Glen Orton Farm Field Day

17th Jul 2015

Below is a speech I recently gave at a field day at Glen Orton Farm

Good morning everyone, for those people that don’t know me my name is Glenn Morris and I am the general manager of FigTrees Organic Farms with properties based at Grafton and Inverell.

Before I commence I would just like to acknowledge the driving force behind my research for the previous 21 years - my three sons Ben, James and Andrew.

I would also like to thank Judi for inviting me here today to talk about our story at FigTrees Organic Farms and how we have combined holistic management and organic farming principles to market a culture of respect, to farms, to people and to the earth.

I would also like to pay tribute to all the people past and present who have dedicated serious efforts physically and mentally to progressing society away from one that merely lives on exploitation of the world to a civilisation that can actually thrive off committed regeneration of the natural resource base which underpins all human endeavours.

Dr Judi Earl most definitely fits into this category of people – thank you Judi for a lifetime of making a difference!

The respected psychiatrist and bestselling author of The Road lessTravelled Scott Peck once wrote, “One of the major dilemmas we face both as individuals and as a society is simplistic thinking – or the failure to think at all.  It isn’t just a problem,... it is the problem...! (1997)

Thinking well is more urgent now –perhaps more urgent than anything else – because it is the means by which we consider, decide and act upon everything in our increasingly complex world....”

Marcel Proust once said “The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” –

At FigTrees Organic Farms we believe we have embarked on this journey and started to truly ‘SEE THE WORLD WITH NEW EYES’

Judi has asked me today if I would talk to you about our marketing approach. In marketing terms, I guess the value proposition we have offered at FigTrees Organic Farms isn’t just one of supplying high quality beef; we have tried to offer a value proposition which allows consumers the opportunity to connect to better health at every level, from the health of the land where their food is coming from and their own health all the way to the health of the planet.

Marketing at FigTrees Organic Farms – has been based on promoting a culture of respect and honesty; regarding acceptance of the complex world we live in!

In 1988 the philosopher Thomas Berry explained, “It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”

This is my contribution to the formation of that new story.

Seventeen years ago while I was trying to understand how to address the problems of a degraded beef cattle operation I came to the conclusion, that unless we immediately start to unite and look after wider ecological processes in our regions and nation, then our efforts at an individual farm level will be wiped out by extreme events coming from challenges outside the areas in our care.

At FigTrees Organic Farms we have come to understand that our services to the community go far beyond the production of healthy food. We respect the fact that we are both a contributor to and a recipient of healthy ecological services. In addition to managing our land with respect to these services we also endeavour to communicate to the public the critical need for their respect of healthy land in order to support a healthy future.

Putting it simply, through thoughtful regeneration of the small picture we can enhance the big picture which in turn will continue to regenerate the small picture – our farms and our communities.

We have tried to readopt what should have always been an intrinsic culture of respect for our natural resource base as indeed it was for indigenous cultures for 10’s of thousands of years.

In their book Wisdom of Elders Suzuki and Knudston (1992) found that indigenous wisdom “regards the human obligation to maintain the balance and health of the natural world as; a solemn spiritual duty that an individual must perform daily - not simply as admirable, abstract ethical imperatives that can be ignored as one chooses”.

This is A Story where we know what we want for the future!!!

When I first met Judi doing a HM course for a conservative group of beef producers in Casino she started talking about ‘wholes’ and ‘wholes within wholes’ and we thought what on earth has this girl been smoking - but over time we started to realise the importance of that essential message.

Having a clear vision of the ‘whole picture’ and knowing the kind of future we want to create and keeping focused on achieving that future is without doubt the most important step we could ever take.

All decisions at Fig Trees organic Farms have been based on what originally began as two goals which over time, have now been blended into one.

As a land manager and food supplier, what decisions and course of action could we follow, to ensure a healthier more sustainable farm operation? And;

As a father and member of the global community what decisions could I make to contribute to a healthier, safer and more secure world?

The Overarching principle which we have come to adopt at FigTrees Organic Farms for creating highly productive farms and regenerated ecosystem processes is;

Respect for the ‘whole’. Acknowledging that everything in nature is interconnected and interwoven. Respecting the truth; that we are responsible for managing all mineral, water and biological cycles occurring; in, on and above the earth.

As a mark of respect the thin Blue circle which surrounds our logo was actually designed to represent the thin blue line which encloses our life giving atmosphere and separates our home from the endless lifeless expanse of deeper outer space.

In order to restore an abundance of fertility, pasture and water cycling we have identified the need to respect the interconnection between the following components.

  • A Healthy Humus soil – with high water storage capacity.

  • A healthy soil food web.

  • Perennial vegetation managed for high organic matter and root exudates return.

  • Balanced minerals for good soil structure and optimum plant quality.

  • Rehabilitated wetlands and swales.

  • Effective and holistic decision making and good genetics

  • Community dynamics and biodiversity

Respect for Humus Soils as a Foundation to the Water Cycle was one of the main reasons we adopted organic farming and holistic management principles.

Following five years of external studies and an extensive literature review looking at the quantitative ability of soil humus to store water on a catchment scale, I was able to establish the fact that one part of humus was capable of storing on average four parts of water.

What that means in real terms for farmers and community water supplies is that for every additional one percent of soil humus over one hectare, at a given depth of thirty centimetres the soil would be capable of storing an additional 160 000 litres of water.

Increasing a soil humus content by four percent would give that soil the capability of storing an additional 640 000 litres of water at a depth of thirty centimetres. 4"rain,1 million litres/ ha

We realised that by designing our farms to build soil humus not only can we lift fertility, pasture production and water cycling on our own properties but we could also contribute to securing regional and national water supplies.

Why did we go organic?

Respect for the Soil Food Web as the Foundation for Healthy Soils – Was one of the main reasons why we decided to become organically certified.

Knowing that a healthy soil food web is absolutely critical for maintaining an effective mineral cycle and breaking down organic compounds which are required for the construction of new humus it made no sense that we would continue to annihilate it with toxic substances.

It has been estimated that a healthy soil should contain in the vicinity of two and a half billion microbes per gram (Luebke 2008) consisting of a healthy balance of fungi, bacteria, nematodes, arthropods and so on as well as a diversity of macrobes e.g. earthworms and dung beetles.

So how does a substance that can combat climate change, restore water cycles, improve human health and secure intergenerational food supplies get formed.

Humification or humus formation is the process where the residues of previous life are transformed to become the substance and ‘foundation of new life’.

This process occurs in two stages:

  1. the first stage of humus metabolism is the breakdown stage (catabolism) where the soil food web breaks the material into smaller and smaller parts while at the same time producing a full range of important hormones, enzymes, proteins and antibiotics (Petrik and Petrik 1989);

  2. The second stage of humification [known as anabolism] has been described as, “the least understood of all the processes that go on in the soil” (Petrik and Petrik 1989).

This stage of humification commences with the synthesis of soil plasma. Petrik and Petrik (1989) state, “Soil plasma is the liquid portion of humus in the soil that can spin the catabolised remnants of former life into vital threads that are woven together into the fabric of new life through the processes of anabolism....In the anabolism process the plasma is transformed into stable humus. This plasma also contains the decomposed walls of organic residues and has become a spongy, gelatinous substance that bonds the surface of the clay crystals together...... The combination of plasma and clay forms what is known as stable humus”.

An analysis of humus given by Handreck (1938) concluded that, “humus was really a polyglot collection of very large and complex molecules.....formed from lignin and other polyphenolic molecules of the original plant leaf and in part from similar molecules which have been produced by microbes[feeding on root exudates and organic matter] ”.

Petrik and Petrik (1989) comment, “The presence of stable humus allows air, water and essential mineral nutrients to be held in the aggregates [along with 2.5 billion microbes per gram of soil].....The spongier the soil [as a result of humus] the more pores or open spaces are within it. Like Swiss cheese reduced to an infinitesimal scale, each of these holes or pores has an inner surface that is coated with plasma. The greater the porosity of the soil the more capacity it has to accumulate air, water and nutrients....Consequently, we can imagine that a loss of this porosity with all its inner surfaces represents a catastrophe to the soil”.

In regard to managing processes above the earth, it is now being discovered that healthy soils and vegetation play a major role in natural cloud seeding; eating food from healthy (non-toxic) environments also demonstratesRespect for Healthy Vegetation and Biology as a Foundation for Cloud Formation.

And this is where we need to really start developing a higher level of thinking, after we have cut down most of the trees and broadly sprayed toxins over most of the landscape which used to be covered in healthy perennial grasslands it now appears that a dominant feature of inland rainfall events such as Easterly troughs may have relied on cloud seeding inoculum which originates in healthy biologically active pasture and forest soils.

This just adds to the knowledge that these troughs were relying on the moisture from healthy soils, grasslands and forests so really the reasons for taking better care of the perennial vegetation across Australia have just got stronger.

It’s time to get positive about creating a healthy eco-agricultural future.

Linking quality food, healthy landscapes and national water security is critical as we also start to deal with the early stages of a warming climate.

The role of healthy soils, plants and biology combining to increase rainfall works something like this.

“Recent studies have found that ice nuclei (IN) play a critical role in hydrological processes.”

“At the onset of every rain event, [bioaerosols] exhibited an immediate steep increase by as much as 60 – 160 % per minute during the first ten minutes of precipitation.

DNA analyses of aerosol samples ...yielded over 5000 sequences that could be attributed to ~ 1000 species of bacteria, fungi and other organisms.

Rainfall that triggers bioparticle emission may seed further emission by convective lifting of bioparticles into clouds where they can serve as IN (2-3 micron) inducing cold rain formation or as Giant Cloud Condensation Nuclei (GCCN) inducing warm rain formation.

The 4- 6 micron (µm) bioparticles observed during the humid post rain periods appear to have been freshly emitted from active biota growing on wetted terrestrial surfaces near the measurement location eg spores ejected by fungi, lichens and other cryptogamic covers growing on soil, rock and vegetation. “

“Biological particles suspended in the atmosphere (bioaerosols) may influence the water cycle as cloud condensation and ice nuclei (IN) Certain species of bacteria, fungal spores and pollen are highly efficient IN and bioparticles have been detected in clouds, fog, rain and snowfall.”

By keeping focused on the ‘whole’ we realised that the best way to increase humus and restore the water cycle was to chase the maximum growth potential we could achieve out of our pastures. By increasing the health and size of pasture plants we also increased the size and health of roots and the amount of root exudates and dry matter being returned back into the soil.

Respect for Healthy Perennial Vegetation as a Foundation for Building Soil Humus - was one of the main reasons we moved towards holistic management and perennial pastures.

We identified the need to improve our decision making skills and understand the importance of effective plant management (rest, impact and recovery, green manures) in rebuilding soil health/ water cycling.

Wheeler and Ward (1998) suggest that,“such a strong symbiotic relationship exists between plants and soil that it could be argued that the plant exists to build soil rather than the soil being used to grow plants”.

Protein and lignum constituents make up 70 -80 % of the total humus complex.

In addition we respect the role of;

Wetlands, Tree belts and conservation areas in increasing biodiversity and assisting with mineral cycling.

Summing up;

By ‘seeing the landscape with new eyes’ and respecting healthy land with humus soil and supportive vegetation; we communicate to our customers that by working together; we have a true opportunity to regenerate;

  • The greatest water storage, re-charge and supply system ever designed; a living biological system capable of storing and re-cycling in excess of one million litres of water throughout every hectare.

  • We have a true opportunity to regenerate; The critical buffer required for reducing the impacts of droughts and floods while also reducing land and marine degradation.

  • We have a true opportunity to regenerate; The only true centre capable of providing exceptional health and prevention against disease.

  • We have a true opportunity to regenerate; An endless foundation for building truly fertile soils, nutritious food and regional prosperity.

  • We also have a true opportunity; for restoring a safe concentration of CO2 levels in the atmosphere and rescuing a stable and safe climate for future generations, and;

  • We have a true opportunity for halting the record levels of species loss we are currently responsible for, by enhancing healthy habitat within a healthy eco –agricultural landscape.

These are obviously some of the greatest challenges of our time!

I think it’s time our eyes started to really open to the real world around us.

I think it’s time we started to see the true potential of a nation where ecological awareness is driving thriving affluent communities. I think it’s time where we started to take pride in a nation where regenerated rich fertile soils, healthy forests and grasslands are all helping to restore and cycle abundant water, providing essential resources and shelter to abundant life forms.

At FigTrees Organic Farms we have tried to help our consumers understand how they can support real action to combat climate change, to restore rivers systems, to restore their own health, to combat floods and prevent droughts.

To do something real about the record rates of species loss, basically to rebuild the foundations for a solid future for countless generations to follow.

FigTrees Organic Farms has provided not only the choice of healthy food to our consumers for their next meal, we are also offering our customers and the wider population the choice of an alternative pathway to a healthier, more respectful and more secure future.