Farmers adding organic material into their soil will take the equivalent of 200 million cars off the road. And that’s just the beginning…
We should be able to agree that global warming is the single biggest threat to the world at the moment. Emissions is something the government is keen to reduce, but how do you do it without affecting the economy? What if – as a country – we could take the equivalent of 22 million cars off the road, and it actually improve the economy? This is exactly what the Canadian state of Saskatchewan has done by getting their farmers to stop tilling the soil. And it cost the government nothing, as farmers realised it was more profitable for them.
Farming has caused twice the atmospheric CO2 contributed by industry, coal-fired power and motor vehicles combined. Part of this is due to farmers ripping through the soil to kill weeds and plant seeds. This rips the fine spaghetti of microfungi called mycorrhizal fungi, which – as well as feeding the plant nutrients -holds carbon. Ploughing releases soil carbon as Co2, with up to 15 x more CO2 being released from the soil than no til.
Saskatchewan growers in Canada using no-till or zero-till seeding, are (Conservative estimates) sequestering (putting back into the soil) 9.64 million new tonnes of CO2 every year on nearly 28 million acres of farmland. That is the equivalent of taking over 2 million cars off the road every year. Prior to this in the 1970’s, In one year alone, soil losses were estimated at $560 million in lost production in Saskatchewan. It has reduced the amount of sediment, nutrients and bacteria eroding into waterways by up to 90 percent.
The benefits of no till include:
- increased crop yield associated with moisture conservation, reduced erosion, improved soil organic matter, and better management of nutrients, crop residue, and pests;
- reduced labour and equipment costs associated with doing less tillage;
- environmental benefits, including improved soil and water quality, biodiversity, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon is held as organic content. No-til builds up a minimum of ½ tonne per acre of organic content, helping us reach Paris treaty targets of 0.4% of organic content in the soil.
“Organic matter…absorbs up to 90% of its weight in water. Organic matter will release most of the water that it absorbs to plants.”
Just 3% organic material in the soil will hold an Olympic size swimming pool of water extra per Hectare, helping reduce the pressure on the Murray Darling basin irrigation scheme.
CSIRO in South Australia found stubble retention resulted in an average annual input to the soil of 20 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare. This free nitrogen was found to be the contribution of free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which built up on the decomposing plant residues, saving farmers thousands in fertilizer costs.
2/3 of the earth is desertifying. To keep up with demand for global food, 6 million hectares extra is needed extra per year. Instead, 12 million hectares is being degraded. 
Will No-til reduce profits to farmers?
No. Alberta Reduced Tillage project produced a 135 page report detailing the effects of zero till over the previous 15 years:
- wheat up 3.5 percent,
- barley up 6.2 percent,
- flax up 7.9 percent,
- peas up 4.6 percent and
- lentils up 13 percent.
Net returns: on
- wheat – 30% higher and on
- peas 25% higher.
- 5% higher, (due to a 14 percent increase in fertilizer costs).
- Labour in no till = 5 ave. field passes
- Min till = 5.8 ave. field passes
- Conventional till = 5 ave. field passes.
- wheat = 0.9 gallons per acre.
- Flax = 04 gallons per acre.
- Zero till = 1.2 gallons per acre.
- Seeding wheat into fallow = 1 gallons per acre.
Alberta herbicide use in conventional Vs No-Til: No Difference. Considering the billions farmers spend on pouring deadly chemicals on their soil, let me repeat this. No. Difference.
Saskatchewan herbicide use: slightly higher in zero till. This may mean that farmers are being cautious by using more, or it could mean more weeds. Personally, I’m more worried about the health of the farmers handling the chemicals.
One example from Canada:
Ten years ago, Halford Farms bought the adjacent field, which had been under conventional tillage for more than a century. Halford could then conduct side-by-side trials comparing the conventional field to a field in zero till for 20 years.
Both fields received the same no-till management and crop inputs. Halford said the trial proved that long-term zero till reduces dependence on commercial fertilizer.
“We produced 43 bushels per acre of 14.5 percent protein wheat on our long-term no till fields.
“Those previously conventional tilled fields yielded only 23 bushels per acre of 13 percent wheat, with the exact same inputs and management.”
- Cleaner waterways: Zero till allows better water infiltration into the soil. Organic build-up will reduce sediment, nutrients and bacteria flowing into waterways by 60 to 90 percent, especially phosphorous runoff, which is the cause of the massive algal blooms killing millions of fish.
- Reduced Fertilizer costs: More microbes in the soil make more minerals available to plants. One study showed no yield increase of crops using phosphorus for 6 years compared to a no-till paddock, showing Phosphorus trials showed no yield increase from adding phosphorus to the same plots for six continuous years.
The Fix: Educating Farmers firstly about no-til (Canada has managed to enact it without any legislation; farmers are moving towards this because they can see the results).
Every hectare that is burnt off creates more damaging pollution than 6,000 cars, as well as leaving the soil bare causing a loss of topsoil, and reduction in soil carbon.
Why do farmers burn off? To kill weed seeds or snails, which saves them money in chemical. But there are alternatives; South Australian invention by De Bruin Industries in Mt Gambier called the Harrington Seed Smasher attaches to a harvester, and can smash the weed seeds, saving farmers hundreds of thousands in weed killer chemical costs. The costs of this machine is $80,000, less than some farmers spend on weed killer in a year. Also natural products are available like B-Sub from Nutri-Tech to manage snails, or Organic weed killer Slasher.
The Fix: Ban burning off. Give alternatives to farmers who want to burn off, or grants to farmers who install a Harrington Seed Smasher.
Compost is the probiotic for soil – it puts back the good microbes back into the soil, to help build and hold Carbon, and break down nutrients into a usable format for plants. Compost grows roots deeper, allowing more water to be absorbed faster, preventing topsoil being lost. Once enacted, the soil can absorb up to 10,000mm per hour. 1,000mm per hour is the equivalent of a torrential downpour,  preventing flooding and loss of topsoil & nitrogen being washed into waterways, causing fish kills of Blue Green Algae.
Why use Compost instead of inorganic fertilizers?
Plants are smart: when a plant needs minerals, it will push carbon in the form of carbohydrates down through their roots to feed specific micro-fungi that will mine the mineral it needs from the soil and put it into a usable form for the plant.
If you feed nitrogen through inorganic fertilizers into the soil, it does two detrimental things:
- If you feed nitrogen to a plant, it doesn’t need to feed nitrogen mining fungi anymore, so they disappear from the soil, making the plant reliant on Nitrogen. Compost helps put the fungi back.
- Nitrogen removes the organic material from soil. As Graeme Sait from Nutri-Tech says:
“Bacteria are the most abundant of our army of beneficial soil life and their tiny bodies comprise 17% nitrogen (they have the tightest of all C:N ratios, at 5:1). Hence, they need nitrogen more than any other creature, and they are literally driven into a feeding frenzy with applied N. There is a measurable explosion of bacterial biomass following an application of urea and, immediately afterwards, the stimulated biology seeks carbon to balance out that tight ratio. In the absence of carbon, these hungry creatures are given little choice but to seek out humus as that compensatory carbon source. They created that humus, and it serves as their support system and home base. They would never choose to eat themselves out of house and home, but we give them little choice. In this manner, our mismanagement of nitrogen becomes the biggest link to ongoing humus loss. In fact, recent research reveals that 100 kilograms of soil carbon is lost for every 1 kilogram of nitrogen applied, over and above that required by the crop at any given time.” 
The Fix: By subsidising certified high micro-fungi count compost, it will increase the use of compost instead of non-organic fertilizers. The higher the nutrient level in the crop, the less disease pressure, the less pesticide & fungicide is needed to be applied.
Alan Savoury’s Ted talk has been watched by over 8 million people, showing how cell grazing can store carbon in grasslands. Experts have shown if we did cell grazing on half the world’s grasslands we can turn back global warming to pre-industrial levels. 
One of the key success points in Dr Zach Bush’s Documentary is this: “Regenerative agriculture focuses on rebuilding organic matter and living biodiversity in soil, which produces increasingly nutrient-dense food year after year — while rapidly sequestering excess atmospheric carbon underground to reverse climate change.”  To do this we need to reduce our reliance on Glyphosate, as it kills all the soil biology, preventing it from sequestering carbon.
Another key is grazing animals will eat the most succulent plants first. Given the opportunity they will eat the better plants to death. What’s left are the less nutritious plants. 
The Fix: rebates to farmers for fencing for Cell Grazing.
We all need to do our bit to overt what is clearly a crisis, and these simple steps can be enacted straight away, helping Australia and farmers alike.