The company is based up the Sunshine Coast at Eumundi. We promote sustainable agriculture using biological alternatives rather than chemicals. Year after year sales of pesticides and fungicides and other chemicals on a global scale, go up and up and at the same time on a worldwide scale, the amount of damage suffered by crops to insects and diseases is not going down. It’s pretty much staying constant so really, if these chemicals actually worked, then we’d see an increase in their sales and a decrease in the amount of damage inflicted in our crops, so it’s really a failed experiment. We are trying to find alternative solutions rather than using the chemical approach. The key thing we promote is nutrition, if you pump nutrition into the soil and into the plants to produce healthy soil and healthy plants, these plants are naturally resistant to disease and insect attack. That’s been fairly well proven in that if you have a very nutrient dense, minerally rich plant, then those plants are not attractive to insects. I recommend to farmers what fertilisers they should apply to balance their soils, based on their soil tests. When you start working at our company for a few years, it’s pretty much impossible not to see a clear link between the health of our soils, the health of our plants and the health of our animals and ourselves as well. There’s a clear link between the soil health and the health of our bodies. If we don’t have nutrition and minerals in the soil then they are simply not going to get into the food chain for us to feed on and obtain adequate nutrition. We’re very much a holistic company and we look at it from a human health perspective. We’ve been going for about 10 years now and in the last year or two we’ve been moving into the human health products. When you think about it, it makes absolute logic. We’re just trying to start from the soil up and get the nutrition balanced in the soil and create a whole system for health in humans as well. So we’re all about nutrition and I’m going to talk a little bit about plants and soil nutrition and a couple of minerals which are key elements for crop quality. I have a vegie patch of my own and I think as home gardeners and hobby farmers, the reason we grow our crops is not only to save money on our grocery bill and to become self sustaining, but the key reason is, we want to grow nutritious food that we know does not have any chemicals or toxic residues on them. So it’s about growing good quality fruit and vegetables and I’ll discuss a few elements that will improve the quality of the food that you produce – not necessarily boosting yield which is the conventional approach often what the farmers get paid on, unfortunately the majority of farmers don’t get paid on quality.
Calcium The first one is Calcium and it is absolutely critical to the soil. There is no other element in the soil that is more important than Calcium and that’s because Calcium influences a whole range of chemical properties in the soil, physical properties and biological properties of that soil. There is no other element that influences those properties like Calcium does and when we’re working on a fertility restoration program and when we’re making advisory recommendations to farmers, the first thing we look at is the Calcium levels. It is the key thing and there are a few reasons for that. We have a little saying and it goes: Calcium is the trucker of all minerals. If you get good calcium levels in the soil, what happens is the soil becomes open, you get oxygen into the soil and the soil will help microbes thrive and when Calcium enters the plant, it trucks other minerals with it, so if you can get good Calcium levels into the plant, you’ll also be trucking a host of other minerals along with it. Good Calcium levels in the soil mean that you’ve got optimum conditions in the soil to get nutrients into the plant so this is very important for obvious reasons as we want minerally dense nutrient rich food. Now another other reason that Calcium is quite important is that it regulates the sap pH of the plant. Now there’s an ideal sap pH of around 6.4 and when you get very acidic plant sap, that creates conditions which favour the growth of disease organisms and we’ve yet to find a single case of any diseased plant and measure the pH of plant sap, you’ll never find a single occasion where that plant’s sap will be above 6.4 – it’s always well below. Cancer in the human body loves acidic conditions – measure the saliva pH of patients first thing in the morning and it’s very low pH and that’s the conditions that cancer thrives in as well as other diseases so Calcium helps to regulate plant sap pH as well.
Boron The next mineral that is very important is Boron and Boron is what we call the Calcium synergist in that they compliment each other. If Calcium is the trucker of all minerals then Boron is the steering wheel. Calcium will help truck our minerals into the plant but we really need Boron there to compliment that Calcium so that we can get efficient entry of all minerals into the soil. During the day the plant will be growing in the sunlight and inside the chloroplast which is where photosynthesis is taking place; during the day the plants can produce all that energy and come night-time, there’s a little trap door that opens up and all that energy and sugar is released out of the chloroplast into the leaf and to the rest of the plant for growth and energy and boron is responsible for the opening and closing of that trap door. If you don’t have the Boron levels, you’re not going to have good efficient movement of sugars and energy throughout the rest of the plant.
Phosphorus is responsible for all energy currency of the plant and is responsible for all energy processes in the plant and sugar translocation of the plant.
Magnesium is very important because the chlorophyll molecule which is where the photosynthesis is taking place or where the plant is combining carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight to produce glucose or sugar which is energy which it needs to grow. This chlorophyll molecule, the essential core of that molecule which is doing all the work of the photosynthesis is the magnesium ion. It’s also got 4 Nitrogens and a whole host of other carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules so if you don’t have good magnesium levels in the plant, you’re not going to have good chlorophyll and if you don’t have good chlorophyll levels, your plant is not going to be able to photosynthesis very well therefore it’s not going to produce enough energy and sugars to grow healthily.
Those are the four key elements I wanted to discuss. In leaf analysis, if you can maintain those four elements right up to luxury levels, then high quality produce is the likely outcome. In a fruit tree perspective it almost becomes the big five and the other important element is Potassium and it is essential for fruiting trees and Potassium is very important for filling out the fruit. One third of the total amount of energy that the plant produces for itself for that day is taken down to the roots and exuded out into the soil so why would a plant waste one-third of its energy and dump it straight out into the soil? Well it does that for a very important reason. It supports the micro-organisms in the soil which are crucial for good crop production because the microbes to help solubilise the nutrients in the soil and make them available so that the plant can take up those minerals. So the soil micro organisms are the bridge and are essential to transport minerals from the soil. The micro organisms colonize the soil around the root system and wait for the plant to dump the sugar, which, when it’s dumped will cause the micro organisms to go into a feeding frenzy and they’ll use that sugar to solubilise the nutrients in the soil when those minerals that have been made available, the plant takes those up to help photosynthesise to produce more sugar then it can dump more sugar then it can feed more micro-organisms and so the cycle continues. The microbes are the key to having a minerally dense nutrient plant because they make these minerals available for uptake and when we start to use any chemical/pesticide/herbicide/fungicide or salt fertilisers, these substances basically bombard the microbes in the soil, salt fertilisers dehydrate them and create a very salty environment which just sucks the water out of the micro organisms. So with a lot of conventional farm systems, you move into a situation where you’re almost growing hydroponically. You’ve destroyed the microbes in the soil which are the bridge that help you to make minerals available naturally so you have to keep resorting to soluble fertilisers to keep feeding the plant. Rather than setting up a system where you need to feed the plants, let the soil feed the plant.
Compost Teas The other boom area at the moment is compost teas where you take compost production to another level and you need to make a compost tea and put these micro organisms back into the soil because a lot of our conventional processes are degrading them. A really cheap and efficient way for you to do this is to do as Peter Cundall did on Gardening Australia and take some compost and mix it with water but what you can then do is you need 3 things: microbes, food and oxygen. It’s as simple as filling up a 20 litre bucket with water, add a handful of compost with all its micro organisms, add oxygen (a fish tank aerator) and keep it bubbling away. Then you need a food source like kelp/seaweed/liquid fish/aloe vera. The microbes from the initial inoculant need oxygen to survive and they’ll keep feeding on those food and they’ll double their population every half hour or so and you brew this away for 12 hours - you can brew this for 24 hours but we’ve found that 12 hours is satisfactory so you end up with a super concentrated liquid inoculum packed full of these micro organisms and then you go and drench the soil and coat the leaf surface. By doing this you’ll put out all the other minerals and nutrients from the compost and feed the soil and plant so it’s a big growth industry at the moment. This makes compost a bit more realistic for farmers. We use a green manure and mulch and its contributing organic matter to the soil all the time and this in turn helps to stimulate the soil.
Sheryl asked me to mention some of our products suitable for fruit trees. One of them is called the Big Four which is the four key minerals of Calcium Phosphorous Magnesium & Boron in it. Another product is called BrixMaster which is useful for fruit tree production and it has Potassium which gives good size & sweet fruit. It was designed to raise the Brix levels in the plant which are the sugar levels so the higher sugar levels you can get in your plant, the higher the shelf life of your produce and BrixMaster is good as a foliar spray to help sugar production to get nice sweet fruit. Another product is Nutri-Store Gold which is a complete fertiliser plus trace elements plus a whole list of other inputs and it’s just a good all rounder for fruit/vegetables/turf and we put this together based on our first few years of soil tests you start to see some recurring patterns of elements that are always deficient so it has plenty of Calcium and other goodies. There’s a material commonly known as Humates – picture in your mind a prehistoric scene with dinosaurs/rainforests and the prehistoric vegetation often grew at amazing rates – massively tall and exceptional growth rates in a day and what this is linked to, is how minerally dense the soils were back in those days and our soils now have been leached and eroded particularly in Australia but back then we’re talking about young soil fresh out of a volcano. Now what happened was there was a volcanic eruption and the rainforest was covered in a layer of thin ash material and you would have sandstone and other layers built on top, and that is how coal is made. So give yourself a couple of million years so all those layers of soil and rock continue to build and compress and the prehistoric vegetation is compressed and via the removal of minerals it becomes purer and purer which is what coal is, carbon!. Before you get that severe compression you have brown coal and that’s what this Humate is – a semi-fossilized preserved plant matter which has not been squeezed so much that it’s lost all its minerals, so it has 70% carbon and trace minerals. A lot of our soils are carbon depleted. There is a mine down in Victoria where they get this and it’s used for electricity and it’s almost similar to Terra Preta – high carbon + minerals. It’s the end product of degradation. Micro-organisms love the Carbon and we’ve seen really good results using humates. We also have a black coal material that is specially composted with Calcium Phosphate with other fertilisers composted down to make a very active form of Carbon. One of the things we try and push with conventional farmers is what we call fusion farming – take some of their conventional approaches and make them more sustainable and we’re trying to introduce some organic fertiliser. We have a massive range of organic fertilisers and another 30 products we’re still trying to get certified. There is over 250 products. We do run a soil analysis service and we charge $99.00. Email me if there is anything you are particularly interested in and also check our website.
Sheryl Is Nutri-Tech totally organic?
Joel No – a lot of our farmers are not organic but we use a fusion approach. We use some conventional fertilisers and combine them with organic matter – Humic Acid – a complex Carbon molecule that when you combine some of your fertilisers, they chelate the nutrient eg Nitrogen, and will hold it in the root zone – prevent it from leaching or tying up. There are some synthetic fertilisers that can be quite useful but it’s the overuse that is the key issue. We’re aiming for nutrient dense food that will naturally be more resistant to disease.
Marilena Do you encourage nitrogen fixing plants Joel Absolutely – many of the products we have are naturally occurring organisms, bacteria and fungus species which we try and reintroduce into the soil and some colonise the root systems and make nutrients available naturally. There’s another bacteria called Azotobacter and it’s exactly the same as the Rhizobium bacteria used with legumes – it’s a nitrogen fixer, it will pull atmospheric nitrogen out of the atmosphere but it’s a free living bacteria – it doesn’t have to form in the root nodule. It can move around as it’s free living – it can sit on the leaf surface and do the same thing and we have a whole range of microbial inoculants like that so we’re trying to get natural nitrogen and that is certainly much better for plant growth than synthetic nitrogen. There’s a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis that releases antifungal compounds so we also have a host of these biocontrol options that can suppress fungal growth. There’s also a predatory fungi which is naturally occurring and consumes other disease causing fungi by bio-control so when you see a bit of disease, you can apply this beneficial bacteria and it will eat the organism that causes the disease.
George What about phytophthora?
Joel The issue with any of these microbial inoculants is you really need to start looking at the mineral balance of your soil because if you start to use these microbial inoculants and introduce them into a soil that is not well balanced and the environment that is not hospitable for them, they are not going to survive. It’s akin to putting us on the moon – we wouldn’t survive there. You need to get good Calcium levels in your soil and improve structure as calcium opens up the soil and creates well structured soil that lets oxygen in, and oxygen is the most critical element for micro-organisms so if you have very compact soil, you’re not going to have good oxygen movement going into that soil and it will set up an anaerobic condition, an oxygen-lacking environment and it’s this anaerobic condition that will stimulate anaerobic organisms, the micro-organisms that don’t need oxygen to survive and the majority of plant disease organisms are these anaerobes so when you have very compact soil, these anaerobes will thrive and cause disease. If you can get Calcium into the soil and balance all the other minerals and you start to use inoculants like this predatory fungi, it will therefore thrive in that environment and help to suppress other diseases and yes it is particularly useful against phytophthora
Col Have you done anything with fruit fly? I know you experimented in your foliar sprays with herb or a chinese type product that you can’t call a pesticide but I’ve tried that as a foliar and I think once you get ripening fruit, there’s not a lot you can do other than baits but there’s been some brilliant work done overseas with splash bait technology with fruitfly that had a very low and completely safe dose of pesticide that wasn’t harmful and it was so attractive to the female fruit fly that they only used a minute amount so they didn’t spray the fruit, just as a splashbait and it was being used in Thailand with great effect and I’m astounded that it hasn’t worked its way into the system here. I’ve used Wild May but it takes a long time to get to the stage of being effective.
Sheryl How long before you think it is effective?
Col It depends on what fruit you’ve got growing around or if you have rainforest
Joel We don’t have that specific product as such as yet but we will be having a product that will be coming on line - we’re still negotiating with the manufacturer. It’s an attractant and will kill the fly. Peter Female fruit fly need protein to produce eggs and they get this protein from the leaf and I know growers who have been controlling fruit fly by spraying the microbes onto the leaf so when the female lands on the leaf she won’t be able to get the protein from the leaf so she flies off. You also spray it on the fruit – it’s fully organic. I’m using it and the results are outstanding. I’ve seen scale just fall off trees in 2-3 weeks. You spray the leaf microbes on the leaves as a foliar protective spray and spray the soil microbes on the ground.
Peter Wild May seems to be quite effective on my property at Mt. Tamborine – I’m surrounded by National Park so I have a huge population of fruit fly and it’s 90% - 95% effective and I was getting everything from Coffee through to Lemons being stung and this summer I’ll be using it in combination with a splash bait technique
Judy You mentioned Aloe Vera that you put it in your compost tea. What do you do this for?
Joel Aloe Vera is a fantastic fungal stimulant. Fungi in soils just love Aloe Vera. We have a fertiliser which is basically a Aloe concentrate to brew fungi. You could chop up the Aloe Vera and put it in your Compost Tea and let it brew away. I know broad acre farmers who crush it into their Compost Tea on a massive scale but they’re using a natural cactus which is around their area in Western Qld. and they’re getting similar results to Aloe Vera – it’s one of the most powerful fungal foods there is!
George I actually use Pitaya and put it through the shredder – it produces so rapidly and I put it in the compost heap and it heats it up immediately it’s so unbelievable and it’s almost a pest!
Judy I was interested in the link between the soil and human health so if you grow all your own food all on the one property, is there a risk you could be deficient in a particular element.
Joel If the minerals are not present in the soil, then absolutely. If you’re growing well and using all the resources at your fingertips like compost/mulch/fertilisers then you should be getting as much as possible.
Judy Do you do an analysis that says your soil is OK for human health before you grow your food?
Joel Not specifically.
Judy W In the old days the way of knowing if your soil was good was you’d watch your animals to see if they were doing well and if they were, then you should be too!
Merv Do you publish results of your work?
Joel We do with various products
Merv I was involved with a lot of biological work in Bacillus intelligensis but it never did anything and yet there are a lot of people pushing these things that seem to be a panacea but they never appear but until it’s really proven and open to scientific comment then we have to wonder.
Joel It’s a valid point and there will never ever be a silver bullet – it’s the whole picture we need to look at. There’s plenty of research out there on the Humic and fulvic acids but I guess we’ve never published any specific results on our products but we’ve sourced Humates from Victoria.
Merv The sugars you’re talking about – the tree puts a third back into the soil so I presume you mean complex sugars otherwise we should be using sugar as a fertiliser?
Joel A fair bit of both actually. The bacteria actually prefer simple sugars so yes things like sugar, molasses, fulvic acid and fresh raw tender plant materials are excellent to feed and stimulate soil bacteria. However soil fungi prefer more complex sugars like kelp, fish, humic acid and tough materials like fibrous woody bark and mulch, if you kick the surface of forest mulch, you’ll see fungi growing on it. The sugars the plant releases are not extremely complex – they’re a relatively simple but there is a bit of both really. What the plant will do is it will take a fraction of what it holds onto for itself and start to combine it with a lot of other sugars and start to produce a more complex molecule it will start to produce starches, fats, oils, amino acids and proteins. The plant will release these through the roots to encourage the fungal fraction of the soil food web.
Sheryl There’s an excellent interview with Bruce Tainio done by Graeme Sait (owner of Nutri-Tech). Graeme wrote a book called “Nutrition Rules” He spoke to various experts in their field and this is the basis of the book.
George Can you tell us a little about your background?
Joel I studied Environmental Science for a year and decided I’d like to work with soils. I then changed to Agricultural Science and did a four year degree and all through Uni I had an interest in organic production.
Alfonso If you use too much Dolomite as a source of Calcium and Magnesium, wouldn’t it shift the pH of the soil up too high so it wouldn’t be suitable for the plants anymore?
Joel People get a bit hung up on pH in the soil for example if it’s high or if it’s low they’ll try and correct this, but if you can bring the cation balance back to where it would be, the pH will change. It’s not a case of going out and changing the pH, you want to go out and balance the minerals in the soil and that will change the pH. Magnesium has more influence on pH than Calcium to raise the pH but in high Mg soils, additions of calcium can actually reduce soil pH as the Calcium addition will replace the Magnesium and it will knock the Magnesium off the soil colloid and therefore you’ll be increase Calcium and reducing magnesium, but because of the reduction in Mg levels, the pH will actually go down because Magnesium influences the pH more than Calcium. So the real reason you can have a high pH is because you have high Magnesium and when you get rid of that magnesium, by replacing with Calcium, you can often see a decrease in soil pH. There’ll be a short term increase in pH but over time as Calcium starts to replace the Magnesium, you’ll see a decrease in the pH.
Barbara Instead of using Lime & Dolomite, why can’t you use Gypsum for your Calcium?
Joel You can use all three. Gypsum doesn’t have as much Calcium as Lime but if you have clay soil, a bit of Gypsum is good. If you have a very low pH of around 4 or 5, often we want to avoid Gypsum in those situations because when you have a very low pH, you have a lot of hydrogen there and if you use Gypsum to try and correct that, Gypsum is Calcium Sulphate, and when the Gypsum breaks down, the Sulphates will bind with the hydrogen and form sulphuric acid which is obviously not good for plant growth.
We have courses which are pretty intense, a full 6-7 hours of learning and workshops. Mineral Management/Microbe Management/Plant Management and Pest Management. It’s a jam packed 4 day course and also includes human health presentations, manuals, organic catering and a night time dinner with a guest speaker. Ph: 5472 9900
Sharon I’ve done the course and can highly recommend it.
Article compiled by Sheryl Backhouse