Saturday, March 20, 2010

The gap widens between science and farm ?

WE HAVE A PROBLEM CALLED SCIENCE: When a highly respected scientist such as Dr YN Chan produces a report* which says we can't sequester carbon except by using traditional fertiliser, science has a problem. Farmers who are growing carbon in their soils know these results are wrong. Scientists we speak to are surprised at the results. But Science has never been able to justify any land management approach that it did not originate: eg. planned grazing or pasture cropping or zero tillage. To find for the petrochemical companies and against grass-roots-developed natural systems has caused some cynical remarks.

GAP GROWING WIDER: More than a decade ago a soil scientist declared that the gap between science and farmers was widening. Professor Ben Norton identified this 'impasse' between graziers and researchers in the McClymont Lecture** in 1998: "The results of grazing trials have been counter-intuitive... Based on scientific research, [we] can only recommend continuous grazing and reduced stocking rates..." [to increase pasture biomass]. Science, based on 'hundreds of studies' concluded that planned grazing is not cost effective. This would be embarrassing if one study reported it, but the entire research community? Professor Norton*** observed that "graziers are looking elsewhere for advice". How many graziers today use some form of stock movement to manage their pasture? The emergence of farmer groups to drive their own research agendas and control their own destinies has paralleled the rise in biological agriculture.

HANDY LITTLE BOOK: The report on soil carbon and fertiliser is published in the form of a handy little book which has quite useful information: ie. the basics about measuring and calculating amounts, how they take samples, etc. There is a stunning ilustration of the way soil carbon levels vary across a field. All useful stuff. (Given the propaganda surrounding the release of the topline results several months ago, this book should be seen in the context of that desperate campaign by DII to discredit and disprove the potential for soil carbon. They admit it: "There is a need for farmers to be better informed of the facts about soil carbon in agriculture so they can make sense of the many but often confusing claims appearing in the media." The claims appearing in this booklet are confusing as well. (Out of confusion comes knowledge.)

* Chan, YN, Oates, A., Lui, DL., Li, GD., Prangnell, R., Poile, G., and Conyers, MK. (2010). "A farmer's guide to increasing soil organic carbon under pastures", NSW Industry & Investment, Wagga Wagga, NSW
**Norton, BE., "The application of grazing management to increase sustainable livestock production," Animal Production In Australia, Vol. 22 1998.
*** Ben Norton was a Professor in the Department of Rangeland Resources at Utah State University.

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