ANTHONY Staatz says it’s all about fixing a problem, not simply addressing a symptom. In this case it is attempting to restore soil carbon levels across the 445 hectares that Koala Farms cultivates in the Lockyer Valley and on the Darling Downs for vegetable production.
“I am sure this farm produced better quality, vegetables in previous decades because we had better structured, healthier, more productive soils,” Mr Staatz said.
“Then soil carbon levels were 2.5-3 percent. Now carbon is only about 1.8pc. Unless we address it, there is little chance of improving the beneficial biological activity in our soils to grow healthier, more disease resistant crops.”
Koala Farms started using a compost mix made with 90pc bark mulch and fueled by 10pc chicken manure five years ago as a means to increase the soil carbon levels.
While difficult to measure, Mr Staatz said the addition of the mulch at about a tonne to the hectare a year had obviously improved soil structure, making the soils more manageable particularly after weather events. Evidence is an increase in earthworms and lighter and better aerated soil.
“We’re still to find a way of actually measuring any increase in soil carbon levels,” Mr Staatz said. “But what we have already achieved is that soils with mulch added recover much more quickly after wet weather events and we no longer have eliminated wet areas in paddocks.
“The investment is costing a lot of money but really it is based on the principal of farming for the future as much as anything.
“I hope that future generations might say in decades to come: ‘Good on that bloke for having the vision to increase soil carbon, because look at the great health of the soil and the excellent crops we are producing today’.
“There is certainly is a bit of kum ba yah involved but it is part of a shift away from artificial farming and more toward a system where the soils are actually working for us.
“The old saying goes you do your dough in dust and make you money in mud. We want to be growing healthy crops more of the time.”
Koala Farms also recovers dripper tape used throughout the farming system, which cost about $30/reel to reclaim, Mr Staatz said.
“But at $230 for a new roll I am not sure why more people don’t do it.” The tape is reused up to five times.