Dear Diggers

Shining the spotlight on Monsanto’s glyphosate – is it a threat to our health?
About 50% of Diggers club members live outside our capital cities, which is where vast tonnages of glyphosate are used before the sowing of grain crops. So this is a very big issue for our members who are farmers, as well as for gardeners wanting to garden organically.
As you know, Diggers is fiercely opposed to genetically modified seeds that increase the use of chemicals, and also transfers ownership of our seeds to corporations.
NB: Just three multinationals today own 60% of seeds used for food crops.
Letter supporting use of RoundUp

When this letter arrived from club members Peter and Judith Spedding, we needed to assess and balance the positive impacts that minimum till farming using glyphosate has, compared to the deleterious effects on soil biota, which is crucial to healthy organic soils.
“Enclosed is renewal for two years to The Diggers Club. Also enclosed are two articles from the latest Grain Growers magazine which may help you understand a little of modern broadacre farming.
We have just finished harvest after one of the driest growing seasons on record and have been rewarded with yields that would be unheard of in such a dry time.
These results were obtained through our adoption of minimum till and moisture retention by eliminating weeds pre-seeding by chemical fallowing.
The only other alternative to chemical use would be aggressive tillage, thus making the soil structure unstable, hence dust storms resulting in loss of precious top soil and nutrients.
I’m sure your opposition to glyphosate is well intentioned but has very little scientific back up and the benefits are to be seen in the massive improvements made to the structure of our soils, as well as the huge reduction in the use of fuel.
Remember, Australians enjoy some of the best, cheapest and greenest food in the world. We must not let this be eroded by well-meaning but misinformed people who are happy to fill their supermarket trolley but with little regard of how this food is produced.”
Can we trust our pesticide regulator APVMA to protect us?
Dr Jon Brodie, water pollution researcher for James Cook University, commented after the European Union banned the weedicide Atrazine in 2004. Australians spray 3,000 tonnes on our crops but “It will never be banned in Australia because we have the weakest pesticide regulator in the whole developed world. They are industry captured.”
Solution: Regenerative agriculture which is biologically focused.
Glyphosate is a chemical which is designed to kill soil biota. Keeping the soil covered during summer with cover crops that produce deep roots for tillage that also hold the soil and moisture together and protect against wind erosion, is the secret of success for Ben and Kathy Ranford. They farm 3,000 hectares on the Eyre Peninsula with just 125mm seasonal rainfall, producing wheat, sunflowers, millet and lentils.
Ben believes it’s the habitat they created with cover crops that promoted soil biology. Regenerative agriculture is about “creating habitat for living things in the soil biology, big and small and achieving diverse plant species growing in the soil for as much time as possible …
We avoid inputs that disrupt and destroy soil health … our passion for farming is a desire to produce healthy and nutritious food.”
Ben’s success in low rainfall areas is a largely organic solution as opposed to the widespread use of RoundUp.

My patience is at an end

Dear Clive,
I have been a member of The Diggers Club for a number of years. The key aspect that has drawn me to the club is the value of securing heirloom seeds and plants that are increasingly marginalised by the large companies who own most of the seeds.
However, my patience is at an end. What has been increasingly frustrating is the overtly political nature of the club. The latest magazine provides not only your strident commentary but also that of comrades such as Tim Flannery and even Bob Brown.
What is next? A campaign for a republic somehow linked to gardening? This has become not a magazine for gardeners but a political tabloid. It caused me to consider why this has occurred, which lead to something of an epiphany.
Clubs are typically comprised of members with common values who elect office bearers and direct the activities of the club based on those values. The ‘club’ we belong to is, in authentic leftist fashion, autocratic with
no elected office bearers and an overtly political message and bias.
Many who have thought they belonged to a gardening fraternity may, on reflection, be surprised to find they actually belong to a political collective that has been gradually, and now more overtly, advancing a leftist agenda.
The free seeds and purple gloves merely follow the well-practiced political doctrine of ‘bread and circuses’; people may think they are getting just free seeds when actually they are also being used to pay via their membership fees for political propaganda.
So with some regret I will not be renewing my membership. I can probably still find heirloom, organic seeds and plants elsewhere, maybe not as varied, but certainly without a political price tag.
Regretfully, Brenton K
Dear Brenton,

Thank you for your letter. We are just as interested in contrary views as we are with those in agreement, after all, how do we meet the needs of all our members? Being a gardener and growing plants for food and flowers you cannot help but have noticed that the changes in climate are going to cause some important adjustments to our plant selections.
At our garden at Heronswood we have had to replace the Birch trees on a lawn that provided valuable shade for members picnicking on our lawns. Anyone planting shade trees or fruit trees needs to know which trees are at the threshold of survivability when a climate might be 2–3°C warmer in 30–50 years’ time.
If members are like me, they will be anxious to reduce their carbon footprint because, as I write today, the temperature forecast is for 44°C and plants cannot survive those temperatures continuously or Victoria will look more like the Middle East. As to politics, Diggers has opinions on the big issues that affect gardeners but never takes political sides as you suggest. We won’t ever politicise gardening.
Best wishes, Clive.

Huge emissions from flying

Dear Clive,
You might be interested in this report, The Elephant in the Sky, which tells it how it is about our emissions from flying, which most people don’t want to talk about because it challenges an entrenched social norm. The author is Mark Carter, a graphic designer and amateur aviation emissions researcher, deeply concerned about our response to global warming’s existential threat.
In this paper he asks, “How do we respond when the threat is embedded in a social norm – air travel?”
Here’s the link to the report, The Elephant in the Sky – the hazards of aviation and how we can avoid them, published in August 2018 by Mark Carter.
The warming effect of one return flight to Europe increases that of an average Australian’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 45%.
Choosing to not fly is one of the behaviour changes we as a society must make to prevent catastrophic warming. It can kick off a conversation about the need for an urgent response. Mark presented recently at the National Sustainable Living Festival along with Maja Rosén, who joined this event from Sweden. She is the founder of ‘We Stay on the Ground’, a movement that aims to spread awareness of the climate impact of air travel (https://www.facebook.com/westayontheground/).
Maja has launched a new initiative ‘Flight-free 2020’, in which people pledge to stay on the ground for a year.
Cheers, Wendy C.
Hi Wendy,

I have to confess that I am guilty!
We will bring this into our discussion because tree planting seems to be the quick fix (see pages 6–7). I travel internationally every year to gardens, to wilderness and to seed merchants because Australia is an infant, derivative culture when it comes to cultivated beauty and plants.
All our food plants and most of our flowers were domesticated beyond our shores hundreds of years ago. Apart from our botanic gardens, very few of our gardens have had enough time nor expertise to reach greatness, so I travel, as much for education as pleasure. But is that excuse enough? Also I am a prodigious tree planter, having planted thousands of trees at my farm, as well as our Heronswood and St Erth gardens.
I am a passionate advocate for tree planting with Diggers now listing over 50 trees which we propagate for sale, making thousands available to members. 
So let’s open the discussion. I also pay for carbon offsets when I travel. Thanks for your letter.
Best wishes, Clive

Dear Diggers,
In response to Rod O’s letter in your Summer Garden 2019 magazine, I would like to say that burning can do no good to the soil or atmosphere. We as humans: aboriginal, occidental, oriental, northern, southern, eastern, western so often do what suits us, not what’s good for the soil.
Burning plants and burning into the soil releases carbon and all kinds of elements and minerals into the carbon-overloaded atmosphere,
and kills the micro and macro organisms in the most important part of the soil: the topsoil.
It also bares the ground to be vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Rain can also cause capping of the bare soil, that can have a water-repellent effect.
I would like to imagine what Australia might have been like without the firestick farming. How much richer, moister the soils and habitats might have been, with different, softer species of plants that weren’t dependent on fire for reproduction.
Fire by lightning strike will happen, or by human arson or ignorance or error: we must be able to extinguish those fires as soon as possible, by every possible method: no more cool burning, firestick or slash and burn farming: let us move towards the rainforest not the desert.
Regards, Jerry B

Dear Jerry,
Thank you for your letter and concern on this issue. I would also like to publicly thank you for being a loyal Diggers supporter for 40 years from the day we started. There are some complex issues tied up in this letter.
I have been driving to Yarrawonga for almost 50 years at Easter and been appalled by the desolation of the burnt wheat stubble and treeless plains en-route. It is the most distressing image that remains in my mind to be repeated year after year. Australia has the most depleted soils of any continent and annual firestick farming surely just accelerates this disaster.
I would love to get some of our members to give us the benefit of their opinion.
Thanks, Clive

We need this carbon in the ground

Hi Clive,
I wish to respond to the letter you received from Rod O who took an issue with you attributing low organic soils in Australia due to ‘firestick farming’ by Aboriginals as well as other critics of yours.
You are definitely correct to make this observation. Just think, no gardener burns all their mulch just after they lay it over their garden. Any gardener would see the detrimental affect this would have on their garden and the environment is no different. Another logical way to look at it is that you can see all of the carbon going into the atmosphere as any fire burns – we need this carbon in the ground, not in the air.
Clive, you are not the only person to recognise this and there are many scientific papers to back you up.I think the reason you are getting so much backlash regarding questioning eucalypts and firestick farming is that so many people politicise the issue instead of looking at the facts. Many people want to treat Aboriginals as though they are perfect and their practices before Europeans as unquestionable.
Aboriginals are just humans and just like any other humans are quite capable of making mistakes. I’m not saying everything they did was bad but the facts show that hunting the megafauna to extinction and firestick farming had a detrimental affect on the Australian ecosystem. The same mistakes have been shown to have happened every time humans have migrated to another continent, with Africa the only exception.
In no way do I intend this to be an attack against Aboriginals. I am even more critical of European methods such as ploughing and all that modern industrial agriculture has done to the environment.I believe the Aboriginals did what they did to survive and I am sure they would not have ever foreseen the consequences but we must, for the sake of the future of the environment, learn from their mistakes as well as the mistakes of the early Europeans and not try to cover them up to serve a political agenda. We must put our political ideologies aside and recognise that our monoculture eucalypt forests are man-made and that burning the countryside is in no way good for the environment as a whole. I think it is great that you have challenged these myths Clive. Stand your ground and the facts support you.
Regards, Michael I.

Dear Michael,
Thanks for your considered letter. It is a subject that creates lots of heat and not much light! I have personally witnessed firestick farming in Arnhem Land, driving in a bus from Oenpelli with lots of Aboriginal elders. I was flabbergasted when one of our passengers opened the bus window, lit a match and threw it into the grass.
But back to eucalypts; the research on fires that I read, indicates that eucalypts are not only the fastest growing tree, they also provide the quickest way to bring carbon down to earth.
So are eucalypts the answer to carbon sequestration … or our greatest threat due to their flammability? Please, if you have the answer, let us all know.
Thanks for your letter, Clive

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