Soil biology

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HON DIANE EVERS (South West) [10.11 pm]: I am inspired to rise after hearing Hon Colin de Grussa’s speech earlier today in response to the budget. I was really pleased to hear that he comes from a farming family and that his father was one of the first to adopt no-till farming. That is excellent. It is great for farmers to be innovative in what they do.

Over the break, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar in Moora on soil restoration farming. It was not anything to do with Moora Residential College, but while I was there, I spoke to a number of farmers who pleaded their case to keep Moora college open. We need to keep farmers in the regions, and that school helps farmers stay in the regions because all too often as the children grow, the question is asked: do we stay or do we go?

Each time we lose a family, we lose not only that family but also what it contributes to the community and the businesses that go along with supporting that family.

Let me get back to the soil. I think everybody here knows that it is a passion of mine. I had to respond because in the honourable member’s comments he said that Charles Massy responded to a question about the science by saying, “Well, there’s science and there’s science.”

I cannot read his mind but I would like to comment on that, because there are two sorts of sciences that we are looking at here. One of those sciences is what the ag department has been pushing for many years and what many farmers follow: we test the soil, we see what it needs, we put that chemical in there and Bob’s your uncle, we get another crop. Good.

But we may as well as be growing hydroponically if we are going to take the soil as a medium and introduce each thing as we need it. We will get a crop that has those nutrients in it. That is all well and good. It is what we have been doing. It is what the world is used to.

However, there is a different way and a number of farmers are adopting it. At this seminar, Dr Christine Jones, who is a scientist, introduced more of these concepts to us. I found I was in a room with about 50 farmers and many of them are already adopting some of these practices.

They are looking at ways of increasing the microbiome, the fungi, in the soil so that it does what it is meant to do—that is, provide nutrients to plants. It seems simple, but it is difficult. It is difficult for farmers to take this on when we have a bank in the room saying, “Yes, we want to support farmers. We want to help them get loans and that, but we also have to support our other clients, the agrochemical industry.”

That is the problem. Do we really have to support the agrochemical industry to keep selling this stuff when the natural biology will create that stuff on its own? That is an area we need to challenge, which is why I am really pleased that our Department of Agriculture and Food is looking at other ways and allowing new ideas and innovations to be reviewed to find out what can be done.

I would not think that this microbiome would make much difference, but the difference is huge. Keeping this growing in the soil not only provides nutrients to the roots of the plant, but also allows the soil to retain water for much longer and retain much more water so that our plants can grow. Given what is happening in the eastern states at the moment, I think we need to do everything possible to keep water in the soil. This is done just by keeping the land covered by summer crops.

Farmers may not even use those crops; they may put animals on the land. It is not like money has to be made off every crop. Microbiome increases the soil’s health and the nutrients available to plants.

At the conference, I heard about people planting up to eight or more plants in a single crop to give it diversity. We have to look at what the crop is being used for, such as feed for animals or for harvesting. It is interesting to note that seed cleaners can separate all the different types of seed by weight, size or colour. That can be done, so a variety of seeds can be planted, and the benefit of doing that is that a variety of roots will be underground to support a variety of biology in the soil.

It is just like us not always eating the same thing every day. Our bodies need a variety of things, just like plants do. I even heard of one farmer who is planting five varieties of wheat in the same crop because that will get a variety of roots into the soil, which needs a variety of things. The crops grow better and it makes the plants healthier. The crops do better with more plant varieties, with more water in the soil, and when plants are kept on the soil.

No-till farming is great but it still leaves the soil bare through the summer, which means that all the good work that was done to increase the soil’s biology will die out through the heat and when it is dry. I think I have mentioned before having animals on quick rotation. Members would not imagine it, but people are bringing it back in. Farmers who have grown large-scale crops are now bringing animals back in because they recognise the benefits that animals bring after having them on the soil.

If the agriculture department gives any support to these innovations, it will be a step in the right direction because we will end up with healthier soils, healthier plants and the ability for the soil to hold more water. It will also mean that we get carbon sequestration.

This is an issue of climate change. I did not really mean to bring that in today, but I think it has been mentioned once already, so maybe it is fair to say it. We have a big problem with climate change. The soil’s biology actually sequesters carbon; it builds on it. This is just one of many ways in which we can try to solve climate change, but we have to make many changes because we are so slow to get around to them. Carbon is sequestered in the soil.

Another benefit for all of us in the city is that it will provide nutritious food. There are many reasons to go on with this idea, but I will leave it there because I think members have listened to me enough. We need to change; we need to innovate. We need to improve our soils so that we can really be leaders in the field.


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