Soil Health Innovation Tour

Julie Lightfoot
April 5, 2018

Compost, bio-fertilisers and even chickens are being used to improve farm soils in the Wet Tropics and beyond.

A soil health innovation tour has shed new light on the latest methods farmers are trialling to regenerate soils, boost returns and better protect the environment on sugar, banana, tropical fruit and grazing properties.

Thirty farmers from Mossman to Mackay toured southern Queensland and New South Wales recently to learn more about a range of innovative soil management practices from compost and bio char production to fallow cover cropping and minimal chemical use.

Terrain NRM’s Michael Waring said the trip gave farmers first-hand information on soil health initiatives that could be applied to North Queensland properties.

“Growers who came on the tour are already actively working to improve soil health on their properties through investments of both time and money,’’ Mr Waring said.

“This trip was about fresh ideas, sharing the results of innovative practices, learning from others first-hand and strengthening projects that are already underway.”

Farmers visited bio-fertiliser and bio char manufacturers and primary producers using commercial-scale compost systems or multi-cover cropping practices. They also heard from planned grazing specialist Judi Earl, visited a soil test laboratory and stayed at ‘The Living Classroom’ at Bingara.

The trip was organised by Terrain NRM in partnership with Central Queensland Soil Health Systems, with funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, Terrain NRM’s Regional Landcare Facilitator and Reef Catchments.

Mossman grazier and tropical fruit farmer Carmen Henning-White said hearing from a diverse range of primary producers and business owners had been invaluable.

“I’ve come away with new ideas, like a worm farm, that I can incorporate into my pastures and tropical fruits,’’ she said.

Ingham cane farmer David Morselli said a strong focus on soil was crucial.

“It doesn’t matter who you speak to, whether it is cattle people or veggie people, at the end of the day we are all using the same thing, and that’s soil,’’ he said.

Farmers visited a commercial carrot farm at Kalbar where radishes, corn and onions are now grown in a cycle for three years between carrot crops to regenerate the soil. They also visited a pecan farm where woodchips from pruned pecan branches have become a competitive second industry.

“These woodchips are being used by meat smoking businesses and are worth nearly as much as the nuts,’’ Terrain NRM’s Michael Waring said. “Diversification was another focus during our five-day tour. A lot of the farmers we visited are long-standing innovators, including a husband and wife team who produce organic grass-fed beef and free-range eggs while also reaping the benefits of soil health by rotating the hens through the pastures in mobile sheds to forage while providing an organic fertiliser for the soil with their manure.

“This kind of initiative is also happening in our region but is fairly new to the Wet Tropics.”

Terrain NRM’s Regional Landcare Facilitator Jen Redway said visiting the EAL Soil Laboratory at Southern Cross University was also invaluable.

“Some of our farmers use this lab and for others it was a chance to see first-hand how easy and useful soil tests are and the speed of turnaround from a test to getting answers that help to improve soil biology on-farm and help farmers to continue to move away from chemical fertilisers,’’ she said.