stages.

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