If "soil is part of our soul", we should be pay it more attention

ESSENTIAL ELEMENT: Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture soil scientist Bill Cotching believes "soil is part of our souls". Picture: Shutterstock
ESSENTIAL ELEMENT: Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture soil scientist Bill Cotching believes "soil is part of our souls". Picture: Shutterstock

To me it was once “dirt” where I played marbles with my brother or planted gerberas, but my current roles as gardener’s wife and agricultural reporter mean I now appreciate soil for the vital role it actually plays in the health of this planet’s life.

My job enables me the chance to drop in on field days around the state, speak with farmers and attend agricultural conferences. I’ve noticed soil crops up in conversation and speeches often.

And it’s no wonder – in soil scientist Bill Cotching’s words, “Soil is a part of our soul”.

If you had to pick a place to start it should be the soil.

Peter Norwood

When I interviewed Mr Cotching last year he told me “Our farmers need assistance to keep producing the food that we eat three times a day,” but that “Consumers could pay more recognition to our soils as they are the conduit to most of human life giving energy”.

The idea of soil as the building block to life came up again when I was at OMG’s organic and biological field day in the state’s North-West.

I met Peter Norwood from Full Circle Nutrition and we had a great chat about the role soil plays in nutrition – ours and that of the food and fibre our farmers produce.

Mr Norwood spoke to the field day’s 65 attendees about the importance of biology when it came to optimising health and yield, but when I asked him what the most important element of the nutrition equation was, he said soil.

“If you had to pick a place to start it should be the soil,” he said.

“With us we can take supplements, which I do. We can go out and put foliage spray on grass to give the cows minerals, and that’s great, but the real game is getting the soil straight in the first place, because then you’ve got all the nutrition you need coming through.

“Soil, through to the plants, through to the animal, and us as well. I think that’s the most important bit. We’re the ones who are consuming it all at the other end.”

To illustrate his point, Mr Norwood talked about the increased consumption of fermented foods and how fermentation worked in silage where “the biology starts to populate merrily with sugar and protein and forage”.

My regular Saturday morning trip to Harvest Launceston shows this practice is alive and well here, with sourdough, kombucha and kimchi just some of the fermented foods available.

“When you have these fermented foods, like kefir and kombucha, what you’re doing is improving the intake of biology back into the gut. It stops the bad guys,” he said.

Bringing this back to soil, Mr Norwood spoke at the field day about how Dr William Albrecht saw a direct link between soil quality and food quality and showed the way trace minerals increased amino acids into the plant.

Dr Albrecht said “The soil is the ‘creative material’ of most of the basic needs of life. Creation starts with a handful of dust”.

He drew a direct connection between poor quality forage crops and ill health in animals – and those animals include human beings.

We can spend time topping up our nutrients or consuming fermented foods to ensure we’re healthy from the inside out, but we need to look at the bigger picture by tying together knowledge from farmers, nutritionists, scientists, agronomists and medical experts to increase the nutrition in our produce.

Or, as Mr Norwood asked, “What if we could help that farmer to do a better job so that he can actually grow better quality produce and better quality animals?”

We would all benefit.