Buy a spade and observe your soil

Farming with nature doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it have to follow a label like organic or biological. Farmers need to find out what system works on their farm, often by trial and error.

That was one of the messages that Robbie Byrne – of Precision Nutrition – relayed at the Biological Farming Conference this week. He added that for the past 15 years or so he has been trialling different ways of improving soil quality with farmers through his business – Precision Nutrition.

Simple changes can often make a big difference and Robbie encouraged farmers to get the spade out of the shed and start to examine your soil.

Digging down into your soil allows you to see exactly what’s going on and once you start changing your system – maybe growing a cover crop – improvements that are being made through these different practices can be monitored.

Counting worms and seeing how deep the roots are growing will give you a good indication of your soil quality.

“The farmer is in charge of sustainability. Sometimes we need to turn things on their head to see reality. Try something different. Embrace something different.”

Copy nature; she knows best

Robbie explained that Biomimicry – copying nature – can play a role in improving your farming system. For example, in a natural environment soil is not left bare.

We need to work in harmony with nature. If you go to war with nature – you will lose. Nature does not work as a mono-culture. We need to look beyond N, P, K and pH – grow more roots.

Developing root structures

Growing cover crops and crops with a good root system will improve soil structure and break up compacted soil. Over the winter these roots will take up nutrients in the soil.

Robbie added that while nitrogen grows grass it impacts on root structures. Poor root structures can then lead to more compacted soil.

While Robbie gave many different examples of how farming systems can be improved, he added that as a country we are behind and are now playing catch up; the agricultural sector faces challenges such as climate change and disease resistance.

The full house in attendance at the Biological Farming Conference signalled that people are now acutely aware of the need for change and facing these challenges.