Withering root of conventional farming

28 Feb, 2012 02:00 AM
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Ty Kirby (left), Beacon, Mark Sutton, Beacon and Geoffery Marshal, Hyden.
Ty Kirby (left), Beacon, Mark Sutton, Beacon and Geoffery Marshal, Hyden.

THE question of whether current farming systems are creating more challenges every year or solving them, is a contentious issue.

And it was the main point of discussion surrounding Western Mineral Fertilisers (WMF) senior agronomist Bert Naude's talk at the WMF conference in Northam last week.

Mr Naude discussed how a sustainable farming system should be able to produce an adequate supply of food, protect the environment and safeguard farmers' bottom lines and how the current system, or so-called conventional system, failed this three-pronged test.

"Looking at risk analysis as farmers, why do we usually only look at the economic risk assessment," he said.

"You can't manage your farm and its risks from an economic point of view if you don't look at the source of the problem first, because that's where it starts."

Mr Naude believes any issue or disease farmers face on their farms comes as a result of an environment farmers have created.

Whether its soil carbon, water run-off, phosphorous lock-up or non-wetting compaction.

"You name it, there is an environment that supports that situation or issue, that you have created," Mr Naude said.

"You have to accept that, then we can move forward.

"Our task is finding what we have done to create that environment."

Mr Naude believes that by trying to cure these issues with technological solutions isn't the answer.

"In trying to cure these solutions rather than present the actual issues on our farms, farmers are overlooking specific design mechanisms in our soils," he said.

"Too often we ask our chemical jockey to help because we need to get a certain weed.

"Farmers ask what can I spray, what can I put on, what can I add, what cocktails can I mix.

"This type of solution just masks the issue, it doesn't actually address it.

"There is no answer in those types of approaches and they forever create more issues.

"We overlook the specific design mechanisms in nature.

"We need to look at how we can control the simple things."

Mr Naude pointed out how every year in August, farmers were bombarded with information about cereal diseases and how every year GRDC reports showed research on how diseases reduced crop yields in Australia.

"Weed diseases now equate to a loss of 19.5 per cent of the average annual value of the wheat crop," he said.

"Most farmers have small gross margins of between 12 and 15pc so if you lose 19.5pc value to disease issues you have one serious problem."

Mr Naude believes farmers need to look at where the diseases really come from - not how we can cure them - when creating risk management strategies.

"How often on your farm have you done the same thing every year and the yields don't stack up?" he asked.

"What most farmers do to combat this is simply change the chemical applications and only look at the issue as a nutritional thing, when there is a need to look deeper.

"The uptake of nutrients is affected by the support in the soil and that's the real issue.

"We need to ask what are the factors that affect the uptake of nutrients because there are plenty of them there."

Mr Naude said farmers should realise there is communication between plant roots and the biology that lives in symbiosis with the roots, because that was where the nutrition was controlled.

"The uptake of nutrition is controlled in that biosphere among the roots, and managing that correctly is the answer to the problems that most farmers are facing," he said.

"It's so important to recognise that design mechanism.

"At the moment we still rely on the soluble nutrients to wash past the roots instead of taking advantage of biology that is there that will bring it into the root."

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