Twelve years ago, in the Mallee East of Adelaide, I saw a crop inspection on a wheat farm. My host had planted the new crop of wheat, barley and triticale over the stubble of that year’s harvest and his previous three. Stubble releases nitrogen into the soil, a natural soil regenerator. His yield improved and he saved himself a thumping fuel bill and all that ploughing that many of his neighbours still felt impelled to do.
More farmers are adopting this practice, but decades of ploughing in drought has consigned unaccountable tonnes of topsoil to ‘paddock drift’, dust-storms that turn summer twilight a murky reddish brown and rob the earth forever of its natural goodness. Sowing over stubble not only replenishes soil nutrients, but binds topsoil to the earth. Good sense, but for agriculture to be sustainable, we need a lot more sense.
The number one challenge for future agriculture is the impact of climate change on water availability, weather and population, confronting in the face of conventional practice and reluctance to embrace change. Mega-metropolis growth ensure urban-dwelling millions are disconnected from the land. Reliance upon the supermarket easy fix is entrenched. Corporatised food production is dollar-driven.
We have all heard the raised voices of doom: global warming, greenhouse gases, soil erosion. But how many consumers in every million make conscious decisions to embrace a shopping and dietary practice that supports sustainable farming? The Adelaide Hills Farmers Market offers such a practice, as do many other farmers markets, but where do we sit in the Food Chain food chain? Not very high, I suggest.
Talk up our market. Talk up community markets in general. Sustainability in the future will demand responsible, efficient land usage, smaller scale, more local-community-based, clean, organic food production. Change must happen. Experts estimate that production of raw food may have to double within a lifetime. Change must come from the grass roots, the consumers themselves. That’s where we come in.