Sustainable approach is key to productivity

Sustainable approach is key to productivity

Agribusiness
ABC's Richard Hudson (right) facilitated an interview session with internationally-acclaimed Australian soil microbiologist and climate scientist Walter Jehne on the impact of regenerative agriculture on climate change and creating more productive yields for farmers.

ABC's Richard Hudson (right) facilitated an interview session with internationally-acclaimed Australian soil microbiologist and climate scientist Walter Jehne on the impact of regenerative agriculture on climate change and creating more productive yields for farmers.

Aa

A conference in Perth has been told that sustainable agriculture was the tool that could rapidly give the world a safer climate and a more productive agricultural industry.

Aa

INTERNATIONALLY known Australian soil microbiologist, climate scientist and founder of Healthy Soils Australia, Walter Jehne, told the Regenerative Agriculture conference in Perth last week that sustainable agriculture was the tool that could rapidly give the world a safer climate and a more productive agricultural industry.

Mr Jehne has dedicated much of his career to educating farmers and key industry stakeholders about the "soil carbon sponge" and its role in reversing climate change.

He said by returning excess carbon in the atmosphere to our soils, regenerative agriculture could mitigate climate change.

In an interview facilitated by ABC Radio's Richard Hudson, Mr Jehne said rather than taking centuries, because that's what the carbon dioxide gain required, the agricultural industry could reverse climate change in months by adopting sustainable agricultural practices.

"We are abnormally warming the planet, dangerously," Mr Jehne said.

"Ninety three per cent of the extra heat has been absorbed by the oceans continually.

"And we're now seeing dangerous hydrological climate extremes impacting, whether it's hurricanes, storms, floods and with that automatically comes drought, because the water lost in that flood is, by definition, the water you haven't got on the land.

"Hydrology really is the key, because hydrology governs 95pc of the heat dynamics of the blue planet and it's hydrology that we've grossly disturbed through our land management practices.

"But we can regenerate hydrology rapidly and in that way naturally and safely cool the planet.

"It's a paradigm shift and having the debate to get into this new paradigm, because quite frankly, we have no hope whatsoever unless we do."

As a research scientist at the CSIRO, Mr Jehne investigated the potential of mycorrhizal fungi to recolonise degraded soils and rebuild productive biosystems.

His research showed by harnessing microbial ecologies there was enormous potential to create high productivity in agriculture, despite low soil nutrient content.

"Ninety five per cent of the biofertility of soils is about these microbial processes, not the actual nutrient content in the soil or how much we put on as fertiliser," Mr Jehne said.

"Once we get those microbial ecological functions happening a lot of the problems go away, including diseases, which are imbalances where pathogens have a population explosion, but in a healthy soil we have enough natural immunity so that doesn't happen."

He said there was no simple prescription to rebuild healthy soils, but rather the industry needed to work with farmers to diagnose the problems, limiting factors and how nature could avoid and overcome these.

"We have to respect nature, respect first nation's knowledge from thousands of years of observation so we can regenerate these biosystems as nature did very safely and naturally," Mr Jehne said.

"The whole basis of biofertility is the availability of nutrients for that mineral content that was a stardust formed 4.6 billion years ago which the planet is made of.

"But to get that availability you have to have exposed surfaces, so the whole message of cathedrals that we build is to massively increase the void in the surfaces so those nutrients become available.

"Then we invite the microbes in, because they're the things that fix, solubilise, access and cycle nutrients."

Mr Jehne emphasised that regenerative agriculture per hectare would create more money and return on investment for farmers.

"If we put the real costs on the balance sheet then what we're talking about it in regenerative agriculture becomes so common-sense and compelling there is no argument whatsoever," Mr Jehne said.

"The lower input savings that farmers are able to achieve and, secondly, what's happening now because of climate extremes and variability, the reliability where innovative farmers are getting yields four years out of five but conventional farmers down to two years out of five with a mortgage overdraft for every failed year -it's like Russian Roulette with every chamber loaded, it's not viable.

"That's where regenerative farmers are going to win and we're going to see fundamental economic change.

"Conventional farming will go out of business because the risks and the losses are just too great, while regenerative farming, because of their resilience and capacity to sustain five seasons, is the practice that's going to come through."

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by