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Phosphate – A Finite Resource Which Must Be Conserved - Alex Podolinsky


AlexIt is well recognised that phosphate is an essential requirement for plants, in particular for those non-indigenous to Australia, which have been introduced in the past 200 years for Agricultural purposes and which, quite miraculously, acclimatized and ecologised, together with introduced animals, into the Australian environment. In 1952 an eighty year old Jersey breeder friend, who arrived in Australia with his father in the 1880s and developed a South Gippsland dairy farm, reported as follows:


“Native pastures were replaced with more productive English clovers and grasses which, initially, grew prolifically, but from approximately 1910 onwards, slowly began to wane.  No fertilisers whatsoever had been applied.  By 1920 few of the imported species remained.  On application of superphosphate especially the clovers returned in great abundance to the relief of farmers, even if associated with such problems as bloat.  After some further years, despite increased applications of superphosphate, imported species again weakened.  Applications of potash improved the situation temporarily, followed by a similar scenario with nitrogen”.



Quite obviously the original Gippsland soil supply conditions – maybe better than the Australian average – could, for the first decades, maintain improved pasture species.  Whereas, the original native species, inclusive of some legumes, had maintained status quo  – since whenever – under indigenous grazing pressure. 

My friend Alan Morgan, Senior Irrigation Officer of the Victorian Agriculture Department after World War II, informed me:


1.That of the considerable quantities of superphosphate applied to the State Research Farm at Werribee, at that time, over 90% was locked up through acid action.  Whereas it was unknown  how much of the remaining 10% actually did reach plants and what proportion may have drained away.


2.When, after WWI Alan was irrigation Officer in the Kerang-Swan Hill district, during the establishment of Soldier Settler irrigation blocks – and only delivery but, as yet, no drainage channels, existed – “the more super and water we put on, the bigger the plants grew”: until, almost overnight, the Cohuna Salt disaster occurred.  (The first real such - long before emergence of Western Australian salt problems.) 


Alan, an objective scientist, blamed himself for Cohuna, “we just knew no better.”  He retired early and looked after some land.


“We knew no better”.  We still do not know how much, or  how little phosphate is required to maintain a sustainable  economic production. 

“The more super, the more growth” has brainwashed not only the farmers, it has been the main “advisory” base of scientists (with later inclusion of Potassium, Nitrogen and trace elements), and , the resulting plant pest and fungal chemical “requirements”, ditto for animals1.


Doug Small’s 1991-4 (when Senior Soil Researcher of Victorian Agriculture Department at Kyabram) exhaustive tests, comparing 10 Biodynamic dairy farms to 10 near identical conventional neighboring farms – originally – showed results such as:

1. Biodynamic farms for average of 16 years had no Phosphate or any other fertiliser, no chemical, no drench input.

  1. Conventional farms had all inputs in abundance.

He states:  “Few differences were found in 130 different soil, plant, animal and milk measurements”, undertaken annually per farm.




  • Over 40, of each, soil, plant and carcass tests NEVER showed a “deficiency” of any major or minor elements.
  • Indications of no NPK “run off” (though insufficiently researched)
  • 1 X irrigation
  • Even without drenching virtually no liver fluke, even at age 
  • High number of lactations per cow, insufficiently researched.  Major cost factor as “two lactations” income required to raise a milker.
  • Gross income (very poorly researched) approximately 15% less.
  • Very low salt levels.
  • Biodynamic cattle fed little grain


Reported “loss” of phosphate via milk and carcasses leaving the farm was “mathematically calculated” for Biodynamic farms regardless of no deficiency of phosphate in all tests!




  • Showed surpluses of some elements, especially Phosphate, -  presented as “desirable”.
  • Indications of the usual high amounts of NPK and chemical “run off”
  • 2½ X’s irrigations
  • Usual great amounts of drenching from early age and still some liver fluke damage.
  • Average number of lactations much lower.
  • Gross income - conventional taken as 100%.
  • Salt at critical level for clover growth.
  • Conventional used much grain


Artificially fertilised pastures2 and grain causes lowering of pH, resulting in bloat, undesirable “cell counts”, acetonaemia, sterility and other symptoms of ill health.  Additional to this, John McDonald, Victorian Agriculture Department Veterinarian - who undertook the associated carcass examinations - attributed much lower rate of sterility of Biodynamic cattle to the “inexplicable” increase of  selenium (nearly double) compared to conventional cows.  


We accept Doug Small as an honourable and capable researcher of “figures” of test results.  To my assistant, Frances Porter (B.Ru.Sc. Hon. I), and myself, he said, “the 130 research result figures of Biodynamic and conventional farms are almost the same, there is very little difference” (with selenium and salt major exceptions).   He could, however not appreciate the cardinal difference that the Biodynamic results were obtained 

 W I T H O U T :

  • using  fertilisers or chemicals;
  • NPK run off, contributing to blue-green algae problems;
  • Irrigating only once compared to 2½ times;
  • Water savings were not researched (!)
  • Costs to the environment were not addressed (!)
  • Humus levels and soil structure were not addressed.


The Western World is overloaded with dairy products.  How much more sensible not to over-tax cow production causing health and other problems, ie. To avoid the hysteria of excessive production as “ideal”.


At the October Organic Federation of Australia conference in Adelaide, a 30% “oversupply” of phosphate was still reported as “ideal” – compared to the unforced and naturally offered milk production of the Biodynamic test herds.


The Victorian Agriculture Department, as reported to Frances Porter and myself, did not permit Doug Small to publish a complete report of his test results.


Costs, gross income and the more essential NET income were very poorly assessed:

  • Environmental costs caused by NPK and chemical run-off insufficiently assessed and calculated.  Examples available from cotton farms, rice farms, Barrier Reef.
  • Costs caused by algae bloom;
  • Amount of expensive irrigation water used not assessed with Biodynamic farms irrigating less often;
  • Costs in labour of each additional irrigation not assessed;
  • Environmental costs to river systems through extra water usage;
  • Assessment of unnecessary drain on Phosphate recourses;
  • High levels of non-solar energy usage in the production of, especially, Nitrogen fertilisers;
  • Damage to soils through compaction and long lasting chemical residues;
  • Questionable chemicals entering food supply and resulting health concerns (with consideration that for many chemicals there is no testing method available, ie. no detection);
  • Establishment of biologically active soils on Biodynamic farms producing products attracting premium prices;


Rock Phosphate is acid soluble.  Certified organic or biodynamic farms are not permitted to use “artificial” ertilisers.  This causes a major problem to certified farms on alkaline (Mallee) soils.  A conventional suggestion is to add sulphur to the Rock Phosphate.  Depending on organic matter evels and moisture retention this is more or less effective. The experience on Biodynamic farms is, that the “organic matter” level is not the deciding factor but the HUMUS level.  Conventional Agriculture is not conversant with humus.

Figures from a Biodynamic – originally white sand – Mallee farm are:

  • Organic matter level in 1985 was equal to the district level of 0.5%.  After two years under biodynamics, this had risen to 2.1%.  Approximate consistency since has been 2.8 to 3% with a considerable increase in HUMUS  COLLOIDS aiding water retention.  The farm crops approximately one in three years.  
  • Crops are amongst the best in quality and yields.  Voluntary summer “weeds” as green manure offer an essential supply of recycled or new NPK.  Wild melons have in spots even created a too high level of Nitrogen.  
  • Under such conditions an addition of 2 to 3 Kg of Phosphate per hectare has proven a sustainable input level. 
  • With drought caused lack of green manure 2Kg of P as “composted” chicken manure and chicken bodies (P) suffices, but green manure brings best results.  
  • On conventional district farms 18 to 22 Kg of phosphate is used with each crop.


I used no Phosphate on my own farm for 40 years.


The world reserves of economically accessible Phosphate, at the current rate of usage, have been quoted at 200 years, with a possible further 200 years of increasingly more costly Phosphate.  George Monbiot’s careful assessment – wherever the means of checking are available to me – points to only 80 years of accessible Phosphate.


How will conventional and “organic” farms manage without Phosphate?  Is it not time to reverse the Phosphate policy in very many facets such as :

  • Stop the hysterical oversupply of Phosphate mentality as “keeping up the Soil fertility”
  • Recycling of Phosphate in well structured (air, drainage, humus) biologically active soils without murderous effects of chemicals and oversupply of NPK, laming soil biology which has been rendered unnecessary in virtual hydroponic situations3;
  • Research – under such biological conditions – of Phosphate recycling potential;
  • Even “inexplicable”  INCREASES in Phosphate have been recorded;
  • Research and condemnation of NPK and chemical “run-off” via varying agricultural methods, causing environmental damage, such as dead trees, saltation etc4;
  • Revise agricultural education at Universities;


Huge amounts of Phosphate have been wasted and have damaged the environment.  We have wasted the assets of future generations.



  1. Podolinsky: Bio-Dynamic Agriculture, Introductory Lectures, Vol 1, lectures 1 and 2
  2. Podolinsky: Bio-Dynamic Agriculture, Introductory Lectures, Vol 1, p30 and Vol 3, and Bio-Dynamics, Agriculture of the Future
  3. Podolinsky: Bio-Dynamic Agriculture, Introductory Lectures, Vol 1, lecture 1 and Bio-Dynamics Agriculture of the Future
  4. Podolinsky: Bio-Dynamic Agriculture Introductory Lectures Vol 3, lecture 3, and Living Agriculture