Soil Health - "The Journey"

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An North East Vic NLP funded project has now produced a 'Farmer Friendly Handbook of Information to Advance Soil Health,
Sustainability and Productivity'.

This book is the culmination of years of work by many people in North East Victoria, including
guides, mentors and farmers, and describes trials aimed at understanding more about soils and
their management. In part funded through supporting government grants, it is based on the
thoughts of commercial farmers and their experiences gained through countless hours of work
throughout the trial period. It was conducted through the drought years between 2004 and 2008
when conditions were appalling.

The work of trialling and increasing our understanding of the mysterious forces active in soils on
farms will lead to better management practices, more precise control of inputs, and hopefully
higher returns. I say hopefully because currently all the dice are loaded against farmers in terms
of government policies, input costs and market manipulations. Applying the principles trialled in
the project, will help reduce input costs and increase production in the short and longer term.
There are very significant positives coming out of the project. Recent massive rises in fuel and
fertiliser costs as well as other inputs, have clearly shown the older methods of farming are no
longer viable. With the minimal amount of money and effort currently invested in agricultural
research in Australia, at a time when, global food production and reserves are struggling to feed
the global population, surely agriculture should have one of the highest priorities on the planet.
The results of this trial have shown that the conventional approach to farming is grossly at odds
with the realities of good land and crop management, as soils are deteriorating and crops are
nutritionally unbalanced. Farmers are now beginning to see the way forward, but it means a
renaissance in agriculture. It means having the courage to look to the future and go beyond the
habits of past practices, to take a step into the unknown based on new understandings of soil
biology through soil and plant testing. This means a huge cultural shift, with the price of failure
being economic devastation for farmers already severely stressed, but the hope of a new dawn,
with many benefits for farmers, the environment and consumers of agricultural produce is within

One of the greatest inputs needed is carbon, and Australian farmers are collectively quite capable
of using more carbon that is currently returned to the atmosphere as oxides of carbon on an
ongoing basis (so called greenhouse gasses) although funding and attitudinal shifts would be
required to make this a reality. This project points the way to working with soil micro-biology to
increase soil carbon, but new processes such as the ‘EPRIDA project’ and work by CSIRO could
make carbon available from biomass e.g. from city ‘wastes’ or plantation pruning’s, to add
directly to soil. The current proposal of burying carbon deep underground is a thoughtless waste
of this valuable resource. Carbon is the foundation of life on the planet.

The way of the future is minimum energy inputs by greatly increased efficiencies, and recycling of
resources currently thought of as waste products such as sewage from towns and cities. The
power of multinational companies must be bypassed in favour of relatively simple local answers
where communities regain control of their own destinies.

I commend this book to farmers and others as a step along the road, and hope progress with new
ideas and techniques is rapid and successful on your journey of discovery, leading to sustainable
agriculture and more healthy food for all.
Roger Hall

The full version of this book is now available for download from this website via link below or by contacting the facilitator of the project Mr Wayne Donehue on 0357 592 613.