Regenerating our Soils: The FDI Approach

30 May 2014 FDI Team

 

Many farmers say that the productivity of their farms is declining.  At the same time, the cost of producing their agricultural and pastoral product is increasing.  It is also becoming obvious that soils need to be regenerated and that processes that worked in the past are no longer sustainable.

Increasingly, research is starting to demonstrate that there are ways of improving soil productivity.  A number of farmers, in several parts of Australia, are doing just that.  Soils for Life, a Canberra-based not-for-profit research institute, is identifying such farmers and determining what they are doing differently and publishing the results of this research.

As you know, FDI recently started publishing a number of papers that consider the means of regenerating the soils of northern and inland Australia.  There is considerable controversy surrounding this issue. Some claim that above all else the natural environment needs to be protected and that agricultural development is likely to further damage an already leached, ancient and unique ecosystem.

Others, however, point to considerable economic opportunities with claims that proper research and investment could result in an area that might provide food not only for Australians of the future but for considerable parts of the rapidly expanding Asian population.

The real answer to this dilemma is to recognise a few issues that are not always considered in this debate.  The environment, whether we like it or not, is constantly changing.  Indeed, soils are becoming increasingly less productive and climate change is resulting in drier and wetter areas with more climatic extremes than we have faced in our lifetime.  And this trend is unlikely to change.

Equally, we need to recognise that while there is an opportunity to improve the landscape, this will require time and effort and the result will not be that we become the food bowl of Asia.  Instead, we can produce a healthier environment that not only sustains the natural ecological features that are so important to our heritage but also allows for economic development and the sustainability of local and indigenous communities.

In March we published a concept paper on regenerating our soils.

The paper had a number of key points.  Among them was the need to recognise that water is the key natural asset and the need to ensure that it is captured, conserved and used effectively.  This can only be done if the soil structure is restored.  By doing this, the level and longevity of green growth across Australia’s landscape can be extended.

A number of the concepts are complex and are not receiving sufficient consideration outside scientific circles.  Furthermore, there are a wide range of vested interests when the outcomes required demand an approach that includes all elements of society within Australia.  We are also deficient of a national, long term and integrated strategy with a detailed and sustainable plan to implement these outcomes that is acceptable to differing political, regional and commercial viewpoints.

Over the next few months, FDI will publish papers on the management of water and how to regenerate the soil. Issues such as restoring ecological grazing, carbon capture and storage, the role and means of restoring our natural woodlands, restoring our fungal symbioses and recycling nutrients in the soil will all be considered.

In the next few weeks, for instance, we will publish an interview on the role of fungi and an associate paper on the significance of carbon in the soil.

Many people are showing interest in what we are doing and I encourage any response that you might have.

Major General John Hartley AO (Retd)
Institute Director and CEO
Future Directions International

Major General John Hartley AO (Retd)
Institute Director and CEO
Future Directions International
– See more at: https://futuredirections.org.au/publications/from-the-ceo.html#sthash.aZyYuyca.dpuf
Major General John Hartley AO (Retd)
Institute Director and CEO
Future Directions International
– See more at: https://futuredirections.org.au/publications/from-the-ceo.html#sthash.aZyYuyca.dpuf
Major General John Hartley AO (Retd)
Institute Director and CEO
Future Directions International
– See more at: https://futuredirections.org.au/publications/from-the-ceo.html#sthash.aZyYuyca.dpuf
Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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