Regenerative approach to agronomy restored a dying enclosure | Earth
Regenerative farmer and Farm Mojo consultant Geoff Bassett recently received the Dick Walker Landcare Memorial Award for his contribution to Landcare, agriculture and his community, which includes over 40 years of farming and 20 years of counseling from other farmers in northern New South Wales.
One customer is Annabelle Butler from Woombi Station on Tingha Road, west of Ben Lomond, where dormant improved pastures have returned to high production without the need for replanting. This increased production costs efficiently without any loss of grazing time. Small but correct inputs, applied at the right time, have reduced this permanent pasture from early disappearance to a fraction of the cost of replanting again.
âA lot of farmers are having problems with low persistence in their permanent pastures,â Mr. Bassett said. âThey should last for decades, but many are reseeded after less than five years and it comes at a high cost. In the days of the previous cattle market, producers barely paid back their investment in pasture establishment.
âOn Woombi, it started with an application of liquid NPK, trace elements and a microbial product. This produced rapid pasture growth, deeper root systems, and more legume growth. Ideally, we want to strengthen natural processes, not replace them. “
However, Mr. Bassett warns that overuse of soluble nutrients can cause soil health problems because it can interfere with natural soil processes. Healthy grazing nurtures soil biology by exchanging root exudates for soil minerals, in a fragile arrangement with fungi, which easily breaks when a plant receives too much of what it needs in a soluble form.
Soil tests are important tools, but farmers can start looking for themselves and watching for signs the system is working – like monitoring leaves for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium deficiencies.
“It has long been proven that healthy grass can get 100% of its N requirement from the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live around the roots of the grass and feed on root exudates,” Bassett said.
“A tip of a green leaf is an indication of an adequate amount of nitrogen for pasture while a tip of a dead leaf is a sign of deficiency.
âWe think it should be easier to manage a monoculture, but it creates so many problems with soil health and weeds, that over time you end up with more and more problems.
âWith a regenerative approach, you can end up with a self-sustaining system. Healthy plants feed many microbes, which in turn feed the plants with minerals from the soil and increase the humus and air in the soil. This leads to softer soil which has more precipitation infiltration and stores precipitation longer. This is a recipe for a high efficiency, low input system. “
Reading the signs of nature in the pastures
Weeds are excellent bioindicators and are essentially soil amendments. We need to understand what they are doing and why they are there. We can then address the real causes of pasture decline.
For example, blooming white daisies right now at higher elevations may be a sign that calcium is not available due to a lack of fungus and air in the soil.
Thistles and lush weeds often mean there is an excess of soluble nutrients and can be a sign of an imbalance between calcium and nitrogen, âsays Bassett.
Farmer friends, or cobbler’s ankles, are a sign of excess nutrients. It is a better option for farmers to help the grasses take up these extra nutrients rather than growing those weeds.
Plaintain is an herb, not a weed, although it may seem out of place, it is pest control, high in zinc and copper, and is a good blood clotting agent for humans. It is an essential plant for grazing.
Daikon or tillage radish will do what thistles do well – break up hard soil, feed soil biology, and let in rain and air.
âNature is incredibly smart at putting plants in the right places. We have to learn from that,â Mr. Bassett said.
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