Many Australian farmers and other stakeholders are seeking alternatives to current farm management practices, particularly the reliance on pesticides and high analysis fertilisers. Biological farming is one such alternative. It presents a viable method of producing high quality, nutritious produce with reduced dependence on inorganic fertilisers, pesticides or gene modification.
Biological farming is based on scientific principles and common sense. Central to this is the realisation that microbes are the basis of all agricultural production systems. Many farmers are already familiar with the importance of microbes in ruminant nutrition. Another example is the role of Rhizobiumbacteria in encouraging nitrogen fixation in legumes.
Producers need to understand the natural processes that occur on their farm, and then learn how to look for the indicators that identify a lack of microbial activity – and its obvious effect on available plant and livestock nutrition. Insects, disease and weeds are such indicators. Conventional management dictates that these pests are removed using pesticides. Biological farming addresses the cause of these problems, rather than the symptoms.
In order to maximise plant-available nutrition, and thus livestock-available nutrition, it is necessary to create a thriving and sustainable microbial activity in the soil itself. In most farmed and grazed soils, the size and diversity of the soil foodweb is now insufficient to provide self-sustaining fertility and plant nutrition at required levels of production. This not only decreases the amount of organic matter converted to humus and microbial activity over time, but impacts on the soil’s capacity to hold water. For example, it is estimated that a one percent increase in humus can allow soil to hold an extra 80,000 litres of water per hectare.
The application of microbial nutrients, such as fermented liquid cultures, to bare earth or foliage helps to establish a thriving and sustainable microbial population in the soil. The soil foodweb plays an important role in converting previously-applied calcium and phosphate that has been locked up as tri-calcium phosphate back into plant-usable forms. If the system is balanced, the soil foodweb will also help to maintain a satisfactory soil pH. By improving soil microbial mass and diversity, producers can improve the natural fertility of their soils. In turn, this increases the amount of plant-available and therefore livestock-available nutrients.
Biological farming presents a major challenge to conventional thinking. Despite this, many Australian farmers have already successfully incorporated the principles of biological farming into their operations, most producers need to see it in practice before they can truly comprehend it.