Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Farmer Wants Advice

Farmers are running way out in front of agronomists and advisers, adopting biological systems that advisers don't understand, according to Patrick Francis, editor of Australian Farm Journal. Plant nutrition and advice is in a state of confusion, he says. Few understand the function of soil organic matter and carbon.
“Farmers are adopting new systems that are far more sympathetic to soil health and increasing organic matter levels. They have precision farming technology to monitor impacts but their advisors knowledge of what’s happening to soil biology is rudimentary at best. Most advisors have a background in soil chemistry and physics and don’t understand what’s happening to the soil food web as organic matter increases. It’s why many (advisors) continue to recommend annual inorganic fertiliser applications even though responses are often uneconomic,” Mr Francis says. “There are now so many questions being raised about the plant, soil, water, carbon interface that piece meal research programs need to be converted into a concerted, national, across systems approach with at least a 21 year time frame."
Australia needs a dedicated Soil Health CRC. “Farmers are looking for better direction about holistic farming systems, compatibility of inputs, levels of inputs, alternative inputs and their consequences for food nutritional content,” he said. A classic example is the impact of increasing soil carbon on populations of free-living nitrogen fixing bacteria. Their implications for soil health and cost of production are likely to be enormous. Many farmers don't apply inorganic fertilisers in some years but still achieve as good as if not better yields than those applying them. But the one common denominator is increasing soil organic matter and carbon. “The major changes on these farms are stubble retention, legume cover crops and often controlled traffic. On their own, or combined, organic products like composted manures and soil biology enhancers, means there are all sorts of implications for the soil food web. And how does the soil food web react to conventional fertilisers and pesticides. For instance, what is the impact of herbicides and fungicides on rhizobia, the bacteria that work symbiotically with legumes to fix nitrogen? There is no research data from Australia on this subject but the door has been opened overseas to suggest there is a problem. And if there is with rhizobia, what is happening to other soil species?”
“A soil health CRC needs to operate without barriers between biological, chemical and holistic approaches," he says.

1 comment:

farmland investment in Australia said...

It is actually quite interesting the extent to which farmers and the farming industry is the "sharp end of the spear" so to speak taking the lead on dealing with some of the issues surrounding climate change. Broadly speaking, farmers are keen to understand best practices for making their operations more consistent with the issues surrounding climate change. To the extent that fertilizers can be increasingly organic rather than inorganic, I am sure many farmers would be happy to move in this direction with proper guidance.