Nutrient-dense food in Australia

People are increasingly waking up to the horrors of factory farming and other intensive farming operations. There will be a day when consumers will call for the nutrient-dense food of generations gone by. People are coming to the realisation that our health is in crisis, because agriculture in Australia is in crisis. Food is medicine.

A recent two part series by Catalyst showed just how deep agriculture have moved into a kind of farming that would have been completely alien 100 years ago. There is sometimes no soil or sun involved, and if there are, the nutrients are not supplied via the microbes to the plants, as it has been done for thousands of years. Agriculture has flourished due to microbe-rich soil as far back as Babylon in Mesopotamia, and even Roman Empire manuals showed how it worked. It is now done artificially. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the benefits of science, but when it moves away from seeing how systems in nature come together and operate together, we are in trouble. 

True intelligence operates on whole system recognition. We have to be able to see the interconnectedness, and understand the nature and structure of existence, in order to make wise decisions.

This traditional wisdom has been rediscovered by many scientists and organisations, but it is missing today where we need it most; in our soil and food.    

Yes, the farming practises of the last 100 years are unsustainable for the next 100 years, but perhaps some of the innovation that the agricultural sector has implemented, is not sustainable either. We have to look at it and make an honest re-evaluation.

Agriculture Victoria has recently announced a new website:  Invest in Victorian Agriculture. This website was launched on the 29th of August 2018, just after Agriculture Victoria wrapped up its online survey to help shape its Victorian Artisanal Agriculture and Premium Food Program on Sunday the 26th. It is not absolutely certain how they relate to each other though...

According to the information on the new website, Victoria's agriculture is worth $13.1 billion and the food processing sector is worth $38.1 billion. It seems they are hoping to create business opportunities for investors, in industry sectors such as dairy, beef and sheep, grain, horticulture and food processing. A lot of it looks very high tech. However, there is concern that many agricultural sectors are not producing the kind of food we should be eating, or the food many of us would want to eat, if we were informed on the production methods or had the choice. The examples below show that some food is grown for the sake of providing a return on an investment, or perhaps even to make a quick buck as some suggest.

Agriculture is in crisis when money is the primary motivator, and consumer choice is thrown out of the window.

AdobeStock_197386409 soil and plant.jpg

Consumer choice is ignored in Australia 

It is troubling to see consumer preference for more nutritious food, unprocessed food, no chemicals and more ethically-raised, repeatedly ignored by industry year in and year out. At some stage, this is going to come back to bite. There will be a food revolution at some point. What will the investments made into food systems, like feedlots or hydroponics, be worth then? Will even more farms eventually become unviable or repossessed by the banks, because farmers or investors made decisions that seemed like an investment at the time, but later proved to be unpopular with a growing portion of society? You can't expect consumers to keep the economic engine of an investment going, when their values are not invested in it. Who else is going to pay for the viability of such an investment? You can't keep the competition, who may have a more valuable product, at bay with regulations that disadvantage them forever either... Where is the wisdom? When will those in positions of power and decision-making learn the value of true value, that stands the test of time? Empires don't have to rise and fall; they can have a legacy. 


What is nutrient-dense food? 

The term seems to have taken off thanks to the educational efforts of the Weston. A. Price Foundation based in the USA. In a recent video, founder Sally Fallon Morell said that the foundation is based in the Wise Traditions diet and how to translate how traditional people ate, into the modern world. Sally says that a lot of people are very confused about what healthy food is, which is why they try to make it understandable and accessible via different mediums.

Two of the key teachings of the foundation are the importance of minerals and fat soluble vitamins like A, D and K, which were very high in the diets of traditional peoples.

These are lacking in the modern diet because our food production methods have changed. Traditional peoples raised their animals on pasture (without the addition of high omega-6 dominating grains), didn't use agrochemicals and obtained food from pristine systems in nature. Many raw milk supporters already know and understand the many principles. The foundation also advocates for people's ability to democratically decide what foods they want to eat, and how it should be grown. They work together with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defence Fund to expand access to these foods. See this special message Sally recently shared on raw milk. Raw milk is a traditional nutrient-dense food when produced according to high standards, which is why ARMM advocate for a regulated raw cow's milk industry.



Nutrient-cycling between soil microbes and plants produce essential minerals in the right proportions

“Mineral depletion in meat and dairy products reflected the fact that animals were consuming plants and grains that were themselves minerally depleted.” - Dr Christine Jones

High mineral content is another important aspect of nutrient-dense food. Nutrient-dense food is grown in symbiosis with the systems in nature, and today we know it as grown in regenerative or biological food systems. Minerals are the basis of plant, animal, and human health. Two times Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling stated that in terms of human health:  

"One could trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency."

Humans, beef- and dairy cattle all need to get their minerals from their food for robust health and a resistance to disease. Australian soil ecologist Dr Christine Jones and others believe that depleted soil is the culprit for all the mineral depleted food on our plates today, such as grains, vegetables, beef and dairy. Fortunately we already have the answers on how to remedy the problem. A new study published recently shows how:  

"Microbes within soil improve the ability of plants to absorb nutrients and resist drought, disease, and pests. They mediate soil carbon conversion, affecting the amount of carbon stored in soil or released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The relevance of these functions to agriculture and climate are being observed like never before."

“Today’s soils are not deficient in minerals. They are deficient in microbes.” - Dr Christine Jones

Carbon is the new buzzword, but the real unsung heroes are soil microbes as soil microbiome. Scientists explain that microbes, like mycorrhizal fungi, work together with plants. Soil microbes and plants nutrient cycle together and in the process, the abundant minerals and trace elements are made available and restored to plants, in the right proportions. Different plants have a different relationship with different microbes, which is why research experiments like the Jena Experiment in Germany show that a high diversity of plant species are essential for a high variety of minerals in the plants. The Jena Experiment also shows why monoculture plant species will continue to degrade soil fertility and farm profit. Scientists say that soil microbes protect the roots and other parts of plants. Without this protection, plants can become disease-prone.  

This video is one of many in which Dr Elaine Ingham, an American soil microbiologist explains why farm profits lie in plant root depth. She explains the importance of allowing the biology in the soil to grow the root system as deep as possible; because it protects pastures from drought and keeps farmers sane. She says that plants release 'exudates' for the specific purpose of attracting beneficial microorganisms to settle around the roots. Plants want microbes like fungi, protozoa and nematodes etc. close to their roots, because they protect them from disease, cycle nutrients and help to build structure in the soil. See the image below for a simplified illustration.


The image above is also part of ARMM's Risk Identification and Risk Reduction Program's 11 categories, to demonstrate why chemical-free farming is an important risk reduction factor for farmers who want to produce for the raw milk market, to consider. When animals get lots of minerals, in the right proportions, from what they graze, they will be more resistant to disease and enjoy robust health. They will produce excellent quality raw drinking milk, with increased food safety. 

The reason why modern food is so nutrient-depleted, is partly because modern farming practises (like tilling and monocultures) and agrochemical use disrupt and diminishes nutrient-cycling between soil microbes and plants. In this brief TEDx presentation, American regenerative farmer Gabe Brown succinctly explained the cycle of chemical abuse. At a recent conference, Christine pointed to research that looked at 27 kinds of vegetables and found that between 1940 - 1991 they became mineral depleted in the following way (according to this tweet):

  • Copper declined by 76%

  • Calcium declined by 46%

  • Iron declined by 27%

  • Magnesium declined by 24%

  • Potassium declined by 16%

Soil microbes are directly responsible for more nutrients in the plants but some management aspects of regenerative farming can also increase nutrient-cycling. A research demonstration in Ohio recently showed how total soil nutrients can double in one year from a cover-crop and grazing combination. The increases in soil health were dramatic. Haney nutrient testing before, during and after the cover crop treatments showed these benefits:

  • Total nutrient value increased 121%

  • Pounds nitrogen per acre increased 78%

  • Pounds phosphorus per acre increased 133%

  • Pounds potassium per acre increased 144%

  • Total organic carbon increased 23%

  • The Solvita ranking, a measure of soil life, increased by 44%

Dr Chrisine Jones says that only plants and their associated microbes can make fertile topsoil - and a diversity of plants and microbes make it even better. She says that about 85 - 90% of nutrient acquisition is microbially mediated, which means nutrients have to come via the microbes. It seems that large colonies of beneficial soil microbes are also essential for the carbon cycle.

“You can’t sequester carbon without microbes. They’re far more important than we ever imagined.” - Dr. Kate Scow

According to American soil scientist Ray Archuleta, soil carbon is the key driver of the nutritional status of plants - therefore the mineral density in animals and people. He also says that soil carbon is the key driver for moisture holding capacity, which is often the most limiting factor in production. Soil carbon is also the key driver of farm profit. The amount of carbon in the soil, is an indicator of the farm's profitability, see this video for more.



Hydroponic grown food in Australia

In a new season of Catalyst, there is a two-part series, called Feeding Australia, "revealing the key breakthroughs in science and what we might be eating in the coming decades".

In the video, is Dietician Prof Clare Collins who says she is not sure if big farms will feed us into the future, before she steps into a tiny vertical hydroponic farm installation at Brisbane's Eat Street Northshore food precinct. She examines the pros and cons of enhancing nature to increase food production at a modular farm in Brisbane, which is the first one in Australia. Here hundreds of lettuces and other greens are drip fed nutrients in a sealed room under LED lights. No soil or sunlight are involved...  

Later in the same episode, chef Paul West visits a glasshouse in Victoria, where nearly everything in it is artificial. The CO2 is pumped through large pipes and the controlled air pressure and humidity are considered 'efficient'. He visits the vast greenhouse complex of a quarter of a million 

square meters. Annually, a total of 12 million kilograms of hydroponic tomatoes and capsicums are grown there and according to Paul, half of all tomatoes sold in supermarkets already come from operations like this. This particular operation produces up to 85 kilograms per square meter of tomatoes over one year. Paul says he'd be lucky if he could get 10 kilograms per square meter, per year, from his veggie patch. A tour of the operation shows how multiple plants are grown in a tiny slab called a rockwool medium. It is made from basalt rock and chalk, which is considered the perfect medium for roots to be dripped with a mixture of water and nutrients. It's not certain what makes up the nutrient solution.

Carbon dioxide is pumped from air bags directly underneath the plants. CO2 moves upwards where the monstrous, up to 15 meter in length plants supposedly can take it up for photosynthesis. In this system, the tomato plants have to be artificially pollenated because there are no insects to perform the service.

Image: a hydroponic plant grown in rockwool, click to enlarge.

Image: a hydroponic tomato farm with rows of monoculture (source stock), click to enlarge.

Rising CO2 makes crops less nutritious?

A new study published this week from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, expressed concern about rising CO2 in the atmosphere and its effect on public health. According to this article, rising CO2 render major crops less nutritious and may leave hundreds of millions of people with protein and mineral deficiencies. Matt Smith, a research fellow told EHN that: "The research is not yet conclusive but the prevailing idea is that for some plants higher CO2 encourages faster plant growth, and the plant then tends to incorporate more carbohydrates, and fewer micronutrients." Matt also said that perhaps the clearest solution, and the most obvious, is just doubling down on reducing CO2 emissions. 

The high CO2 in the atmosphere, making crops less nutritious, is not a new concept, see

this study from in 2014. It was conducted over six growth years on field sites in Japan, Australia, and the U.S. The vast study compared crops grown under normal conditions, with ones grown in nearby experimental plots where the air is enriched with CO2 via open-air sprayers. Samual Myers from Harvard told the reporter: 

"Crops are losing nutrients as CO2 is going up."

An observer, Stephen Long from the University of Illinois, said that the study's "significant" finding suggests that higher CO2 environments will mean less nutritional crops, so that... 

"...increased quantity is at the expense of quality."


Consumer anger about modern farming systems 

Consumers have relied on the organic label to provide a certain nutritious standard. Many consumers, who spend the extra on organic produce and expect a higher quality, are discovering that some of the food they buy at a premium price, are not traditionally grown in soil. There is discontent brewing, because some do not want to participate in this kind of a food system. Organic has lost its integrity in some people's eyes. As consumers wake up to what is really going on, they feel misled and cheated. They could have opted out out earlier and looked for alternatives. This is already to forcing some consumers to reach out to farmers, and attempt to influence them on how the food should be produced. We are already seeing this, as many angry consumers lash out at farmers about the way food is grown, processed and produced.

There is a lot of anger about the decisions made on the consumer's behalf. Some decisions don't really benefit consumers, the farmers or reflect their values. 

Farmers receive the brunt of the anger most of the time, yet it is often not farmers who come up with these ideas, it's industry. Agriculture Victoria's new website Invest in Victorian Agriculture has a story about a hydroponic tomato farm up on its homepage, as the investment 'favourite'. Agriculture is in crisis because those who make decisions don't care to consult with consumers about what they would like to eat, or how

Image: a hydroponically-grown lettuce (source stock).

to best grow it. "Get big or get out" in agriculture is a recent example of failure. It has pushed many farmers into poverty, and the dairy crisis is only one example. 

According to this article, an Australian survey showed that the next generation, the millennials, are more health conscious and better educated about the benefits of organics, than previous data showed. Almost a quarter of organic purchasers were motivated by a health crisis. This is the same generation that is now heavily involved in advocating against some industrial animal farming methods.


Feedlots and lots of grain feeding

Recently animal rights group SAFE called on New Zealand Environment Minister David Parker for a ban on feedlots in New Zealand. There are serious concerns about 16,000 cattle that has been kept at Five Star Beef Limited feedlot in Ashburton. It is New Zealand's biggest feedlot and has been running since 1991. Marianne Macdonald, SAFE head of campaigns told RadioNZ that some farmers just want to make "a quick buck" by putting animals in these sorts of feedlots: 

"They've got no shelter from the blazing hot sun or from the freezing winter temperatures, they're just there, in those barren pens."

"There's no grass, it's called a zero grazing system, and those animals are forced onto a grain diet for the months before they're slaughtered for beef. That can cause a lot of welfare issues as well, the grain can cause bloating and diarrhea in those animals."

According to this article where the feedlot farmers hit back over SAFE claims, the cattle at the feedlot spend six months eating grass, before being moved to the feedlot where they are given vaccination to prevent disease and fed grains, for anywhere from two-and-a-half, to eight months.

In the video in the article, people on the streets of Auckland were approached, showed aerial images of the feedlot captured by a drone and asked if they would eat the meat coming from such an operation. People were abhorred. Many said they don't want to participate in that kind of a food system. If given a choice, people would make decisions that avoid food that doesn't fit in with their value system. This is why an increasing number of consumers are in anger over their lack of being informed, or lack of being given a choice, about the way certain food is produced. There is also credible research that show why grass-fed beef contain a better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and why it is healthier for the consumer.

Higher levels of healthy omega-3 in nutrient-dense food

AdobeStock_29311631 omega 3.jpg

Higher levels of healthy omega-3 is another reason why people seek out nutrient-dense, pasture-raised foods. Dr Carlo Leifert, director of the Centre for Organics Research recently spoke at the Southern Cross University Coffs Harbour on the benefits of paddock-fed cows. He said a 1:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 could be achieved by feeding beef and dairy livestock on a diversity of grasses, rather than corn-based silage. Corn oil has a ratio of 46:1, not as Omega 6 rich as sunflower oil, but similar to soybean and cottonseed oil. Meanwhile, butter, lard, olive oil and even palm oil, are best when it comes to higher levels of Omega 3s. Dr Leifert said an exhaustive study of published papers statistically showed organic livestock produced higher levels of human-friendly Omega 3s when presented with different varieties of grasses. He said a range of root architecture and their associated microbiology were contributing factors. Organic production, along with diverse pasture, also led to higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and vitamin E as well. Read more about the grass-fed raw milk revolution here.

Protect Organic in Australia: Keep organic farming based in the soil

“We’ve always said that organic is not based on input substitution. Well, hydroponic is totally input dependency.” - a farmer

Over the last two years there have been many farmer rallies in the U.S.A to protect organic and protest against their organic food regulator. For the first time in the history of the National Organic Program, farmers and eaters are protesting the USDA's failures in the organic program. These farmers say that real food should grow in real soil, and that regulators have eroded organic standards. Farmers are concerned because they don't want the quality of organic produce to be compromised by profiteers. Organic farmers are concerned about big operations who want to cash in on their hard work and the value they have created. 

Organic certification in Australia was recently under review and a new body was created. What policies do we have in place now? It seems Australia's organic sector has also given way to strange modern ideas, which some consumers and farmers feel don't belong under organic certification. Some tomatoes are grown in hothouses, have a thick skin that is sometimes hard to bite into and are at times quite tasteless. In Australia, we may too see a strong push to protect organic farming practises soon.  

Soil is also a necessary ingredient to mitigate so-called climate change, which is the biggest social justice issue we now face. Agriculture is the only industry with the capacity to draw the carbon back into the soil. We can regenerate the land, rebuild fertility, improve water cycles and sequester carbon in the soil. However, it seems the Australian government is not interested to act on it with the appropriate policies. Farmers and consumers are not happy, because they can see the future that they want for society. This movement has been accelerating over the last few years. We already have the information, research and solutions...

Please watch the video to better understand how to save real organic. It shows how organic certification has lost its integrity and the food regulator is at fault.

“Organic without soil, and without all the microorganisms of the soil, is like democracy without people. It just doesn’t work.” - farmer David Zuckerman

Soil Microbes protect plants

“Building topsoil is a biological process.” - Dr. Christine Jones

Soil scientists, like American soil microbiologist Dr Elaine Ingham work with farmers all the time and educate them about the importance of life in the soil. She explains why we need to make sure we have the organisms in the soil that will set up the habitat and conditions in the soil, that makes it impossible for the diseases, the insects, the pests, the problem organisms or the weeds to grow. These soil microbes both protect and work in symbiosis with plants. There are many free videos on YouTube and social media about her work. It is sad that many agriculture industries in Australia seem to be prone to extremes. First, the excessive use of agrochemicals that kill soil microbes, and now the growing of plants in conditions where they have little, to no soil to grow in at all. How is nutrient-cycling supposed to take place under these conditions?

There are grave concerns for Australia's food system, because Australia imports a large amount of vegetable seed, and seem unable to grow local resilience, with local seed banks. The organic community was recently up in arms due to new proposed changes. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources with Agriculture Minister David Littleproud wanted mandatory broad-spectrum fungicide treatment for the seed of certain plant species, including broccoli, cauliflower, radish and spinach. He hoped for this to be part of biosecurity measures to be taken against certain fungal pathogens before seed are imported into Australia. Soil scientists explain that frequent use of fungicides can lead to pathogen resistance and the creation of more fungal pathogens.

AdobeStock_112715506 soil and plant.jpg

New research paints a fascinating picture of the hidden world of soil pathogens, but Dr. Elaine Ingham's work on how beneficial soil microbes protect the roots of plants and makes them 'invisible' to the harmful microbes, is way more interesting. Soil scientists are concerned about the use of agrochemicals that kill soil microbes. The industrial agriculture sector and the agriculture ministers have lost their way. This is evident in their refusal to heed advice given by scientists to stop killing the beneficial soil microbes and put the carbon back into the soil. Soil carbon and soil microbes equals life and health.

“Agriculture is imperative to human survival—providing nutritious food, clean air and water, and maintaining the soil resource.” - Dr Kris Nichols