I was astounded by the news that we don’t need to use fertilisers.

That we can stop drip-feeding our plants with expensive minerals, commercial fertilisers and labour intensive alternatives, such as compost and biofertilisers.

However, it’s SUPER IMPORTANT to realise that our soils won’t miraculously dish out nutrients for our plants.

Waving a magic wand won’t work.

Our soils aren’t functioning properly.

Even soils we are busy looking after using sustainable soil management practices.

“I can honestly say I have never ever been on a [farming] operation that is not degraded, including my own” Gabe Brown.

While our soils (mine included!) may not be eroding or badly compacted, most have:

  • Low carbon levels
  • Poor aggregate structure
  • Poorly developed soil food webs
  • Low water infiltration rate

Consequently –  our nutrient recycling systems are operating inefficiently.

We are subsituting for the FREE ecological services our soil organisms can provide – feeding our plants and building good soil structure – with bags of fertiliser and hard yakka cultivating soil.

We’re wasting plant nutrients (up to 50% of the fertilisers we apply) and, at best, we’re filling the yield gap, rather than growing the yields are soils are capable of producing[2].

 

Using fertilizer yield gap

 

We need to get our soils back to full health again before miracles can happen [2].

We haven’t got healthy soil ‘role models’ to compare our soils with and aspire to emulate. Almost everyone is in the same boat.

We can only look to the past to get a sense of how healthy our agricultural and garden soils can be.

In Australia for example, Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki’s survey of soils in the southeast between 1839 – 1843, found organic matter levels in the early settlement period were around 5 – 10 times higher than in many soils today[1].

According to Bill Gammage, the author of ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’, these findings are consistent with the writings of many early settlers.

 

Using fertilisers Gammage

 

Bill’s book is an impressive achievement. Bringing together extensive research into the historical records. Reading his book you realize that the picture of Australian soils in the early days of European invasion, as soft, spongy and absorbent, was not an story conjured up by a few romantic explorers. The number and similarities in the reports is just too convincing, and the soil organic matter levels Strzelecki’s reports back this up.

The story is much the same across the globe.

But hold on – let’s not give ourselves too much of a hard time!

We have a major challenge

Cost!

If we could easily and affordably restore our soils with conventional and organic techniques, wouldn’t everybody already be doing it?

We are stuck on a treadmill and it’s hard to get off! Struggling to find the time and money to even maintain the current condition of our soil. At best making small incremental improvements when we have a bit of extra cash.

What’s the way forward?

It’s quite simple really!

Stop the things we know damage our soils.

  • Herbicides and synthetic fertilisers
  • Soil bare
  • Soil cultivation
  • Compacting soil with heavy machinery

And start letting nature give us a helping hand.

We show you how in our workshops for commercial growers and gardeners.

 

[1] Christine Jones ‘Soil Carbon – can it save agriculture’s bacon?’
[2] Original concept – Roger R.B. Leakey – Twelve Principles for Better Food and More Food from Mature Perennial Agroecosystems. Perennial crops for food security. Proc FAO expert workshop
Lead illustration © Laura Quincy Jones lauraquincyjones.com.