WITH fertiliser prices soaring, recent fires destroying pastures and scorching soils, wind erosion and water logging, all huge problems farmers are facing, many are looking at alternative solutions.
While previously a move towards trenching or using chemicals may have been commonplace, the focus is shifting to developing the overall soil health.
One huge part of soil health is understanding and building up the microbes of the soil.
Like in the human gut, the microbes in our soil help plants get the nutrients they require, building up the numbers of microbiome in your soil, improves the soil's health and as a flow-on affect the quality of your crops and livestock.
Ellen Walker from EarthWhile is a passionate healthy soil advocate, working with growers and farmers to develop their knowledge of healthy soils, so they can grow high quality food in a sustainable way.
She would love for more farmers to know the bustling active community of soil microbes that lay in the soil, and how you can utilise them.
"We can't easily see them, yet they are integral to our health and entertain us with their antics," Ms Walker said.
"If we look after them, they do much of 'our work' for us in growing crops.
"Microbes play an important part in soil health because they mediate, activate, or moderate so many processes that enhance soil structure, provide balanced diets to plants, and protect plants from pests and disease in complex ways that humans would struggle to do by themselves."
While microbes might seem complex, cultivating them doesn't have to be.
Ms Walker explains that an easy first step is having a diverse range of plants in your system and keeping the ground as covered as possible.
Leading regenerative agronomist Ken Bailey agrees, saying that if you are already in a regenerative situation, and you want to improve your soil health, a simple way to do it is by increasing the number of plant species you have growing.
"Soil health is microbial diversity - to build your diversity make sure that you have four families of plants in your system," Mr Bailey said.
"Whether that's multispecies as a crop, or as a pasture, you need four, from four different families."
He reiterates that this is not for species like oats, rye, wheat and barley, as that is just one family, all grasses.
To do this you need a grass, a legume, a brassica, and something else such as a chenopod or amaranth for example.
"Diversify your plant species because each seed brings organisms with it," he said.
"Four different families of plants will bring four different functional groups into your system and because they are coming with the seed, the plant will feed them so they won't die.
"It's very different from just trying to buy the organisms and put them in by themselves - when they are in the seed, nature's got it covered."
Ms Walker also shared that having a variety of different plants produce sugars that feed the microbes in the soil so they can thrive.
These microbes then form a sponge-like structure, helping retain moisture and nutrients, which then feeds into having quality aggregates, a sign of healthy soil.
"You should be able to look at your soil, put a spade in the ground and find visual aggregates, if you can't find visual aggregates then your soil health hasn't achieved optimum levels," Mr Bailey said.
While most farmers will look at yield as a test of soil health, Mr Bailey also believes that along with aggregates, you should measure how much nitrate nitrogen, ammonium nitrogen and total nitrogen is in your plant using tissue analysis.
"You should have 3.5 to four per cent of total nitrogen in your plant for most of its life, but you should have zero nitrates and zero ammonia.
"Nitrogen fixation - the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available nitrogen, is the ultimate measurement of soil health.
"The biological system should be one that doesn't require any additional nitrogen in the form of synthetic nitrogen."
To build up your aggregates and microbiome Mr Bailey said you need help.
Things like putting the organisms back into the soil via compost or plant diversity are the best places to start.
However when using compost to build up the soils, he strongly urges you to take note of the aggregates.
"If the compost doesn't have aggregates, don't use it," Mr Bailey said.
He also re-iterates the length of time that improving your soil will take
"This is a long game," Mr Bailey said.
"A lot of people say 'I'm going to go regen' and then after 12 months say 'oh gee that didn't work, I'll go back conventional', but it takes three years to change your soil."
Although you need to be committed to see a change, once you do both Ms Walker and Mr Bailey agree that there are so many positives.
"There are so many benefits, but some are less insect pests and disease, lower vet bills, reduced worming and drenching of animals, better soil moisture holding, reduced loss of topsoil, less erosion, and the need for less fertiliser are a few of the flow-on effects I've seen," Ms Walker said.
For those whose soil has been scorched from the recent fires, now could be a good time to look at how you rebuild the nutrients and microbes.
"One of the easiest things you can do and it's very cheap is to use liquid humic acid and that can go in with the liquid nitrogen, giving you more efficiency of your nitrogen," Mr Bailey said.
"It will help stimulate some biology and get things going and it's only like $1.60 to $1.70 a litre for good quality material.
"At least then that's adding a food source or stimulation to help repair it."
When every dollar counts, making smart decisions to bring back the biology in the soil will go a long way.
"Even if you want to put some liquid kelp down, put a little bit of that into your system with your nitrogen," he said.
"Any food source, there are a lot of products on the market now and you shouldn't be afraid of just tipping your toe in the water if your soils have been knocked around by the fire.
"This will help get your soil's biological processes working."
Want weekly news highlights delivered to your inbox? Sign up to the Farm Weekly newsletter.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.