Adopting biological approaches to crop and livestock husbandry brings a number of major benefits to modern agriculture.
Once the mind-set has undergone a transition from the quick fix of toxic rescue chemistry to an understanding of the biological interactions that comprise our farming systems, the management of plants and animals becomes more proactive, more intuitive and more rewarding. Although often seen as simply replacing chemical solutions to agronomic problems with more natural, but perhaps less effective alternatives, bio-logical farming provides a complete approach to producing food, both in terms of quality and quantity.
One cornerstone of the biological approach is the ability to measure, monitor and manage genuine soil fertility. As the primary resource for all food and fibre production, soil is the essential ingredient that converts the harsh reality of inherent geology and our temperate climate into a productive growing medium, and bio-logical farming systems focus on optimising this. Correcting and maintaining soil chemistry has a major influence on soil structure, ease of cultivation, crop establishment, root development, weed pressure and crop response to inputs. This in turn promotes the development of soil biology, which enhances soil nutrient supply and promotes plant growth, health and tolerance to stress. Over time, this can lead to significant improvements in crop and livestock performance.
Some of the observations attributed to bio-logical farming systems include:-
- Improved soil structure: Achieving the appropriate calcium:magnesium balance for any given soil will optimise soil aggregate formation, leading to the formation of more friable soil structure, better carbon sequestration and more stable soil eco-systems.
Improved root development: Once soil structure improves, micro-biological processes begin to promote soil nutrient status and encourage root development.
- Increased yield potential: Improved soil structure and elevated nutrient levels during crop establishment help to unlock the genetic potential contained within seed.
- Reduced pathogen activity: A combination of better rooting, higher nutrient availability and stronger interaction between plants and beneficial microbes plays a major role in developing plant defence and disease suppression.
- Reduced reliance on NPK: Building better soil structure and actively encouraging soil microbiology increases levels of major and micro-nutrients released from both inherent and applied nutrient sources. In essence, fertilisers work better and soil microbes can further enhance fertiliser performance.
- Better nitrogen use efficiency: Increasing plant root mass and ensuring nutrient deficiencies are corrected, helps plants to make best use of nitrogen. Selecting the right type of nitrogen fertiliser and ensuring accurate, timely application is central to optimising crop performance.
- Better nitrogen conversion and storage: Building soil carbon by cover cropping and reduced cultivation helps to store nitrogen for future cropping. In addition, these practices promote microbial activity that converts unavailable sources of nitrogen into plant food.
- Reduced carbon footprint: As nitrogen fertiliser is the biggest single component of most crop’s carbon footprint, increasing the efficiency of nitrogen fertiliser and optimising nitrogen supply from organic and microbial sources can significantly reduce the environmental impact of food production.
- Improved food quality: Bio-logical farming systems are producing grains, fruit, vegetables, fodder and forage with higher levels of nutrients, anti-oxidants and essential oils, which has a beneficial impact on the health and well-being of anything that eats such fortified food.
- Reduced reliance on chemistry: Although building a fertile soil and feeding a plant or animal well are central to maintaining growth and health, bio-logical farming systems can deploy a wide range of genuine residue-free, non-toxic disease-fighting materials, as and if required, to protect both plants and livestock.
- Increased gross margins: Bio-logical farming systems aim to deliver high quality foods without compromising yields, and by reducing reliance on artificial inputs, the unit cost of production for biologically-produced crops can be reduced.
- Increased farmer satisfaction: Bio-logical farming systems require a high level of commitment, innovation and technical proficiency, and often test resilience to the max, but farming without the support of toxic rescue chemistry, knowing that you are contributing to sustainable food production, improving food security, increasing environmental integrity and safeguarding the health of the nation can be very liberating.