Farming at the Crossroads - April 2006

If we consider our soil health as the measure of sustainability, the warning signs are clear.  We are at a crossroads. The average soil pH reading in Australian soils today is pH4, when the ideal range should be pH6.5 to pH7 and many farmers and gardeners report they are experiencing a loss of soil structure, soil erosion, lower soil nutrients and increasing soil acidity.

Many of us are asking ourselves if our current farming practices are sustainable in the face of much evidence that land degradation in Australia is occurring at an alarming rate. 

On a recent trip to the Riverina, one could see clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky from the farming practice of burning off of tonnes of carbon material, such as wheat stubble.   Yet, this carbon material can be one of the most valuable resources for our soils as it is a raw material which can be ploughed back in and digested by microorganisms in the soil to help form soil humus.

So many of us are asking ourselves why we are burning off raw material, such as wheat stubble, when it can be an excellent base to form soil humus? 

It is widely recognised that when soil humus levels are maintained at a minimum of 3% that soil life and nutrient cycles are sustainable.  Soil humus holds 90% own weight in water and is essential to maintaining water within the soil profile.  This enables soil to rehydrate quickly from rain after prolonged dry periods. 

Humus also releases minerals essential to maintaining healthy plants and animals and binds soil particles together which prevents soil erosion.

Soils which have a good percentage of humus maintain a balanced pH and a continual supply of nutrients and minerals to plants.  When humus is maintained, these farms can sustain their fertility and productivity well into the future without dependence from external inputs mined from the earth’s resources. 

Over the years, many farmers and gardeners have been seeking access to better information on sustainable and practical methods of farming and gardening.  This information is not easily assessible as biodynamic farmers do not receive the funding they require to bring awareness of the beneifts of the biodynamic approach.

This method of farming and gardening can rapidly restore life to the soils.  Known as the Biodynamic method, this system has been successfully used in Australia for over sixty years. 

Biodynamic farmers enjoy the satisfaction that comes from knowing that they are improving the health of their soils plants and animals every year whist maintaining a profitable production system. 

A well-researched series of courses and workshops are available for those wanting to learn about the Biodynamic method of farming and gardening.  The workshops are inspirational, as well as being practical and hands-on.  Participants gain the knowledge required to implement this method of farming and gardening which helps to make our properties more productive and sustainable well into the future.