Home' Smart Farmer : April 2012 Contents April 2012
By JOHN NORTON
HE biggest change in mindset needed in
the move towards a more sustainable
agricultural future is the recognition
that you are dealing with a living system and
that everything you do will impact that sys-
tem. Your goal must be to make that impact
Disease is a major risk factor limiting finan-
cial success in cropping but it can be natural-
ly controlled by a fully functioning soil
food-web. So, how do we improve the life in
our soils and reduce the need for chemicals?
The answer involves a three-way approach --
protection, repopulation and stimulation.
Protection involves soil management deci-
sions like the reduction of tillage which is a
proven humus depletor, the use of detox
agents to minimise damage potential of chem-
icals, and the use of compost and humates to
boost humus levels.
Repopulation involves brewing and apply-
ing inexpensive specialist inoculums and com-
post along with the use of actual compost
while stimulation requires the regular use of
proven bio-stimulants such as kelp, fish,
humates and sugar.
Become carbon wise
Agriculture is the biggest greenhouse gas
polluter, accounting for 25 per cent of CO2
emissions, 60pc of methane emissions and a
whopping 85pc of the nitrous oxide released
into the atmosphere every year.
Humus is built from CO2 that would other-
wise be in the atmosphere. If we increase lev-
els of soil organic matter, we capture and
utilise a huge percentage of CO2.
A key point to remember is that nitrogen
should always be stabilised with soluble
humates or compost to reduce losses to the
It's crucial to enhance nitrogen efficiency
and increase access to atmospheric nitrogen
just as it is to maximise oxygen delivery
through optimising calcium-to-magnesium
Rotational or cell grazing is a proven carbon
builder. If you graze down to a bowling green,
plant roots will correspondingly reduce in size
and so will your potential to build carbon.
Pasture cropping is a relatively new phe-
nomenon that appears to have considerable
promise as both a carbon builder and an
income stream. Here, cereals and other crops
are interplanted with the pasture and grazed
off twice before they are left to go to head and
Perhaps the single most effective carbon-
building strategy is to reintroduce mycorrhizal
fungi into our soils. It is estimated that up to
90pc of the mycorrhizal fungi have now been
lost in the cultivated, food-producing soils on
Feed what you need
Most growers now
understand the necessity
for soil testing to avoid
driving blind. All minerals
affect other minerals and
that influence may be negative or positive.
If you follow the common NPK prescrip-
tions that many fertiliser companies favour,
they usually remain the same year after year
regardless of soil test results. There is obvious-
ly more than NPK involved here.
The amount of each of the three key miner-
als required each season will vary based upon
many environmental and biological factors.
Nitrogen requirements will depend on the
supply of free atmospheric nitrogen and envi-
ronmental factors. Phosphorus requirements
will also vary, based on release of 'locked up'
phosphorus. Potassium is, perhaps, the most
mismanaged of this trio.
Excess potash negatively influences the
uptake of boron, calcium, phosphorus and
magnesium, known as 'the big four' because
they can adversely impact yield and quality.
But their absence can produce a compromised
plant that will require more chemical inter-
Given these dynamics, understanding min-
eral relationships can cut back your fertiliser
Discover tissue testing
While most growers understand the need
for soil testing, many have yet to understand
the benefits of tissue testing. Testing the leaf
during the crop cycle offers an invaluable
insight into exactly what the crop is accessing
at any point in time.
Many times, soil test results that show the
presence of a mineral does not necessarily
mean it is present within the plant. This can
be because of 'antagonism' from other miner-
als that are in excess, destruction of the bio-
logical processes responsible for the delivery
of that mineral, or a dilution of minerals with-
in the plant because of an oversupply of
Whatever the cause of a mineral imbalance,
a tissue test allows rapid
correction. This correc-
tion is best addressed as a
foliar spray as this has
proven to be the most effi-
cient way to deliver min-
erals directly into the leaf.
Mycorrhizal fungi beneficial
Mycorrhizal fungi are considered one of the
most important creatures on our planet. They
are single-handedly responsible for producing
more than one-third of the stable humus in
Stable humus holds CO2 in the soil for up
to 35 years and prevents it from returning to
the atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle.
They are specifically equipped to release
locked-up phosphorus in the soil and access
to this huge frozen reserve can reduce fertilis-
ing costs. The CSIRO estimates there is $10
billion worth of phosphate locked within
Australian farming soils.
Mycorrhizal fungi are synergists for highly
efficient nitrogen fixation, and they also help
release potassium that is locked within clay
platelets and so, in effect, they offer a biologi-
cal source of NPK.
The fungi also help retain moisture with
their massive network of pipe-like filaments.
They mine zinc and increase the bio-availabil-
ity of several other trace minerals, and are per-
haps the most important key to keeping
calcium available in the soil.
• Need to know more?
Bio-Tech Organics 08 8380 8554
or senior consultant John Norton 0412 305 158
Fully functional soil
food-web gets better
of disease outbreaks
Organic matter cuts down danger
Nitrogen efficiency crucial
Mycorrhizal fungi synergy much-needed
Leaf tissue tests offer
invaluable insights into
Most growers now understand the necessity for soil testing to understand nutrient content.
No-till and minimum-till
farming significantly increase
Tillage exposes humus to
oxygen and there is always
some loss through oxidation.
No-till has disadvantages
because of the compromising
effect of the herbicides
required, but minimum-till
farming seems to be the most
sustainable and productive
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