Here at Mungalli, we grow diverse, productive pastures from well balanced soils and the Biodynamic preparations that naturally enhance the fertility of our soil.
The biodynamic preps are used in minute quantities and inoculate the soil with a culture that leads to top quality humus production. This hummus stores nutrients and water in a form that the plant can use. In a similar way the right culture in our digestive track can lead to a happy healthy human, the right culture plus milk can make the perfect cheese or yoghurt, and grape juice with different cultures can make wine or vinegar if that is what you want.
In a natural system it is all about culture in the right environment.
On our farms we do soil and leaf tests to see what the plant is missing, and balance the soil with rock dusts like lime or dolomite or rock phosphate or perhaps even trace elements if they are needed.
A healthy, well balanced soil plus the right legumes and soil bacteria produce all of the nitrogen that our farm requires to produce healthy vibrant pastures, and great tasting milk nearly all year round. Warmth, sunlight and soil moisture are also important but they generally come free from the sky.
However this is not what happens on most conventional farms. They have discovered that diverse legume pastures are difficult to grow and are not as productive as a synthetically fertilised monoculture of one or two species of grasses. Conventional farmers can get an enormous amount of feed by pushing their pastures with urea and other artificial stimulants that push the soil to produce significantly more than nature intended.
Is this bad or is it simply an improvement on nature which makes modern farming more efficient than organic and traditional methods of farming?
Let’s explore this subject and you can make up your own mind.
Nitrogen fertilised pastures allows the farmer
- to produce more pasture on demand
- produce pasture all year around
- can milk more cows on the same amount of land
- better utilise soil moisture in times of drought
- keep the pasture actively growing rather than going to seed
- nitrogen fertiliser is expensive but hopefully the extra pasture produced more than covers the cost.
Sounds good but are there any negatives:
- Making nitrogen fertiliser requires enormous temperature and pressure. In fact, it takes 5 tons of coal to make 1 ton of urea. Many farmers use ½ a ton of urea per hectare to grow their pasture each year. This is equivalent to using 2.5 tons of coal per hectare or 500 tons of coal on a normal 200 Ha farm every year. Is this sustainable in the long term? What about the effects on global warming?
- Continuously using nitrogenous fertiliser burns up the soil carbon in the soil. This carbon goes up into the atmosphere
- As the soil carbon disappears soil nutrients leach away as they have nothing to stick to, which makes the soil acidic. The soil also becomes drier which isn’t good in our current drought conditions.
- The soil culture changes and becomes reliant on ever increasing dollops of synthetic nitrogen to get the same response. In fact pastures refuse to grow if the nitrogen is withheld
- Pastures need supplementing with minerals and vitamins for the grazing stock as a monoculture does not supply the same nutrition as a diverse pasture with grasses, legumes, herbs and weeds.
In my eyes using nitrogenous fertiliser is probably justifiable from an economic perspective in the short term however the environmental costs far out weigh any benefits.
In the short term conventional farming methods are producing a glut of cheap food while destroying our valuable top soil. In the future when the world population has grown significantly our denuded farmland will not be able to support the additional demand and it will cost a fortune to regenerate our soils.
What are your thoughts?