Australia is salty, flat, and mostly dry. Repeated submerging by the ocean over the eons combined with a lack of geological uplift (necessary for weathering rock into topsoil) created thin, nutrient-poor soils that were rapidly depleted by a pattern of colonial agricultural designed for the wet climes of England. Plow, cow, sheep, gun, dog, fox, rabbit, and tractor – all exotic – transformed Australia’s fragile ecosystem into a ravished landscape of eroding gullies, denuded flora, and declining native fauna. The advent of industrialized crop and livestock production after World War II made things worse as tilling and overgrazing continued to deplete what remained of the soil’s fertility.
As I saw on my trip, however, a corner had been turned in Australia’s assault on its soil. On a sheep farm in northwest New South Wales called Winona, owned by Colin Seis, I learned that not only are Australians re-hydrating the soil of their depleted continent but they are re-carbonizing it as well.