The Economics of Biological Farming is Simple: Less Cost and Better Produce

A biological fertiliser program cost one farmer $110/ha this year compared with $215/ha for a conventional application of urea and MAP based on current prices. Plus in 2005 wheat averaged 4.4 tonnes/ha compared to the district average of three tonnes/ha. and with less screenings. Also the soil is not as compacted allowing increased root depth and water infiltration has improved.

This farmer is Peter Eisenhauer of Ganmain, NSW who was featured in our weekly rural paper. How did he do this?
Peter has used science, economics and his own on-farm observations to move from a conventional to biological system over the past decade. Why?

Like many farmers Peter experienced cracks in the conventional system beginning to emerge: an increasing amount of inputs to achieve the same yields, weeds, soil compaction and lack of water infiltration. Sound familiar?

An admitted sceptic, Peter attended a biological farming conference in 1999 and was impressed by keynote speaker Arden Andersen. Although it made sense “It took a long time, a fair bit of effort and expense to overcome conventional brainwashing that revolves around harsh fertilisers, expensive sprays, plant breeders’ rights and chemical consultants’ time”, he said. Peter’s extensive home library is a testament to a paradigm shift in his farming philosophy and he is now happy to be termed a microbial farmer, working towards healthy, balanced soils.

In the past Peter had been fanatical about having weed-free paddocks “Now, under the no-till system, any weeds that do come up are generally non competitive.” He has also learnt to use weeds as indicator plants for soil-nutrient imbalances. How cool is that?

Other changes made were:

  • to drop canola from the system in 2003 because of its biofumigation effect on soil microbiology.
  • to apply a liquid seed dressing at sowing to encourage rapid germination, root development and soil microbial activity.
  • to apply reactive rock phosphate with lime is spread at 400kg/ha.
  • to remove all stock when building up microbes
  • to retain vegetative cover
  • to apply a stubble digestor
  • to use a no-till tyned implement

Overall the result is a proactive rather than a reactive approach to a drying climate making better use of rain when it does fall.

“It won’t be long before agricultural consultants’ credibility will reflect how well they can promote more biological farming practices rather than how good their toxic-chemical knowledge is…The science is all there but just not many people have put it all together yet.”

I wonder how many conventional farmers picked up on his statements.