Mackay welcomes leading soil celebrity at the Soil Health Symposium

Soil Symposium compostOne of Australia’s most renowned soil scientists, Dr Maarten Stapper, was a key speaker at the Soil Health Symposium which marked the International Year of Soils.

The symposium, which was held at the MECC in December (2015), attracted 55 participants and the following day 45 interested people took part in the hands on field day at Simon Mattsson’s property, near Marian.

Symposium coordinator and Regional Landcare Facilitator, Reef Catchments’ Dr Robyn Bell said participants considered the information provided was highly relevant.

“The diversity of speakers from inside and outside of the region was excellent including on-the-ground application of monitoring, and ways to improve soil health,” she said.

Dr Stapper was featured on Australian Story and is prominent through his work helping farmers harness the power of natural soil processes.

Daniel O'Keeffe with key note speaker, Dr Maarten Stapper, and Symposium organiser Dr Robyn Bell

Daniel O’Keeffe with key note speaker, Dr Maarten Stapper, and Symposium organiser Dr Robyn Bell


As a result of working for 30 years as a research agronomist in four continents, Dr Stapper became an advocate of biological-organic farming systems.

During his presentation he shed light on the links in soil health from a plot to catchment scale; that delivered results in terms of better yields, reduced costs, and improved animal and human health.

He said it was necessary to look at the whole farming system, where everything was linked to everything else.

“A healthy soil produces better crops and pastures, requiring less fertilisers and agro-chemicals for similar productivity, and resulting in healthier feed for animals and healthier food for humans,” Dr Stapper said.

“The idea is to replace our chemical addiction to solve problems on our farms. So instead of chemicals we use the soil organisms, the microbes. Biology and diversity in soil microbial systems is the key to aligning all the cogs in a healthy soil system.”

Dr Stapper also discussed the potential to sequester long-term carbon in the soil.

The Healthy Soils Symposium is an annual event coordinated by Reef Catchments, through funding from the Australian Government Regional Landcare Facilitator (RLF) program.

Dr Bell said the symposium, which was free, attracted a variety of people, all with an interest in soil health, including farmers and gardeners.

“Building biological activity in soils has become a major focus for agricultural producers and gardeners in recent years,” Dr Bell said.

“Through the symposium we endeavoured to equip our farmers and the wider community with the information they needed to improve their soil health. The aim of the field day was to impart knowledge and understanding to those who sought to improve or find a new direction in their farming operations.”

Featured guest speakers included:

  • Dr Maarten Stapper, BioLogic AgFood
  • David Hardwick, Ecological Agriculture Australia Association
  • St John Kent, Darling Downs grain grower
  • Nuffield Agricultural scholars and growers Simon Mattsson and Bryan Granshaw (sugarcane)
  • John Markley, Farmacist
  • Gavin Kay, Terrain NRM

Topics covered everything from soil biology to improving soil health in cropping systems, and from soil carbon in sugarcane to better understanding soil microbial activity.

The field day included a demonstration from David Hardwick on Assessing Soil Health – how to do it on-farm. David is an agricultural ecologist who specialises in soil fertility.

SoilSymposiumSUNFLOWERS6The field day also featured an overview of trial findings from the crop diversity trial being conducted at local landholder Simon Mattsson’s property, near Marian. As part of this, Simon planted sunflowers to investigate the potential for reduced soil compaction, improved potassium cycling, and removal of soil toxins. His latest sunflower crop targets the birdseed market that can pay up to $1500 per tonne.

CLICK HERE to read Simon’s soil health case study.

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