I farm near Cunderdin on 2500 Ha.
Last year at the Carbon Farming Conference in Orange Jodi, my wife learnt about a new technology which utilises the polluting exhaust emissions from a tractor diesel engine and introduces the emissions with the seed as fertiliser.
My initial reaction to the information she brought home to me from the conference was typically sceptical. Then I remembered how sceptical I was when Jodi first bought me a new book to read called "Back from the Brink" and how subsequently that book changed my entire outlook on sustainable agriculture and my ability to remain viable as a business,...>>>>>>>>>>> so I took a closer look.
The idea that a farmer could turn his tractor into a mobile fertiliser factory and do away completely with buying expensive, salty and acidic chemical fertilisers at first seems so attractive that it falls neatly into the too good to be true category.
This was what I thought, but then I remembered what I had been taught by Peter Andrews in his book. Peter teaches that plant and microbial activity in the soil can fix and find all the required nutrients from the environment to provide for healthy plant growth in future generations.
With this in mind I took a closer look at what is actually happening in the soil when high concentration raw chemical compounds are introduced. I went back to Peter's book and opened at a random page and there in front of me was a description of the destructive nature of the toxic chemical reactions happening in the soil when mineral fertilisers are introduced.
I researched data gathered from trial plots used to evaluate the effectiveness of the exhaust emissions on commercially grown wheat crops similar to what I grow on my farm and found that
- 1 When emissions are used instead of chemical fertiliser there is no yield penalty
- 2 When both fertiliser and emissions are combined there is no yield advantage
This made me realise that Perter was right; there must be a toxic effect from the addition of chemical fertilisers that is able to negate the positive effect of the emissions stimulant.
In Peter's book it is written that although super phosphate may have a short term stimulating effect this benefit comes at a price. The addition of fertilisers can upset the balance in a soil resulting in plants losing some of their resilience and quality as a food source. He also writes that it is a fact that chemical fertilisers kill soil micro-organisms which plants can then make use of as a food source but that the long term effect is of a sterile lifeless soil which relies solely on chemical additions to sustain productivity.
In business this is called racketeering, causing a disruption to a business then demanding payment to make the disruption go away. Al Capone would be proud.
Since the emissions fertiliser works and is free and relies on stimulating the soil micro-organisms to achieve increased plant growth, but cannot perform successfully in this way if expensive fertiliser is also added due to the decimation the microbe populations my mind was easily made up.
I decided that I would try this new technology on my farm over my entire program this year.
I felt it was compatible with my desire to follow Peter’s observations and guidance.
Peter writes that in the natural environment some plants extract fertility from the soil and others replace it. The result is a natural balance of plant types managed by the requirements of maintaining the balance of the soil fertility. He writes that it is possible to add chemical fertilisers that can enable fertility extractor types of plants to dominate which will eventually exhaust, deplete and weaken the soil.
This is what I believe has happened on my farm.
So by cutting chemical fertilisers from my program this seeding I was about to cut free from the yoke of dependence I had formed on the fertiliser supply companies that sucked the profitability from my enterprise and I have really begun to enable the micro-organisms I have recently become aware of to regain their foot hold in my soils as the dominant purveyor fertility and balance.
I set to task to learn as much as I could about the technology and as funds were critically short I had no choice but to build my own mobile emissions fertiliser factory and fit it to my tractor. I did this in a few weeks before seeding began and subsequently sowed my entire program of 1500 Ha with zero fertiliser.
The results so far have been extremely positive. The crops bolted out of the ground in very dry conditions. Germination has been excellent and plant vigour astounding.
I did plant a trial paddock where I included fertiliser at the normal budgeted rate and from my initial observations there does seem to be a visibly poorer germination and a slower seedling growth rate in the paddock where I included the fertiliser.
I am not surprised at this result. It is in complete accordance to everything I have learnt from Peter Andrews.
I have calculated that I have reduced my seeding costs from $270/ha down to only $70/Ha.
This equates to a 50% reduction in my breakeven point in terms of yield.
Before I finish I want to add that the Avon Natural Sequence Farming Association will be holding a general information day to be followed by the AGM on Friday the 23rd of July to be held at the Cunderdin Tennis club at 1 pm.
Anyone interested is invited to attend and I am hoping for all our current and many new members to join us and help us plot our course for the sustainable future of farming in Australia.