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Living Lightly column

Healthy Soils

By Jill Coghlan, Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health (WATCH)

There’s a real change happening on the land today as innovative farmers and graziers understand the importance of healthy soils.  They understand that sequestering carbon in soils is a means of achieving healthy soils, crops and pastures.  A great bonus to this is that carbon in soils also mitigates climate change and is potentially tradable in a global carbon market.  Healthy soils grow healthier plants that can more readily withstand pests and diseases that would normally be treated with pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers.  This is a win win for climate change, food sustainability as well as the bottom line for farmers.

At the beginning of summer, I watched our neighbour sow a paddock of Faber beans, millet and lucerne.  His method was to do it as cheaply as possible so it was all mixed together and sown with an organic soil stimulant.  The Faber beans worked to cover the soil to keep it cool and weed free and the cattle didn’t feed on it at all.  As a legume, the Fabers also grew huge nodules that fixed nitrogen into the soil.  The millet and lucerne took off and within weeks our neighbour had to buy extra cattle to try and keep the feed at a manageable length for grazing.  The growth continued for most of summer even when temperatures were well into the 40’s.

Our neighbour now plans to sow wheat directly into the stubble as he rightly argues that the C4 pasture won’t be competition for the winter crop.  His multi species summer crop will have sequestered carbon and nitrogen as well as provided a great habitat for microbial fungi and bacteria to grow and expand.  The cattle worked to mulch the straw into the soil providing a good mulched bed to sow into.  Once again, he plans to use an organic stimulant but nothing more.  His soil tests are testament to his management.

If there’s as much happening above the ground as below the ground, our neighbour can be assured of a great winter crop.  This kind of management has to be the future of farming.  It’s affordable, sustainable and very healthy for the whole planet.