Helping Farmers Get Back to Basics

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-By Aleisha Parr

Nearly fifteen years ago, Stephen Frost began to import biological fertilisers for use on his farm. Like many other farmers in Australia, Mr Frost was becoming frustrated with the deterioration he was seeing in both his pasture and his animal’s health. Deciding to take action, he began to research the best way to restore his farm to the high-yielding, sustainable business it once was. “The cost of farming had become more and more expensive,” he explained, “and the outcomes weren’t very positive. So, on my own behalf for our own farm, I began searching and found some very fundamental fertilisers that I imported.”

What initially began as one farmer’s attempt to get back to basics and enhance his own yields resulted in the establishment in 2002 of Western Mineral Fertilisers, Australia’s leading specialist in the formulation of new granulated mineral fertilisers.

“I could see that things weren’t going well and wanted to look at the changes that were possible and the difference they could make. Through that process, we ended up working with minerals and getting into manufacturing. That interest has gone through the whole company; everyone is excited about it because they see it’s innovative, they see rewards.”

Like Mr Frost, many Australian farmers had been struggling to maintain the quality of their crops in an industry increasingly dependent upon chemical – or synthetic – fertilisers. These synthetic fertilisers have steadily been becoming the norm for modern farmers intent on providing high yields each year to meet the growing needs of consumers. Unfortunately, synthetic fertilisers have all the while been decreasing the quality of crops, costing farmers not only financially, but also depleting the natural environmental balance present in the soil – a problem which leads to soil acidification, soil imbalance, the depletion of organic matter, and damage to soil biology. With the decrease in quality, comes an increase in the incidence of disease, a reduction in the quality of food produced, and health concerns for humans and animals living off of the land.

Essentially, synthetic fertilisers do nothing more than to prepare the soil to hold a plant. “This approach assumes the only necessary additives are the nutrients required by the plant. Little consideration is given to how soil behaves or the biological steps required to convert nutrients into bio-available nutrients.” As a result, the soil’s natural nutrient exchange can be affected, which in turn requires the farmer to invest more time and money in order to maintain the same yields and response.

The soil is actually a farmer’s most important asset, with a vibrant eco-system beneath the surface that is constantly working to achieve balance and provide healthy, nutrient-rich crops. “There is more living matter in the soil than there is above the soil – that’s the amazing thing,” explains Mr Frost. “It is significant when you start looking at the real picture – when you start looking at microscope shots of the soil – and looking at the activity. It is alive with bacteria, fungi, and all these microbes, of which about ninety-eight per cent of them are beneficial.”

Unfortunately, due to the incredible strength of the chemical companies servicing the industry, all too often farmers merely treat their soil with synthetic fertilisers, covering up the symptoms without ever addressing the underlying problems. Because of this, studies show that per hectare, we are producing less food now than we did years ago. Despite significant scientific research and advances in the agriculture industry, productivity is falling, food quality is decreasing and health and environmental issues are arising at an alarming rate.

“The problem with chemical fertilisers is that they are expensive but they are easy in a way. They are expensive on your health and the environment and they are expensive on your pocketbook. The amazing thing is, though, if you look after the soil, if you look after the biology and its environment, the rewards are massive.”

Mineral fertilisers, on the other hand, such as those manufactured by Western Mineral Fertilisers, have many significant and beneficial effects on the soil, including stimulation of biological activity, balanced soils, and mobilising locked-up nutrients.

All of Western Mineral Fertilisers’ biological products are backed by extensive research and development, including over sixty-five trials commissioned by Western Mineral Fertilisers and undertaken by private companies. Stephen Frost knew that in order to help his company’s products achieve widespread recognition and usage throughout farms, he would have to go up against a very strong and powerful existing mindset, supported by the chemical companies – giants in their own right. Through working individually with farmers to set up year-long trials on their farms, Western has been able to prove consistently that its back to basics approach is not only incredibly successful, but also cost-effective.

Western Mineral Fertilisers developed its systems so as to utilise the same equipment and practices already in place in the agriculture industry – eliminating the need for farmers to learn new techniques or purchase new equipment. Furthermore, the increase in crop quality from using Western Mineral Fertiliser products means that the farmers are able to categorise their foods at a higher quality level, thereby increasing their productivity and income.

“I think that there is good hope out there that we can improve our environment,” says Mr Frost, “we can improve our health, and we can improve the sustainability of farming. We can adapt our farms to climate changes. We can do all of that, but the only way we can do it is to work with the environment, to work with nature, not against it. Unfortunately chemicals are very much against it and so it’s a compromise of technologies to produce a technology which can lead us into the future and make it significantly more sustainable.”

Into the next few years, Western Mineral Fertilisers plans to continue with its focus on research and development, pushing forward to discover new ways of using what occurs naturally biologically to help farmers remove themselves from the clutches of the chemical companies. At present, the company is working on a study to unearth more information regarding just how damaging those chemicals can be. Mr Frost, proud of the work he and his passionate team have carried out, is quick to remind us that while what they are doing does seem ground breaking, it truly is derived from basic technology that farmers instinctively knew just twenty or thirty years ago. He hopes that as the company continues to grow and develop new technologies and practices, so too will the quality of our agricultural industries continue to improve and thrive.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:43 AM AEDT