The most crucial aspect of biological farming is the creation of humus. Humus is the dark brown, biologically rich earth that healthy soil microbes create. It improves soil water holding capacity, provides a home for microbes and a savings account for soil nutrients. Without humus we have degraded soil that cannot support healthy plants. Building humus in our soils results in long term carbon storage in the soil. We know we’re doing the right thing by our soils and our pocketbooks when we are “growing” humus and actively sequestering bio carbon with our agricultural practices.
The other measure of success for biological farming is nutrient density – high levels of complex vitamins, minerals and plant metabolites in the food we produce for people to eat. We use the Brix meter in the field to test plant sugar levels. The Brix, or percentage sugar of the sap, tells us whether the plant’s photosynthesis factory is working to full capacity. Full functioning can only happen when all the mineral and enzyme building blocks are available to manufacture carbohydrates (sugars) for plant growth. Generally, the higher the Brix level, the higher the plant mineral levels and in turn the healthier the plant. A brix level of 12 or above indicates a healthy plant. High brix plants are not as susceptible to disease and insect attack resulting in cost savings in chemicals as well as an increase in production.
By combining an understanding of soil chemistry, physics and microbiology with sound farm management practices, we address and solve weed, disease, and insect problems at their root causes, rather than masking the symptoms with pesticides. The approach emphasizes application of calcium, trace elements and humic acids that feed soil microbes. Research indicates that the calcium in lime stimulates microbes, earthworms and root growth. Better tilth, better grass growth and healthier animals result from more calcium being available in the soil.
It is the soil microbes that do the work of digestion and bringing food and water to the plant. They also create enzymes, vitamins and even antibiotics to assist their host plant to be healthy. This is a mutually beneficial relationship with the microbes helping the plant and the plant feeding sugars to the microbes through its roots. A strong diverse community of beneficial microbes around plant roots can depress or kill disease bearing microbes. It’s an amazingly complex set up and is the basis of all plant health, nutrient density and humus formation. Ultimately it’s the basis of our human health as well. The nutritional quality of what we eat determines our health and resistance to diseases. From food grown biologically with the help of soil microbes, we get better levels of nutrition.
Under a biological approach we work to improve the soil mineral balance for the long term as well as for this year’s crop growth. The emphasis is on making calcium more available along with trace elements and crucial plant nutrients like phosphorus. Many New Zealand pastoral farmers are sitting on a huge reserve of phosphorus that has been applied over the years as Superphosphate. Unfortunately, a large portion of this phosphorus is locked up with soil iron, aluminum and calcium. Did you know that within days, as much as 80% of superphosphate fertiliser applied is tied-up and unavailable?
The most effective way to access this frozen bank account of vital phosphorous is through biological activation of your soil. There are many creatures in a diverse and healthy soil microbe community dedicated to the release of locked-up phosphate. New Zealand farmers have the exciting opportunity of harnessing soil organisms to improve available phosphate levels. The cornerstones of a biological approach are making phosphorus and calcium available to the plant and reinstating soil fertility through nurturing beneficial soil microbes.
Soil microbes digest organic matter, unlock minerals and provide nutrients for their host plant. The outcome of these processes is humus formation and an improved soil asset for farmers. Humus and humic acids play a crucial role in holding fertilisers in the root zone, reducing fertiliser leaching and decreasing the amount of fertiliser needed to grow quality crops.
The goal is to create maximum biodiversity and resilience in our soils. This is not accomplished quickly by single silver bullet products. Biodiversity is complexity and achieving it requires an understanding of the myriad relationships that govern soil chemistry, microbiology and physics. A full spectrum approach is needed: calcium, trace elements, bio-stimulants and microbe-friendly fertilisers including humic substances which buffer and feed. All this must be tempered by understanding of the microbe community and a sound knowledge of agronomy.
Biological agriculture has a bigger tool box than certified organics. The major question we ask is “Does Nature approve?” Will this fertiliser or practice increase soil bio-integrity? The creation of humus and improving brix levels is the measuring stick.