Nurturing the soil is vitally important to our collective survival

December 1, 2020
This highly tilled soil does not have the ability to hold water and therefore help grow crops. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The National Party is in denial about the connection between fossil fuels and the catastrophic fires that devastated country electorates last summer. It is also blissfully ignorant about the power farmers have to become carbon sequestration heroes.

The National’s obduracy is a consequence of the party’s bloody-minded ignorance of the science of climate change, which they compartmentalise as a dangerous irrelevance. (Thankfully their rejection of science did not extend to the threat from the coronavirus pandemic.)

For them, the urgent phase-out of the corporate fossil fuel industry internationally represents a threat to neoliberal capitalism, and once this “flood-gate” is opened where will it end?

The genie will be out of the bottle: questions could also be asked about why not public ownership of banks, energy, insurance and superannuation, health, aged care, child care, vocational and school education, and the list goes on.

The Liberal, National and Labor parties will always fight for their class. Remember, the slave owners of 19th century capitalism resisted savagely and for many years before relenting. The fossil fuel “champions” will not be a pushover: capitalist greed has not abated.

As they see it, the stakes are high and unfortunately, the Labor Party after the past federal election doesn’t have the necessary leadership.

Back to the potential for farmers to become carbon sequestration heroes.

My family and I have a winery and vineyard in Orange, New South Wales. We are now going into our fourth year of drought. Thankfully, we have been spared the fires, but the dust and smoke have never been so bad. Before last Christmas, I worked for 5 hours outside wearing an industrial quality respirator, such was the quality of the air.

This year, we did not pick most grape varieties: there was not enough leaf canopy, the fruit was sun-burned and we had insufficient water for irrigation. We had a poor vintage and, if this proceeds to another dry year, the vines will begin dying.

There was a dramatic increase in rainfall in October and we are now anticipating a bumper crop.

How do we farm better and, in the process, build a resilience to drought in future?

A neighbour is an organic grape-grower and, last year, I had reason to get him to put some of our soils under his microscope.

Being poorly educated at high school in the 1950’s, which provided physics and chemistry with no reference to biology and no microscopes to reveal the existence of microbial life in the soil, it was a delightful revelation.

Unfortunately, it revealed that my microbe and fungi counts were poor. Nevertheless, under my neighbour’s guidance, I embarked on an education that opened up a world under my feet in the paddock that I see has the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

Since European colonisation, we have been “mining” the soil. We have relied on chemicals to protect plants from pests and for fertilisation.

Farmers have enthusiastically been destroying the biome in the soil. We need to nurture the living organisms in soils; there are billions of them, similar to those inhabiting our guts, without which we would quickly die.

The knowledge concerning soils and the science is there, but political parties have not caught up with this soil science and its importance to our survival as a species.

This has to change.

Thankfully 70% of farmers, mainly in the Third World, continue farming in the traditional no-chemical way. Western, capitalist farming needs to change its practices to regenerate our soils, to be fertile, to hold more water and be more drought resistant.

With assistance and training in better agricultural practices, farmers of the world can become the great sequesters of excess carbon in the world’s atmosphere. Fossil fuels have to remain in the ground, but atmospheric carbon can be controlled using nature itself.

Plants, including grasses, weeds, bushes and trees via photosynthesis, collect carbon from the air and release oxygen and, in return, put carbon into the soil to feed and nurture the microbiome living in our soils.

We need compost, mulch and minimal disturbance of the soil to encourage the healthy activity of earthworms, bacteria, fungi, arthropods, archaea, algae, and the rest to work away in their billions.

Human health will benefit and the planet brought back to climate equilibrium.

Why is this not part of our discourse concerning global warming?

In his Call of the Reed Warbler – A New Agriculture, A New Earth, farmer Charles Massey, from Monaro in New South Wales, carries chapter by chapter accounts of Australian farmers practicing regenerative farming.

Putting water back under public control, rather than allowing its use for profit and speculation and funding farmers to minimally till and nurture microbial life in their soils should be part of the climate emergency plan.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.