Growing topsoil for tomorrow - banking the profits today.

Biological farming is a catch cry for marketing a full range of products today. But first who and what is Biosoils?


From the mid 1980's Bill & Karen Quinn operated Camelot Gardens, a small market garden (with some livestock) supplying markets in Auckland, Wellington and farmers markets (mid 1990's). In 1988 this farm business ‘closed the gate' to soil and crop nutrient inputs(seed not included) including fertiliser, lime, compost, compost raw material etc., if it didn't come from the farm it wasn't used.

Suicide surely! This was an experiment to see if a commercial enterprise could generate a nutrient cycle and continue to produce commercial quantity and quality of output. We had plenty of people come and tell us that after 3 years it would collapse, that we were mining the soil. After 3 years they told us 5, then 7, then 10 and so on. All the time they were saying this, the quality and quantity were maintaining or improving.

Could we have lifted production even higher with inputs?
Yes we could have, that was not the experiment. We set out to understand the natural cycle in a commercial production unit. To understand and develop management options that would grow topsoil. And with that understanding help others.

We often were asked what we grew and would then be told ‘that might work with your crop but would not with ours' or it was area related. We call this the NIMBY factor. Not In My Back Yard. So Bill at a field day on the property answered ‘ we grow topsoil and harvest the profits'. We have never suggested we have all the answers, in fact we are still waiting for the experts to tell us the answers, to tell us why we have not collapsed as popular opinion was and is.

We, along with others around the world, were in fact farming the carbon cycle. Harvesting carbon from the atmosphere and cycling this through a hugely diverse micro and macro work force---the soil biology and the above soil biology. The whole environment.


In the late 1990's Bill taught a NZQA Horticulture certificate in the kiwifruit and avocado sector where much of that learnt (at Camelot) was blended with standard teaching material. This lead to a dynamic change on many of these operations. Within several years the next step was required.

BioSoils was formed and introduced Dr Elaine Ingham of the Soil Foodweb Inc to New Zealand. Dr Ingham presented courses (soil biology) for the next couple of years; it was during this time that the Soil Foodweb Lab was set up at Cambridge. The focus during this period was on the missing link in so much of our production systems---the biology.

By 2005 the biology aspect was working well, BioSoils decided it was time to balance this with the other aspects of the production spectrum. For this Dr Arden Andersen was brought to the country. A 3 day event, booking out the Waitomo Caves Hotel, was held. The attendees were from the farming/hort sectors, the input supply sector, the advisory, education and research sectors.
The first decade of the 21st century has now changed the face of production in NZ.

Biological Farming; what is it and what are the benefits.
There are a range of commercial views on this; some focused on the mineral aspect some on the biology, most on selling their product.

From the BioSoils aspect it is the production of food and fibre through the ‘biotic'. Through the living. Any action taken has to be considered on how this affects the living, and any effect will come through the living. To fully achieve this we must consider the full cycle of the system not just the soil or any individual aspect of the system.

We must think and act in the whole. Become holistic in our management.
This involves soil, vegetation, atmosphere, populations (various), energy flows, etc .
It is a hugely complex system that will function very simply if base considerations are exercised.

With these base understandings we can then manage and manipulate aspects of one or more of the components to effect our desired outcome, higher production, quality, favour, storability, etc., the intent always to have minimal (negative)affect on the balance of the system.

The benefits of Biological Farming

The key benefits are quality of output and cost of production.

Quality of output;
As we move into biological production we will see changes in the plant such as the insect and disease incidence reduce, the ability to handle weather and climatic events improve; this leads to lower cost of production.

This will express itself in the harvested production through better shelf life, improved bulk density, animal health, animal behaviour, etc.; this results in better returns.

This is nothing new, while we may now talk about nutrient dense food (NDF), food has been paid for under this system for all time; it was called bushel weight, consumers have always paid for taste, texture and storability---this becomes your brand or name.

Bill operates through two trading arms to mentor and promote biological agriculture;
BioSoils: on farm extension groups, industry promotions advancing all aspects of biological agriculture.

OrganicAg: much the same services but focused on the extra returns that can be made through marketing to the worldwide certified organic market. Many farmers practicing biological farming can make minimal change in on farm practise and achieve returns of $100,000pa or more.

Much of the information re input suppliers and systems is contained on the OrganicAg website.

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