There’s an ancient proverb found in Sanskrit text of 1500BC that sums up the seriousness of soil with frightful accuracy; 

“Upon this handful of soil, our survival depends. Husband it, and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it, and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

Gabe Brown and the Soil Health Academy give a lot of airtime to soil health, but it’s not a particularly new concept. In 1989, Bob Rodale, son of the original Mr Organic, J I Rodale, outlined a set of principles for regenerative agriculture. They were much broader and rightly included economics, profitability, happiness, people and community; topics we also cover in other sections of our educational materials.

Nowadays, there are various ideas on soil health published by different groups, and while the order of the principles varies, there is total agreement on some of their content, such as;

  • The need for biodiversity
  • The importance of plant productivity
  • The role of soil biology
  • The importance of livestock
  • The need for groundcover

Creating the RCS Soil Health Principles

Our Founding Director, Dr Terry McCosker, developed our RCS soil health principles independently of others and has received extensive praise on them since. 

Because the RCS approach to agriculture is based on universal principles, it was critical to get these right before expanding the RCS business model from grazing to cropping. 

When considering the Natural Resources Conservation Service list, the only principle Dr McCosker disagrees with is the one about tillage. He agrees that reducing or eliminating tillage is in the best interests of soil health; however, he considers it a tool rather than a principle.

In agriculture, we only have two choices about how we run our ecosystems. We can manage in a manner that causes ecosystem health (including soils) to spiral downwards towards desertification, or we can manage to regenerate ecosystem health, profits, production and well-being to spiral upwards.

We can only manage for improvement or damage to an ecosystem. There is no in-between. Each direction is a cycle which develops into a spiral, either up or down. Ecosystem health, like the foundation of a pyramid, is the foundation of any agricultural business and drives both productivity and profitability. We believe this adaption from J I Rodale should frame your goals.

  • Biodiversity, leading to
  • Healthy soil, leading to
  • Healthy plants, leading to
  • Healthy animals, leading to
  • Healthy food production, leading to
  • Healthy people

Introducing the RCS Soil Health Principles

Our Founding Director has been working with and developing our fundamental principles for 30 years, and has learned through this process that the order is important. “It took me around 20 years to realise that a principle for people and management must head the list,” says Dr McCosker. The RCS version of soil health principles can transform soils, plant production and the economics of agriculture when applied to any natural system, including horticulture, tree cropping, broadacre cropping or grazing. 

The RCS principles, in what we currently believe to be the correct order, are:

  1. Plan, monitor and manage for soil health (human intervention comes first)
  2. Maximise living plant production (to feed soil biology)
  3. Focus on soil biology (generally ahead of soil chemistry and soil physics)
  4. Introduce and maintain biodiversity (natural systems need it)
  5. Maximise thickness and availability of groundcover (protect the precious topsoil)
  6. Understand that livestock are nature’s recyclers (turn lignin and cellulose into fertiliser)

Our courses explore these principles further. If you feel your farm management could benefit from these principles, contact our team or sign up for a course or workshop.

Listen Regen Ray podcast Ep 39: Start Thinking Holistically About The World Beneath Our Feet with Dr Terry McCosker

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