Many of us are just beginning to understand how soils [and soil fertility] truly work. The dominant paradigm, developed 150 years ago by chemists in Germany has been popularised, used very widely and very successfully. You have a soil that is deficient in nutrients. You are growing a plant that needs the nutrients to achieve full production. Nutrients or fertilisers are applied to correct the imbalance. If you have multiple deficiencies, then farmers may apply a cocktail of nutrients and fertilisers to address the balance. The microbiological elements get hammered. More nutrients and chemicals are applied. The soil biology gets hammered. More nutrients applied - and so the vicious circle continues.
The problem with this model is that it is deficient. It misses the critical component of soil biology. This has been invisible until recently, in that we now have had DNA to study. When you start to look at the interaction of soil microbiology, it has been the invisible third party, so the nutrient deficiencies in plants can be solved by micro biology. For example Pine Trees and microlisol fungi. Without the fungi, the Pine tree doesn’t grow.
What we now have come to understand is that there is a three way system, Plant and its nutrient requirements, Soil with its nutrient supply capabilities and Soil Microbes. The more we understand the more we come to see that Soil Microbes play a far more critical role than previously thought.
To get maximum production requires contemplating how you influence the soil microbiology and how that affects your production system. One way to do this is to putting carbon into the roots which is like currency you pay the soil microbes with. Provide them with energy and water and they will provide nutrients.
So much of what we have done in the past has been to short circuit the process – it’s like using anabolic steroids to chuck the javelin down the track. Generally, we are farming on steroids (and degrading the soil microbes) rather than farming naturally.
An increasing number of farmers are starting to understand that microbiological activity in the soils should be encouraged to ensure healthy soils and improved plant growth. The challenge is to find the right tools and processes that can stimulate growth in a cost effective way while maintaining the environment and cost.
A New Zealand farmer has taken a concept that has its roots from the 1930’s, developed it for NZ conditions over the past ten years and has been providing it to farmers throughout the country under the brand HydroBoost. Many farmers will tell you that rainfall is three (some say four) times more beneficial to plant growth when compared with applied irrigation. The HydroBoost technology mimics nature’s rain. It stimulates soil microbiology by energisation and altering ionic potentials in the soils soil water supply that drives growth.
The strongest evidence of the technology is from a trial undertaken by Ag Science Ltd showing a 19% increase in plant growth using energised water over non energised water. While additional research is required to further validate the data, the evidence shows a significant increase in pasture growth and additional health benefits at a minimal cost.
The increase in plant growth is not as a result of any increase of water – the trial used the same volume of water, therefore the results show that the energised water clearly provides a positive result. In fact, farmers using the HydroBoost technology have reported that applied water volume is actually reduced, thus improving water efficiency and ensuing justifiable irrigation.
In another trial in the McKenzie Country where low fertility pasture is prominent, the technology showed an improvement of 7% grass growth after a period of two years and with only one application. This result was quite unexpected with the soil scientist leading the trial commenting, ‘that if a single application of energised water increased pasture yield by 7% after two years, this would be of commercial interest to farmers and merits further investigation’.
The farmers that have installed the HydroBoost technology have reported very good results. In addition to improving pasture growth, the energised water tends to stay in the root zone and has been shown to smooth Soil Temperature variations. Not only has this lead to better growing conditions in the shoulder parts of the irrigation season, it has also enabled a reduction in applied water and reduced leaching.
While there are a number of unexplained benefits, (and further research is undergoing to quantify these), there is evidence from another recent trial demonstrating a 29% increase in pasture growth when the HydroBoost water was mixed with Urea over the application of Urea without energised water.
From a wider perspective, farmers are being challenged by regulation and compliance to reduce their chemical exposure to the environment. In farms where the HydroBoost technology has been implemented, farmers know that the water feeding the stock troughs is energised, leading to reduced health issues with stock, the grass eaten has a higher brix value and in the case of dairy, reduced incidence of high Somatic cell counts. When the incremental benefits are spliced together, the overall result is that agricultural raw product is being produced more efficiently, in harmony with the environment and guess what – that also translates potentially less harmful chemicals into the food supply.
As well as improved pasture growth, the technology has also been used to clean irrigation ponds with visible benefits and one farmer commenting on the results from cleaning a 4ha storage pond saying, “in the past, no-one would be brave enough to swim in it – now with the technology applied to the pond, the young people now swim in it”.
While the HydroBoost product is not the magic bullet that rights all wrongs in the environment, the evidence shows the technology could be a significant tool that can improve productivity with less harmful effects on the environment. Surely, as our social awareness evolves with a greater focus being demanded by the planets inhabitants on sustainable agricultural products and processes, the HydroBoost technology is one which can greatly help farmers’ productivity, profitability and peace of mind.
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