During October, the Wheatbelt Integrity Group (WIG) held their annual farming field day in Newdegate, where approximately 30 attendees gathered to learn about regenerative agriculture and see it in practice at Hollands Track Farm.
Starting at the Newdegate Bowling Club, the morning featured an informational workshop run by Ken Bailey, a biological agronomist and holistic animal nutritionist from Haslen Technology. For 25 years, Ken has been studying and advocating for biological agriculture, with the last 15 years focused on the use of humified compost as a soil amendment, in what he describes as an ‘ongoing journey’ to learn all about the science of soil and compost.
Carbon was a central topic of the day, with Ken highlighting how agricultural soils have the capacity to achieve atmospheric carbon sequestration, and the important role this plays in soil health and mitigating climate change.
Ken then talked about the human digestive system and microbiome, explaining that having a diverse diet (particularly in the first years of life) is an important factor for having a diverse, healthy gut microbiome, which becomes fixed at the age of five. However, to have nutrient-dense food, we need nutrient-dense soil, which Ken used to lead into discussing the process required to building the basic blocks of life: photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is made up of two phases, phase one and phase two. He said that “photosynthesis depends on nutrient availability (in the soil) and other circumstances at the time…which can lead to varied rates of photosynthesis in plants” i.e., some plants may only photosynthesize for a few hours each day. Ken explained how aluminum is a major inhibitor of photosynthesis, locking phosphorous in the soil so plants cannot access it, resulting in a phosphorous deficiency. Other photosynthesis inhibitors include moisture levels (which influences conductivity) and magnesium.
Ken showcased three devices during his presentation. The first, a photosynthesis meter, which monitors the change in carbon dioxide concentration, photosynthetically active radiation, and water use efficiency. The next device was a 7-in-1 meter, which measures moisture, pH, conductivity, temperature and nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) as plant available ions. A soil respiration meter was next, measuring the soil carbon dioxide respiration rate, which Ken explains is “so you know how much photosynthesis is pumping carbon down through the roots, into the soil, to feed the microbes”.
After the morning workshop, participants attended a field walk at Hollands Track Farm, owned by Nick and Lucy Kelly, to see regenerative agriculture in practice. Nick Kelly (WIG Chair) and his family have created a no-till farming system, which is sequestering carbon, reducing erosion, enhancing soil health, and increasing moisture retention, all without chemical use.
Nick showed the group their mixed summer crop of millet, sunflowers and sorghum, and their mixed cereal crop of wheat, barley, oats, cereal rye, lupins, field peas and serradella. Situated on sandy soils, it was fascinating to see the colour of the topsoil change as a result from growing mixed cereal crops and incorporating a rotational egg enterprise.
Thanks to Wheatbelt Integrity Group, Ken Bailey, and Nick and Lucy Kelly for a great day out!
This event was supported by Wheatbelt Integrity Group and RegenWA through the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s Soil Wise Program.
Soil Wise is funded by the National Landcare Program Smart Farms Small Grants – an Australian Government initiative. It is supported by Healthy Estuaries WA – a State Government program.
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