Surrounded by lush greenery thriving in the midst of drought, around 200 New England farmers listened intently as Danthonia land manager Johannes Meier shared the community’s secrets to soil management.
The small Christian farming community on the outskirts of Inverell hosted the Fundamentals of Soil field day on Wednesday, September 26, featuring internationally renowned groundcover and soils ecologist Dr Christine Jones and grazing industry innovator Terry McCosker.
Respect for natural processes and working with the existing ecosystem was the focus of the day.
“Everything is connected, absolutely everything,” Dr Jones said.
Danthonia's land manager Johannes Meier talks landscape hydrology... while the next gen farmers play in the water & mud. We combat drought by working with nature, placing landscape health ahead of profit drive. Lots of great q&a. People from QLD, VIC, NSW today.#farm#cowspic.twitter.com/Ee6mYpY5Pe— Norann Voll (@NorannV) September 26, 2018
“You can’t look at anything in isolation, absolutely everything is connected to everything else. The bacteria in the soil are connected to the climate. The way we’re managing land, which is affecting the soil microbiome is affecting our human health microbiome.”
She noted that 46 per cent of children have a chronic disease, and one in six Australians have an autoimmune disorder.
“It’s the way we’re mismanaging this land that is causing so many of the problems that we’re seeing in human health. Even the frequency and severity of droughts is linked very closely to inappropriate land management,” she said.
“Our health is terrible, and yet we’re supposed to be advanced now. We’re supposed to understand about these things. The more technologically advanced we get, the worse things are. The further away from nature we get, the worse things are.
She said people were connected intimately with soil, which in turn is connected to rivers, climate and many other natural systems. She argued that humans need to be more humble about our position in the world.
Dr Jones spoke of a recent study which estimated the weight of all living things on earth, including bacteria, fungi, plants, animals and humans. “Of all the weight of all the living things, humans constitute less than one per cent of the weight of all living things,” she said.
Mr Meier agreed that the key to positive farming practices was working with nature. “We focus on also encouraging plant life, any plant life across the property,” he said.
Mr Meier said there were many simple steps land managers could take to improve their interaction with the natural world.
He gave the group a tour of the property and spoke about the community’s different strategies for pasture improvement, grazing management, planting trees and controlling the flow of water through the landscape.
“The main thing is that as land managers, we learn to work with nature. We actually now have the knowledge and the science to back that as being the only way forward, and it does mitigate drought,” he said.
“On our property, we’re not struggling for feed. We’re doing well, and that is simply because nature and the cycles in nature are working better than they were in the past. Hopefully they’ll continue to improve and hopefully this day will encourage the folks that come here that it is possible and at the same time, it’s profitable as well.”
Danthonia’s tools for improving soil health
Intensive grazing: Danthonia has fenced the property to allow intensive grazing, which manages pastures to maximise plant growth year round. This results in increased ground cover, which in turn builds soil carbon, increases soil biology and leads to increased nutrient cycling – a positive feedback loop that is continually improving.
Diverse vegetation: Danthonia has planted over 100,000 trees and shrubs to date, and seeded perennial pastures. Plants decrease water evaporation from the landscape and keep soil temperatures down while contributing to soil carbon. When rains fall, abundant plant-life slows the flow of water across the landscape, and (through soil carbon) helps store it in the soil.
“Plants are the key to everything good that happens across our property. Our focus is on improving energy cycles – solar, water, and nutrient – and that all starts with having diverse and abundant growing plants,” land manager Johannes Meier said.