By Stefanie Hildmann

DID you know soil health and soil biology play a pivotal part in the survival of our species – and all other species – on this planet? No soil biology, no life.

In Australia and globally, we lose more topsoil than we generate, roughly by the factor of 10. So, if we keep doing what we are doing, we will destroy the very asset our survival depends upon – soil biology.

We need a widespread, concerted effort to start conserving and regenerating soil organic matter – soil biology’s habitat in our topsoil – to ensure our survival.

Monash MP Russell Broadbent had requested a day talking about ‘dirt’ for a while now, and true to his word, he spent almost six hours with a handful of soil warriors to learn about soil.

The day kicked off with a soil presentation that demonstrated the vital role healthy soil biology plays in biodiversity, food nutrient content and food security, soil integrity, water holding capacity, as well as public health and climate change.

It showed how all these aspects are interwoven and interdependent; all others are affected by interfering with one. It also explained thoroughly how carbon sequestration works.

Matsuo Basho said: “If you want to know about the pine, go and have a look at the pine. So, if you want to know about soil, you need to go and have a look at the soil.”

Gerhard Grasser from AgriSolutions and Gary Tie from Hallston Valley Farms guided us through a visual soil assessment (VSA).

VSA is a science-based process developed by Graham Shepherd, an NZ soil scientist. It is a tool to measure and benchmark soil’s key diagnostic indicators of soil biology and plant performance – soil’s KPIs. The VSA allows us to assess soil health, our successes or lack of progress by a low-cost process right in our paddocks.

We had a look through the microscope at the soil samples we had taken and checked out the vast spectrum of the wonderful life under the surface.

During lunch, Ron and Bev Smith from Orana demonstrated the difference in nutrient content, and the taste and look of fruit from their own orchard with healthy soil biology versus store-bought fruit.

We then had to answer the question, ‘How do we get there?’

We shared our regenerative farming experiences and data gathered on our properties. We discussed various ways to rebuild soil organic matter in topsoil, its scalability and viability. We demonstrated we do not need to spend more money but crucially need to change our mindset to prioritising soil biology in our farming processes. And how we move from a predominantly input-driven farming style to a management-driven improvement of soil biology.

We all appreciated Russell’s enthusiasm for soil, his curiosity and his talent to ask challenging questions. And we certainly value his and his assistant Stephanie Medjeri’s willingness to brave the wintry Gippsland conditions.

If you would like to learn more about any of those presentations, please get in touch at hello@stefaniehildmann.com.