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Soil biology and carbon could be the answer to tougher regulation

Stepping into a new role at Thomas Elder Consulting this week, Peter Spies says the right approach to soil biology and carbon management could help producers meet tighter environmental regulations.

Mr Spies, who specialises in soil science, agronomy and grazing land management, said nitrogen use efficiency and dissolved inorganic nitrogen continued to be a challenge for growers, particularly in the sugarcane industry.

New Queensland regulations designed to protect the Great Barrier Reef from agricultural runoff mandate nutrient budgeting, record keeping and environmental planning permission for new farm developments.

But while the proposed regulations presented hurdles for producers, Mr Spies said they could be overcome with a more holistic approach to soil management.

“Carbon needs to be treated like an input, much the same as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur,” he said.

“We can, through what Dr Christine Jones terms ‘the liquid carbon pathway’, build up soil carbon quickly, not to mention the ecosystems services through soil moisture-holding capacity and increase in cation exchange capacity and nutrient uptake.”

It was quite possible, he said, to boost the effectiveness of nutrient applications by optimising soil biology.

“The liquid carbon pathway is via the plant into the rhizosphere via mycorrhizae,” Mr Spies said.

“The addition of biology and multi-species cover and pasture cropping also holds much promise.

“I believe we can reduce nitrogen and phosphorus inputs by 25 per cent with no impact on current yield and increase soil carbon through such methodology, however, there is a need for more research into this area to quantify sequestration rates, yields and the fate of the exudates in the rhizosphere and the nature of their reactions in the soil.”