Friday, 27 July 2012

Science supports ‘anecdotal’ biological farming experience

New Zealand's online Business Scoop reports that farmers across the country are increasingly finding positive solutions to many on-farm challenges; proving that farming can provide both economic and ecological outcomes. For many years these farmers have been vocally dismissed by a faction that believes it is not possible to be profitable and to take care of New Zealand’s ‘clean green image’. The Association of Biological Farmers (ABF) has just completed a one year project showcasing some of the successful farmers and growers around the country who are bucking a trend of diminishing natural capital returns.

ABF has collated data from research from New Zealand and around the world supporting the ‘anecdotal’ on-farm experiences of these innovative and progressive farmers. This research shows that biological farming systems use significantly less agro-chemicals, are more energy efficient, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve soil qualities without reducing output and financial benefits; all in all resulting in a more ecologically, economically and socially more robust model compared to the conventional farming approach.

Read the full Scoop report here and the ABF's project report summary here.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

South Australia's soil health initiative

Another report from Stock and Land, this time on the benchmarking of the health and quality of South Australian cropping soils through an innovative online resource. The website,, enables growers to compare the condition of their soils with that of their regional farming counterparts.

The new resource provides growers with insightful paddock data, assisting them in their efforts to improve yields and productivity. Dr Murray Unkovich, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture Food and Wine, said development of the online tool had been strongly supported by the GRDC which recognised the importance of comparative data in informing growers about the status of their soils. “For growers to know how their property’s soils fit within the local region is very useful in terms of gaining a better understanding of the health of their soils,” Dr Unkovich said.

Read more on the initiative here and visit the soil quality website here.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Suppressive soils offer defence against grain diseases

Australia's Stock and Land journal argues that soil biology is tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ in terms of productivity gains and reports on a five-year research programme is currently being funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to address some of the knowledge gaps.   The journal suggests that high rainfall zone (HRZ) grain growers stand to increase yields and save significant amounts of money on chemicals, if the secrets of suppressive soils can be unlocked.

Associate Professor Pauline Mele, LaTrobe University and principal research scientist, Department of Primary Industries Victoria (DPI), is co-ordinating an investment in soil biology that includes a team of some 90 researchers working on 15 different projects as part of the GRDC Soil Biology Initiative II.

She says understanding suppressive soils is one of the priorities, along with monitoring soil quality for better decision making and improving nutrient availability.   “There are soils right across the country where the incidence or severity of disease is suppressed, even in the presence of the pathogen that causes it, a host plant and a favourable environment,”

Professor Mele said.   “In fact, we believe every soil has the potential to be suppressive – it’s just a matter of working out what management techniques will encourage it.

“We know the effect is due to the presence of a diverse range of ‘good’ micro-organisms, because upsetting the balance or sterilising the soil can cause the disease to strike with a vengeance.   At this stage, though, we’re still trying to identify exactly what organisms, or combination of organisms, are doing the work.”

Read more here.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Bacteria turn CO2 into soil improver

TG Daily reports how tiny microbes and a tropical tree can be used to lock up carbon dioxide - and turn it into an agricultural soil improver. University of Edinburgh scientists have discovered that when the Iroko tree is grown in dry, acidic soil and treated with a combination of natural fungus and bacteria, it produces a mineral in the soil around its roots.

It does this by combining calcium from the earth with CO2 from the atmosphere.   The bacteria then create the conditions under which the resulting mineral turns into limestone.

The process, which has already been used successfully in West Africa and is being tested in Bolivia, Haiti and India, locks carbon into the soil, keeping it out of the atmosphere, with the limestone deposited in the soil also benefiting agricultural production. "By taking advantage of this natural limestone-producing process, we have a low-tech, safe, readily-employed and easily maintained way to lock carbon out of the atmosphere, while enriching farming conditions in tropical countries," says Dr Bryne Ngwenya of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences.

Read more here.